Originally created 12/13/04

Braves get new closer, Smoltz to start



ANAHEIM, Calif. - Atlanta acquired All-Star closer Dan Kolb from the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday for prized pitching prospect Jose Capellan and a player to be named, allowing the Braves to move John Smoltz back into the starting rotation.

"We felt this was the strongest way for us to rebuild our pitching staff," Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said.

The Braves declined to offer salary arbitration to free-agent starter Russ Ortiz, who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday. Jaret Wright, who also won 15 games for Atlanta last season, has a preliminary agreement with the Yankees.

Regardless, the Braves, who have won a record 13 consecutive division titles, knew they needed help for their rotation. They found it on their own roster in Smoltz, who won 24 games and the National League Cy Young Award as a starter in 1996 before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2002.

He set an NL record that year with 55 saves, joining Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers with seasons of 55 saves and 20 wins.

Smoltz volunteered to fill whichever role the Braves wanted next season, but his preference was to start. Schuerholz called Smoltz as a courtesy Saturday to let him know they were taking him up on the offer.

"He was delighted," Schuerholz said. "He was very happy. It's nice when one of your leaders is willing to do whatever is needed. We need him to start."

Kolb, who will be 30 next season, set a franchise record with 39 saves for the Brewers this year, going 0-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 64 appearances. He also made the NL All-Star team.

After signing with Milwaukee as a minor-league free agent in April 2003, Kolb had a breakout season, saving 21 games with a 1.96 ERA. He made $1,575,000 this year and is eligible for salary arbitration. The right-hander can become a free agent after next season.

The 23-year-old Capellan is said to have one of the best young arms in baseball. He went 14-4 with a 2.32 ERA at three levels of Atlanta's minor league system last season. The right-hander struck out 152 batters, an impressive average of 9.8 per nine innings.

"There's still some things he needs to do with his changeup, maybe improve his breaking ball," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "We both had to give up something that we liked. We're trying to win games, too, but we also have to keep in mind what our plan is with our young players."

Capellan made his major league debut in September, going 0-1 in three starts for the Braves.

Smoltz's contract specifies he gets a $100,000 bonus for each start.

"John's full of challenges for himself, and I think he has to have something out there," Braves manager Bobby Cox said before the trade for Kolb was announced. "I think he'd like to start and win 20. I'm sure that would be his goal, and he likes those types of challenges."

Last season, Smoltz, 37, was sidelined for 28 days for tendinitis in his right elbow and didn't return until the next-to-last weekend of the regular season.