Originally created 02/04/03

Smoltz takes over as Braves' elder statesman at Camp Leo



ATLANTA -- Mike Hampton threw only a few pitches Monday before he was stopped by Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Mazzone worked briefly with Hampton on his arm angle, then bent over with his hands on his knees to watch as Hampton's next pitch caught the outside corner.

"Beautiful," Mazzone yelled. "Just beautiful."

Hampton joined about 20 other pitchers from the organization at the first day of "Camp Leo," an annual minicamp for Braves pitchers at Turner Field. Hampton, traded to Atlanta in the offseason after two miserable year in Colorado, worked with Mazzone for the first time.

In two years with the Rockies, Hampton went 12-26 with a 6.62 ERA. Last season, he was 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA, the highest in the major leagues among qualifying pitchers.

"I'm here to learn as much as I can in as short amount of time possible," Hampton said. "I'm just trying to get a head start, get on the mound as many times as I can before spring training starts."

Several of his teammates apparently felt the same way; Mazzone said the turnout was the largest since he began the camp in 1991.

One player missing was Tom Glavine, a stalwart of the rotation for 15 years. He became a free agent and signed with the New York Mets in December.

"He's always been the first one here for our early throwing program, and he's always the one that got on the mound the most," Mazzone said. "That's why he's a great, great pitcher."

A picture of Glavine still hangs on the wall in the clubhouse, but his old locker has a new resident: John Smoltz.

Smoltz, beginning his 14th season with the Braves, is ready to embrace his new role as elder statesman. After missing last year's minicamp with an injured thumb, he was the first one on the mound Monday and threw about 25 pitches.

"I'm eagerly anticipating this year with big expectations," Smoltz said. "With all the changes, I'm probably going to be depended on a little more in the clubhouse. I'm looking forward to that challenge."

Glavine isn't the only one gone from last year's rotation. Kevin Millwood, an 18-game winner, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in December for catcher Johnny Estrada, leaving Greg Maddux and Jason Marquis as the only holdovers.

No. 4 starter Damian Moss was dealt to San Francisco along with a minor leaguer for Russ Ortiz, who'll join Hampton and free agent Paul Byrd in the rotation.

Ortiz didn't attend the voluntary workout.

"There's some big shoes to fill around here, and we need people to step up," Byrd said before his throwing session. "I'm not going to try to be Tom Glavine. I'm just going to pitch like Paul Byrd, and with a good defense and a good offense, I think that'll be good for the Braves and good for me."

Byrd, 32, spent parts of two seasons with Atlanta earlier in his career. Last year with Kansas City, he was 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA.

"I want to show Leo I've improved," Byrd said with a smile. "That's my No. 1 goal. He remembers a guy who couldn't throw strikes that well. I'm just hoping to show him the new Paul Byrd."

Mazzone was impressed.

"The Byrd Man threw the ball good," Mazzone said. "The Byrd Man does a lot of unorthodox things, and I think that's what's made him real good. There's no way we're going to conventionalize Paul Byrd."