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Smoltz hopes to pitch again
Braves pitcher John Smoltz had ‘five or six’ problems fixed during his recent shoulder surgery. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Braves ace John Smoltz hopes to pitch again, but acknowledged Friday his most recent shoulder surgery required repairs that have ended the careers of many others.

Smoltz said the season-ending operation performed on Tuesday by Dr. James Andrews fixed injuries to “five or six problems,” including his labrum, AC joint and biceps.

The Atlanta righty said he hopes the surgery ends the pain that has limited his pitching and overall quality of life the last year. He said the procedure also leaves him with a tighter right shoulder — and that’s not a good thing for pitchers.

“My mobility is going to be a big part of my success if I do come back,” Smoltz said in a telephone interview.

“Most of these surgeries, people ... lose their flexibility and therefore their ability to pitch and to come back from this is difficult for most people,” he said. “I believe my flexibility and the things I can do will enhance my chances to come back and pitch.

“I still enjoy pitching. I still enjoy the fact that I can pitch and I’m going to pursue that.”

Smoltz said he hopes to know more about his comeback chances when he is first able to throw again in about four months. He was 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA in six games this year.

Meanwhile, Braves general manager Frank Wren said the team will be without pitcher Tom Glavine until around the All-Star break.

Wren said Glavine, who was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday, has a small tear in his flexor tendon in his left elbow.

“It’s not a surgical repair,” Wren said. “The only thing that will heal it is time. The doctors felt a reasonable time frame was sometime around the All-Star break that he could resume pitching.”

Wren said the 41-year-old Smoltz needed no encouragement to pursue a comeback from his fifth arm surgery, including four to his right elbow.

“No one had to do any arm-twisting,” Wren said, adding it was important to Smoltz that he know if he can still pitch.

“John is a competitor and that’s what has made him so great throughout his career,” Wren said. “That’s what makes a lot of these guys tick, to being able to do it their own terms. John will be able to come back and see what he can do and do it on his terms.”

Smoltz is the only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves. He holds major league records with 15 victories and 194 strikeouts in the postseason and won the 1996 Cy Young Award.
“There’s nothing I have to attain or nothing I have to prove,” Smoltz said.

“I still enjoy it. I would like to find out on my own accord if I can get back. The last year and a half for me was awfully miserable. It was a very difficult time to try to pitch and I still had some success through it.
“If it’s meant to be then I’m going to do it. If it’s not then it’s no big deal, but the ability to still go out there and compete at a high level, I would welcome that if it’s still afforded me.”

Smoltz said Andrews said the surgery was a success both in repairing injuries and in not finding new problems.

“They were very happy arthritic changes did not exist,” Smoltz said. “That was one of the unknowns. If you have arthritic changes, that can cause some long-term problems, so they were very excited about that.

“Every issue (Andrews) described to me, whether it was the labrum, AC joint, the biceps, he feels like he’s addressed them all and fixed them. Now it will be up to the healing process and to re-engage my shoulder. I’m a very loose-jointed kind of flexible guy who will have to get used to a tightened-up shoulder a little bit and give it time to heal.”

Smoltz was on the disabled list with a sore shoulder to open the season. After a second trip to the disabled list, he tried to return as a closer, but one rocky and painful inning pitched in relief convinced him he needed the season-ending surgery.

“I’m going to be very aggressive with my rehab and that will allow me to know within a good time frame where I’m going to be,” he said.

“I’ve got targets in mind and when I reach those targets I’ll be able to determine how far I have to go and certainly if pitching again at a high level will be possible.”

Smoltz missed the entire 2000 season after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. He switched to the bullpen midway through the 2001 season and had 154 saves during his three-plus seasons as Atlanta’s closer, including an NL-record 55 in 2002.

Smoltz then surprised observers again by switching back to a starter’s role.

Since the 2000 surgery, he is 53-34 with a 3.04 ERA and 154 saves, with his ERA under 3.50 each season.

Overall, Smoltz has 210 wins. On April 22, he became the 16th pitcher in major league history to reach 3,000 strikeouts.

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