MIAMI - Will Atlanta closerJohn Smoltz ever be a starter again?
Maybe, but he's not looking that far ahead, and neither are the Braves.
Smoltz misses starting but says he's happy in the closer's role, and the club is delighted with his move.
So, despite provisions in the three-year, $30 million contract he signed last winter that would pay him $100,000 for each start, there are no plans for him to return to the rotation.
"I've been a starter for 14 years," said Smoltz, who has converted 37 of 40 save opportunities. "I don't know how those thoughts disappear. But I signed a contract to close for the Braves."
Questions about Smoltz returning to the rotation have popped up since he acknowledged recently that he missed starting. But he says he didn't mean to raise questions about whether he wants to return to the rotation and he describes it as a "non-issue."
"I haven't thought about it one bit," he said. "I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction (from closing games)."
Smoltz has emerged as baseball's most dominant closer, successful in his past 23 save opportunities, his last blown save back on May 29.
So, what are the chances the Braves would consider returning him to the rotation next year? None.
Smoltz understands that, and considering he'll reduce the stress on his surgically-repaired elbow by about 150 innings this year, it would be foolish for him to start again. After a rocky first month this season, he says he's pitching better than he ever has, including his Cy Young season of 1996.
"It's been great," he said. "I'm not going to lie. I feel as confident as I've ever been in any role. I come to the park thinking I'm going to close every game."
HEADED FOR THE DL? Chances are better than even that catcher Javy Lopez will be placed on the disabled list Friday.
Lopez said his strained right shoulder hurt when he swung a bat Tuesday, and it remained sore Wednesday.
"I wasn't ready," Lopez said. "Give it a few more days and see what happens. It feels good (today), but I can still feel it."
If Lopez goes on the DL, Steve Torrealba, who is batting .231 at Class AAA Richmond, will likely be called up.
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES: Wes Helms has been largely invisible this season because Julio Franco and Matt Franco have received the majority of starts at first base.
But he took advantage of his second start in four days in Wednesday's 10-0 win over the Florida Marlins, with a single, two doubles, a home run and three RBI. He came to the plate in the ninth inning against reliever Vic Darensbourg needing a triple to complete the cycle, but popped up.
"I had no idea until someone told me after the game," said Helms, who added 18 points to his batting average. "Hopefully one day I'll get a triple in my first at-bat and it won't be so hard."
Helms' fifth home run of the season was a monster shot off the upper deck facade against Darensbourg in the seventh - a drive estimated at 450 feet.
"Probably the farthest ball I've hit," Helms said. "It's good to have a game like that to lift your confidence back up."
NO RELIEF: Reliever Kevin Gryboski continued to struggle with his command in Tuesday night's win, failing to retire the two hitters (walk, single) he faced.
In his past seven appearances, Gryboski has given up nine hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings, leading to speculation that he'll be sent down to Richmond when Darren Holmes is activated from the DL on Friday.
FAMILY REMEDY: Tom Glavine has traded his rock for paste.
Glavine, bothered by a blister on his left index finger, has been rubbing alum (rock form), an astringent also found in pickle brine, on his finger. Then trainers added water to some loose alum, and made a paste, which Glavine spreads on his finger three times a day.
"It's been drying (the blister) out real good," Glavine said. "I'm trying to get it into the skin as much as I can."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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