Smoltz deserves to start - Doug Gorman

Last Sunday was an interesting day. As I sat in traffic on I-75, heading to Stockbridge from my parents home in Cobb County, there was very little to do but listen to the Braves and that masterpiece of a pitching performance John Smoltz turned in for seven strong innings, tying his own Braves' record with 15 strikeouts.

A road construction project heading southbound on the interstate created a traffic snarl, and it took me close to an hour to move from the West Paces Ferry exit to the ramp at Howell Mill.

The slow pace of the traffic allowed me to really concentrate on the game and it didn't take me long to understand I was listening to a classic.

It also became apparent the Braves weren't getting the veteran pitcher enough runs. I wasn't surprised when Smoltz lost the lead. As the game headed into the late innings, I began thinking manager Bobby Cox should have gone to his bullpen.

Cox has always been loyal to his players, and Smoltz deserved the chance to stay in the game, if possible.

Despite the loss, Smoltz did one thing on Sunday – he proved he can still get it done as a starter.

After his performance in the season-opener, and even before the start of the season, there were those skeptics who suggested he belonged back in the Braves' bullpen, not back in the starting rotation.

At one time I was among those who didn't think he was good for more than a couple of innings at a time.

I couldn't understand why Smoltz, at almost 38-years-old, thought or even wanted to do anything more than come out of the bullpen as the team's No. 1 closer.

After all it had been five seasons since Smoltz had been a full-time starter. As a closer, Smoltz added a new dimension to his career, saving 154 games in four seasons.

He was "Mister Automatic" in that role.

Now, I think I have it figured out why the long-time member of the Braves wanted to start again.

Simply put, Smoltz is one of the game's best competitors, so given the chance in the pitching role he loves most, he jumped at the chance to return to the rotation.

He is also one of sport's most loyal teammates.

The right-handed all-star pitcher could have left the Braves' years ago. There were teams that would have signed him as a starter without thinking.

But Smoltz accepted his role coming out of the bullpen, and even embraced it, turning into perhaps the game's most relible closers.

Now, that the Braves have moved Smoltz back into the starting rotation, there's little doubt he will add to his 163-career wins.

Fans should not be worried by the veteran pitchers' 0-2 record to start the season.

Smoltz is again the Braves' "go-to-guy." He's the man I want on the mound every few days.

He the man who could lead the Braves back to the World Series, and that's the way it should be.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. His column runs on Fridays. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com ).