KISSIMMEE, Fla. - It's all but official: John Smoltz will be the opening-day starter for the Atlanta Braves.
While manager Bobby Cox hasn't revealed his choice, he's already set up his spring pitching schedule in such a way that Smoltz would be ready to go in the April 5 opener at Florida.
Smoltz, the only player who has been with the Braves for their entire run of 13 straight division titles, is returning to the starting rotation after spending the last three years as the closer, earning 144 saves.
The only other pitcher who warrants consideration for the honor is Tim Hudson, a former 20-game winner who pitched on opening day several times for the Oakland A's.
But Hudson is a newcomer in Atlanta, coming over to the Braves in an offseason trade. He wouldn't even feel comfortable making the opening-day start instead of Smoltz.
"Even if they asked me to do it," Hudson said, "I wouldn't want to do it."
Smoltz said he doesn't care who starts the first game. He's just glad to be starting again.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "Whenever I make my first pitch, it's going to be an exciting time for me."
The rotation will likely fall this way: Smoltz, Hudson, Mike Hampton, John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez. Hampton will start the first Grapefruit League game on Thursday.
Notes: Heavy rains forced the Braves to do all their work indoors Sunday. Splitting into groups, the players headed to the batting cages beyond the outfield wall. Julio Franco avoided the rain by hopping into a golf cart. "We'll get all our fundamental work in before we play Georgia Tech," manager Bobby Cox said, looking ahead to Wednesday's first exhibition game.
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