Originally created 05/22/01

Braves notebook

MIAMI -- One start into his comeback, John Smoltz admits it's hard to remain patient.

He wants results, but he may have to wait another start or two to meet his own expectations.

"This is kind of my spring training," said Smoltz, who makes his second start tonight against the Marlins. "I've got three or four games to get some innings in and judge where I'm going to be."

Smoltz, who missed 19 months following elbow ligament replacement surgery, went just three innings against the Rockies in his comeback debut last Thursday and took a loss, but was happy with his stuff and how his elbow bounced back from throwing 70 pitches.

He's reduced his throwing on the side between starts to limit stress on his elbow, which means he doesn't have an opportunity to polish his pitches, particularly his slider. That means what he'd normally do on the side, he'll have to work on during games.

"Despite popular belief, I can't just pitch with the fastball," he said. "I can't expect to adjust from one start to the next like I normally would. (My elbow) gets sore and I have to recover from the soreness."

In his first start, Smoltz threw 9-10 sliders, about six changeups and five curves. The rest of his pitches were fastballs. If his fastball is his No. 1 pitch, his slider is 1A, and he'd like to improve his consistency with it.

"My slider and my fastball have made me the pitcher I am," he said. "That's why people don't understand the year and a half I didn't have it were some of my most rewarding years."

Bobby Cox is concerned enough about overworking his bullpen that he doesn't plan to drop a reliever and call up a hitter for the bench until the team returns home Friday.

"I'm not ready to do it right now," he said. "We've used the relievers too much. Maybe after this series."

By protecting the relievers, Cox is short on the bench, especially with Dave Martinez replacing left fielder B.J. Surhoff, who's sidelined with back spasms.

Cox is hopeful of keeping Surhoff off the disabled list, but if the veteran can't play today, the DL remains an option. Surhoff said Monday his back is improved and instead of day-to-day, he's "hour-to-hour."

"We are (shorthanded) now with Surhoff," Cox said. "But you've got to protect your pitching. I'll give it another day and take a look."

Surhoff's injury (and hitting woes) has given Martinez increased playing time and he's responded with eight hits in his last 16 at-bats to boost his average to a team-leading .352. He hit .455 (5 for 11) on the homestand and he's batting .364 with runners in scoring position.

"When I was younger, I wanted to be the guy who hit 20-25 home runs every year," said Martinez, whose .429 batting average with two strikes leads the major leagues. "I finally realized I'm going to be the guy who gives good, quality at-bats, gets some walks, gets the guys over. Anybody who knows anything about baseball appreciates what (the bench guys) do."

Holding his thumb and finger an inch apart, Brian Jordan said he's that close to breaking out at the plate. He's still struggling with runners in scoring position (.222), but he had six hits on the homestand, all for extra bases, and he knocked in four runs.

"When I relax, it's so easy," he said. "But I tense up and want to do too much. (Relaxing) is hard to do, for some reason. When guys get out there (on base), instead of just getting a base hit, you want to hit a home run and you get out of sync."

The Braves will hold their scouting meetings this weekend to prepare for the annual draft June 5-6. The team has five of the first 73 picks, including three extra picks for free agents Andy Ashby and Terry Mulholland.

The club owns the Dodgers' pick at No. 24 for signing Ashby, has its own first-round pick at No. 29, then will have a supplemental first-round pick (No. 40), again for Ashby.

In the second round, the Braves own the Pirates' pick (No. 52) for signing Mulholland, as well as its own pick (No. 73).

"It's like Christmas morning on draft day," scouting director Roy Clark said. "Hopefully, it will turn out like we think last year did."

The Braves had six picks in the first two rounds last year and their No. 1 selection, pitcher Adam Wainwright, is already considered one of the organization's top pitching prospects.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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