PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Although he'd spent the past few days saying there was no reason to worry about the tightness in his shoulder region, John Smoltz wasn't able to truly say this with confidence until playing catch on Tuesday morning at Disney's Champion Stadium.
After playing long toss from a distance of approximately 120 feet for about 10 minutes, Smoltz said that his shoulder felt loose. This is something he couldn't say during his bullpen session last Wednesday, when he began feeling a knot between his neck and right shoulder.
"It doesn't matter how many times I go through it, you've always got that anticipation about what it's going to feel like," said Smoltz, who dealt with shoulder discomfort during the final four months of last season. "You hope [the tightness] clears up, and it has to this point. Now all we have to do is create the stresses over the next 10 days or five days and be ready for whenever my next game will be."
Although he'll likely begin the season on the disabled list, Smoltz still is confident that he'll be able to make his first regular season start on April 6. Instead of throwing in a Minor League game later this week, it appears he'll do so early next week, when the Minor League teams are getting ready to break camp.
If Smoltz is able to make that April 6 start against the Mets, it looks like his mound counterpart will be Mets ace Johan Santana. While that challenge is certainly something that will appeal to the ever-competitive Braves veteran, he says he's not currently thinking about the matchup.
"It's me against me right now," said Smoltz, who completed three simulated games before pitching into the fifth inning of his only Grapefruit League start on March 15.
Smoltz was proud of the fact that he limited Tuesday morning's throwing session to its allotted time. In the past, when he hadn't thrown for a week, he says he usually felt inclined to push himself, which usually caused him further problems.
"Typically, trying to make up for lost time does me no good," Smoltz said.
After tweaking the shoulder while throwing a warmup pitch during his May 29 start in Milwaukee last year, Smoltz didn't miss his next turn and skipped just one of his scheduled starts in June. When the discomfort never subsided, he opted to go on the disabled list in early July.
From this experience, Smoltz has determined he can alleviate this discomfort through simple rest. There might be some time during the regular season that he receives assistance via a cortisone shot.
"I've just got to give it some time," Smoltz said. "There's treatments that work and there's time that works."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.