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Smoltz Likely to Return Monday; Gonzalez Not Too Far Behind

Here is a quick snippet from the AJC :

The Braves' John Smoltz threw a scoreless eighth inning Saturday night for Class A Rome, striking out one, and could be activated as soon as Monday.

Mike Gonzalez made his second appearance in his minor league rehabilitation assignment at AA Mississippi. He gave up two hits in two scoreless innings after throwing one scoreless inning Thursday. The Braves would like to give Gonzalez a couple of weeks to work his way back.

"He just needs to get back competitive," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

I expect that even when these guys return they'll be a bit shaky for their first couple of outings, so the immediate benefits may not be realized, but if they stay healthy and return to their previous form (still a tall order for Gonzo, who is coming back from TJ) then the end of the game for the Braves may begin sometime around the sixth or seventh inning.

I especially like what this portends for our problem in one-run games. There is a distinct lack of confidence in some of the Braves relievers right now, so to add two guys like Smoltz and Gonzalez to the back of the pen makes a huge difference in how Cox uses his relievers (not to mention the recent addition of Rafael Soriano). Guys like Acosta and Boyer turn into the early innings guys, and Ohman returns to being just a LOOGY. Bennett and Carlyle can then go back to being just long-men or situational guys. By the way, that list sort of tells you that I think the team will cut Royce Ring and demote Phil Stockman (though they may choose to demote Carlyle instead).

As much as this is a good thing for our bullpen, I still would prefer that Smoltz come back as a starter. Obviously the thought from the team and from John is that his elbow will hold up better as a reliever than as a starter, but this leaves our rotation without its best pitcher -- and the winningest pitcher in post-season history, if we're looking that far ahead (and we should be).

Further down in the AJC article it mentions that Mike Hampton did some more long tossing on his latest road back from his latest injury -- and he didn't have any setbacks. I'm still of the opinion that he'll severely stub his toe on his way out of the dugout to make his first start and have to leave the game without ever throwing a pitch.

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