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Cox's schedule sets up Braves former closer

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 Athletics.

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.

Camp 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 spring training game.