Smoltz favoring return to bullpens

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ATLANTA --- Facing the prospect of trying to make it through the season with an aching shoulder, John Smoltz is pondering another dramatic career change.

The 40-year-old right-hander, who already went from starter to closer to starter again, is planning to go back to the bullpen once he comes off the 15-day disabled list.

Smoltz had shoulder problems last season and has already been on the DL twice this season, the second time after a pain-shortened start at New York last weekend.

An examination found a severely inflamed biceps tendon and inflammation of the rotator cuff in the right shoulder. While surgery wasn't prescribed, Smoltz seems resigned to pitching the rest of the year in some pain. That apparently led him to decide on the bullpen.

"I am planning on coming back as a reliever first, and more than likely for the rest of this year," he told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution late Wednesday.

The Braves certainly need help in the bullpen. They had penciled in Rafael Soriano as the closer, but he's on the disabled list with a sore elbow. His replacement, Peter Moylan, quickly followed him to the DL with an elbow injury that could require season-ending surgery. Rookie Manny Acosta assumed the role, but Atlanta's bullpen woes are summed up by an 0-9 record in one-run games.

The team is mired in its first four-game losing streak since last July. Could Smoltz help turn things around as a reliever?

"We've all tossed that around," manager Bobby Cox conceded.

But Smoltz also is an integral part of the rotation, which is rather thin beyond Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine and rookie Jair Jurrjens. Mike Hampton's return might make it easier to move Smoltz, but no one knows when the injury-plagued lefty will be able to make his first appearance since 2005.


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