10/05/2003 6:52 PM ET
Notes: Sheffield back after injury
ATLANTA -- Gary Sheffield wasn't about to let the Braves play their most important game of the year without him.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
When Sheffield arrived at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon, he was able to convince Braves manager Bobby Cox that his injured right hand had healed enough to enable him to start the decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series.
"He was pretty convincing when he came in here today," Cox said of his All-Star outfielder, who was hit with a Mark Prior fastball in the sixth inning on Friday night.
The ensuing discomfort was severe enough to make Sheffield unavailable in the Braves' Game 4 win on Saturday. But on Sunday, his health had improved dramatically.
"He's a lot better today," Braves team physician Dr. Joe Chandler said. "There is not as much swelling in there today."
Sheffield, who led the Braves with a .330 batting average and ranked second in the National League with 132 RBIs, proved he was feeling much better by launching a few tape-measure shots during Sunday's batting practice.
"I let a couple of swings go in batting practice, and now I know that I'll be all right," said Sheffield, who was able to wiggle his bat in his customary fashion during batting practice.
After examining Sheffield on Saturday morning, Chandler was certain there wasn't a fracture in the hand. X-rays later in the day confirmed his prognosis.
While the discomfort in Sheffield's hand was severe on Saturday, he said it wasn't as painful as the realization that he wasn't able to help his team during their Game 4 victory that sent the best-of-five set back to Atlanta.
"I don't like taking days off period and to miss a playoff series game, with elimination at the door," Sheffield said. "It was probably the worst thing I've ever had to go through."
Smoltz available: Cox was confident that if needed, John Smoltz would be ready to close out Sunday's Game 5. The Braves closer, who is still battling tendinitis in his right elbow, was in obvious pain while he earned the save in Saturday's game at Wrigley Field.
Although Smoltz has allowed at least one run in each of his past three appearances dating back to the regular season, he still seems to be getting plenty of respect from opponents.
"He didn't look like he was struggling to me," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He was throwing 96, 97 [mph]. If that's struggling, I would hate to see him when he wasn't struggling. The major difference was he didn't throw his breaking ball or split-finger much."
Dr. Chandler and Smoltz have said for more than a month that discomfort will likely exist in the elbow throughout the rest of the season. But Chandler has stressed that Smoltz isn't in putting himself at any more risk of injury by continuing to pitch.
NLCS starters: If the Braves win Sunday night and advance to an NLCS showdown against the Marlins, Cox plans on starting either Horacio Ramirez or Shane Reynolds in Tuesday's Game 1.
If Ramirez is forced to pitch in relief on Sunday night, Reynolds will get the nod. But if the rookie southpaw isn't needed in Game 5 of the Division Series, he'll make his first postseason appearance as the Game 1 starter in the NLCS.
Reynolds, who wasn't included on the Division Series roster, said he has thrown some lengthy side sessions over the past week to prepare himself for this possible start.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or