Sports Outside the Beltway

Smoltz to Return to Closer Role?

John Smoltz may return to the bullpen in light of recent shoulder problems and injuries to the Atlanta Braves‘ closer an setup man, David O’Brien reports.

John Smoltz hopes to be back pitching in 15 to 30 days and said he would consider returning to the closer role.

After going on the disabled list Tuesday with inflammation in the rotator cuff and a biceps tendon in his pitching arm, Smoltz said it’s possible he would return to the closer role where he dominated during the 2002-04 seasons. “Yes,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday night. “Right now I’m sitting at ground zero, taking it day by day, looking at every option to help this team get to the playoffs and end my career the way I’d like to end it.”

It was a surprising acknowledgment from Smoltz, who returned to his preferred starting role in 2005 after converting 154 saves in 3 1/2 seasons as a closer, including a National League-record 55 saves in 2002. He is 47-26 as a starter since the beginning of the 2005 season. The condition of his shoulder, coupled with elbow problems for Braves relievers Peter Moylan and closer Rafael Soriano, has made Smoltz open-minded about moving back to the bullpen.

First, he has to heal. He has been ordered to go 5-7 days without picking up a ball. “I won’t rush back,” he said. “I’ll use the best judgment to do what it takes to come back and be successful. The last thing I want to do is bounce back and forth on the DL. “I will be fine. The team will be fine. And the next time I throw will be because I’m ready.”

It’s an intriguing idea. Smoltz was dominating as a closer but then found himself helplessly sitting in the bullpen during the playoffs while lesser starters gave away games. An ace starter is simply more valuable to a team than even the best closer. But a great closer is better than a starter who can’t stay healthy.

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