Notes: Smoltz in line for Opening Day

Notes: Smoltz in line to start on Opening Day

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox announced his exhibition season starting rotation on Monday, it wasn't surprising that it set up to allow John Smoltz to be the Opening Day starter.

Nor was it shocking to learn Cox isn't ready to officially announce that Smoltz will start the April 2 season opener in Philadelphia. Traditionally, the veteran manager has waited until mid-March before officially making the announcement.

"We're looking that way right now," Cox responded when asked if it could be assumed that Smoltz will be tabbed to make his fourth career Opening Day start.

Smoltz, who is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in his previous three Opening Day starts, and Tim Hudson are the only logical candidates to get the nod in the season opener. And with their position in the exhibition season rotation, both would be well rested on Opening Day.

Cox announced that Kyle Davies will start Thursday's Grapefruit League game opener against the Dodgers. Smoltz will make his exhibition season debut on Friday against the Pirates and Hudson will start Saturday afternoon's game against the Astros.

By maintaining this order and pitching every five days, Smoltz would have six days between his final exhibition start and the season opener. The way it currently sets up, Hudson would actually be on regular four days' rest if he surprisingly got the nod to be the Opening Day starter.

But all indications are that the nod will go to Smoltz, who has combined for 30 wins and proven to be the team's ace both of the past two years. If for no other reason, it would be fitting to provide him with the honor in what could be the finale of his long career in Atlanta.

"The reality is, Opening Day comes and goes," said Smoltz, who is entering the final year of his contract. "The anxiousness of Opening Day for me isn't the way that it used to be. ... Sometimes too much is made of it."

Smoltz's first Opening Day assignment for the Braves came in 1990, when he allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. Two years ago, while making his first start since 2001, he allowed six earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Marlins. His other Opening Day loss came in 1997, when he limited the Astros to two earned runs in an impressive eight-inning effort.

Combining each of the first starts he has made since 1989 (his first full Major League season), Smoltz is 6-8 with 5.17 ERA. Much of that damage has come over the course of his last three season debuts. During that span, he's 0-3 with a 14.89 ERA.

"What matters the most to me is that I can get into a groove earlier than I've gotten in before," Smoltz said.

Hampton still questionable: Cox is holding out hope that Mike Hampton will be able to make his exhibition season debut on March 6. Hampton, who is coming back from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, is scheduled to throw again on Tuesday. At that time, it will be easier to determine when he'll begin making exhibition starts.

"He might fit in right away," Cox said. "I don't know."

Following Davies, Smoltz and Hudson in the exhibition rotation are Chuck James and Lance Cormier. James will start Sunday's game at Vero Beach against the Dodgers and Cormier will pitch Monday's game against the Nationals.

Davies and Cormier, who are battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, will both pitch in Thursday's Grapefruit League opener. After Davies throws the first two innings, Cormier will enter to take care of the third and fourth innings.

If Hampton is deemed healthy enough to go on March 6, he'll throw two innings. Davies will also be scheduled to throw three innings in that game.

Gonzalez to face familiar Bucs: After ESPN provides fans a first opportunity to see Smoltz on Friday afternoon, Mike Gonzalez will make his spring debut against his former Pirates teammates. The left-handed reliever was obtained by the Braves in a January trade with the Pirates.

Closer Bob Wickman isn't currently scheduled to pitch in any of the first four exhibition games. But team officials have said the veteran right-handed reliever isn't injured. The indication is that he's simply using the preparatory routine that he's gained most comfort with during the course of his 14-year Major League career.

Right-handed setup man Rafael Soriano, who was acquired from the Mariners, is scheduled to make his debut in Sunday's game against the Dodgers.

Boyer's mishap: Blaine Boyer's surgically-repaired right shoulder has reacted favorably over the past couple weeks. But the nail of his right middle finger is currently badly bruised, courtesy of a Saturday afternoon accident.

After his wife locked them out of their house, Boyer attempted to gain entry through an unlocked window. While doing so, the right-handed reliever got his nail stuck in between the inner and outer panes of the window.

Immediately, the injury produced a lot of blood. But by Monday morning, Boyer said he'd be back to full health in a couple of days.

Where's Willy? As of Monday afternoon, the Braves still weren't sure exactly when Willy Aybar will report to camp. But the utility infielder, who has had trouble obtaining a visa, is expected to arrive some time this week.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.