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Closer had expressed desire to start

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz will remain in the Atlanta Braves'
bullpen instead of returning to the starting rotation.

"He's going to keep doing the things he's done for us for years
and doing it well," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said
Tuesday. "He's going to be our closer."

Smoltz, who had elbow surgery in October and can't throw until
January, had expressed interest in returning to his former role as
a starter. Schuerholz acknowledged the possibility of a switch had
been discussed in the past year, but he said it was never seriously
pondered.

"I talked to John, I talked to doctors, I talked to Bobby,"
Schuerholz said, referring to manager Bobby Cox. "We did discuss
it, but that doesn't mean it was considered."

Smoltz won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996, when he was 24-8 as a
starter. After reconstructive surgery in 2000, he moved to the
bullpen and became a full-time closer in 2002, when he set the NL
record with 55 saves.

Schuerholz said the latest reports from doctors indicate Smoltz
is recovering as planned and should be ready for spring training.

He will make $11 million next season, and the Braves hold a $12
million option for 2005 that would become guaranteed if he finishes
57 games in 2004.

Smoltz stands to earn an additional $100,000 per start, which
would push his salary to about $14.5 million if he started for a
full season.

Schuerholz said winning games -- not saving money -- is the best
reason to leave Smoltz in his current role.

"I know everybody is trying to make this a financial matter,
but we make decisions to have the best team we can on the field,"
he said.

The decision was first reported Tuesday by The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution.