Yes, it's true, Smoltz will start opener
Right-handed veteran tabbed to face Marlins on April 5
VIERA, Fla. -- Braves manager Bobby Cox didn't exactly officially announce his Opening Day starter on Wednesday morning. He simply admitted he's been withholding one of the worst-kept secrets in baseball.
After being asked when he planned to officially announce John Smoltz as his Opening Day starter, Cox smiled and then told the three writers surrounding him to go ahead and write it.
"We planned on John starting all along," Cox said. "We just wanted to see how his spring went."
While willingly fielding all of the questions concerning his conversion from a closer's role back to the starting rotation, Smoltz has been rather dominant throughout Spring Training. He hasn't allowed a run in the 14 Grapefruit League innings he's completed.
"I'm as happy as I can be with his ability to do what he's been doing," Cox said.
While Cox hadn't made it official, Smoltz has admitted over the past two weeks that he's been looking forward to the Opening Day showdown he'll have against the Marlins on April 5 at Dolphins Stadium.
"I think this is the biggest thing I've ever done as far as Opening Days go," said Smoltz, who also made Opening Day starts for the Braves in 1991 and 1997.
This will be Smoltz's first start since June 9, 2001. He's spent the past three seasons as one of the game's finest closers. But he's always desired an opportunity to get back to the starting rotation. It became possible in December, when the Braves landed All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee.
Just a few days after the Kolb trade, the Braves further improved their rotation with the acquisition of Tim Hudson, who is the legitimate ace of the staff. But with the icon status Smoltz has acquired since joining the Atlanta pitching staff in 1988, it was rather obvious who would get the honor of being the Opening Day starter.
Hudson said earlier this month that he wouldn't have been comfortable had the Braves told him that he, not Smoltz, was going to be the Opening Day starter.
Smoltz remembers those days he spent in a rotation with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. There were a number of years when the Opening Day starter wasn't a given. Even in 1997, coming off his 24-win, Cy Young Award campaign, Smoltz went through a period where he wasn't sure if he would get the Opening Day honor.
"I think people in other organizations treat it so much bigger than they do here," Smoltz said. "We usually have five Opening Day starters at any given time."
The rest of the Braves' rotation in order will be Hudson, Mike Hampton, John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez.
Smoltz's first start at Turner Field will come on April 10, when he opposes Pedro Martinez and the Mets. Atlanta's veteran hurler had been hoping that start would allow him his first career opportunity to face his longtime friend Glavine.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.