Smoltz feeling no ill effects from last year's arm trouble

Updated: January 20, 2006, 7:43 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz is "ecstatic" about the way his arm feels after the first two weeks of his offseason throwing program.

Starting Pitcher
Atlanta Braves

33 14 7 53 169 3.06

Smoltz, who finished the 2005 season with inflammation in his right shoulder, has had four operations on his right elbow. Despite the painful end to last season, he had a successful return to the starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA.

There was widespread concern about Smoltz's durability last year after four seasons as the Braves' closer, but he led the staff with 33 starts and 222 2-3 innings.

"It was an incredible year," he said this week.

The 38-year-old Smoltz says he is confident his arm will be ready for another season.

"It's feeling great," he said Wednesday. "I'm ecstatic with the way it feels today, even a month before we report for spring training."

An examination following the playoffs revealed inflammation but no structural damage to the shoulder, according to Smoltz.

"That's just something I never dealt with before," he said, referring to the shoulder pain. "I dealt with so many nitpick injuries that it probably added up at the end. Over the course of time it ended up costing me a little bit."

Smoltz was wary about pushing his arm too hard this spring, so he pulled out of the World Baseball Classic earlier this month. Now he says he feels so good that if he had waited he might have made a different decision.

"I did it a little prematurely because I thought the timeframe was actually shorter than it actually is," he said about the deadline to commit to the Classic. "It probably is best because of how bad I want to play in it."

Braves third baseman Chipper Jones has committed to play for the United States. Outfielder Jeff Francoeur and pitcher Tim Hudson also are on the preliminary U.S. roster, but Francoeur could be a long shot to make the final roster.

Braves general manager John Schuerholz said earlier this month he and other baseball executives have concerns about players participating in the Classic, though he said baseball is committed to supporting the March 3-20 tournament.

Schuerholz says he is most concerned about the health of Braves pitchers in the event.

"We're going to do all that we can to be as smart as we can to get our guys in the best possible condition, principally pitchers, so they're less likely to have an injury problem that would set them back and set us back," Schuerholz said.

Smoltz said he plans to have his first workout at Turner Field with new pitching coach Roger McDowell on Feb. 1.

Smoltz and Hudson are expected to head a rotation that tentatively also includes John Thomson, Jorge Sosa and Horacio Ramirez. Kyle Davies is another candidate to start.

"I honestly think if people would give this staff a chance to find its own identity, given what took place last year with Sosa pitching so well, we have the capabilities to match up with any other staff if we can stay healthy," Smoltz said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press