Braves confident Chipper will be ready for playoffs
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
John Thomson is battling a strained muscle in his left side, but is showing improvement. (Matt Sayles/AP)
CHICAGO -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox heads back to Atlanta on Sunday night after the conclusion of his team's regular-season finale against the Cubs, he'll have a nervous stomach.
It's not the upcoming postseason that is causing this anxiety. Instead, it's the fact that each member of his projected three-man rotation for the Division Series, has some health concerns.
"Now it's churning more," Cox said of his stomach. "Now we've got three of our starters hurt."
When Jaret Wright (bruised right foot) and Mike Hampton (torn cartilage in his left knee) proved healthy on Friday, Cox was comforted. But while still crossing his fingers regarding those two hurlers' health, the veteran skipper saw John Thomson leave Saturday's game after three innings with a strained muscle in his left side.
While Wright, who is scheduled to start Game 1, and Hampton, who is scheduled for Game 3, should be fine, there was still uncertainty regarding Thomson on Sunday afternoon. But at the same time, there's still some optimism that he'll be able to make his scheduled Game 2 start on Thursday.
"He has shown improvement in the past 24 hours, which gives us reason to be optimistic," Braves trainer Jeff Porter said.
Thomson plans to test the potentially nagging injury while throwing off the bullpen mound in Atlanta on Monday or Tuesday. His normal between-starts routine would call for him to throw a side session on Monday.
"It feels the same," Thomson said. "But I really don't feel it when I'm just standing here. The only time I felt it pinch was when I was in my follow-through [of a pitch]."
If Thomson is unable to make his start on Thursday, there's a chance he would switch spots in the rotation with Hampton. If his condition doesn't improve over the next week, Russ Ortiz would likely be added to the Division Series rotation.
Chipper Jones / 3B
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Smoltz surging into the postseason: When John Smoltz allowed the Reds five runs and four hits, while recording just one out in the ninth inning on Sept. 22, there was some reason to worry about him.
Over a course of his previous 9 2/3 innings (nine appearances), Smoltz has surrendered 20 hits and posted a 10.24 ERA -- raising his season ERA from 1.86 to 2.91.
But in the four appearances that followed that forgettable evening against the Reds, Smoltz totaled 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one hit and no runs. In other words, he relocated his customary dominant form.
"The story line has changed," Smoltz said. "I no longer have to answer questions about that entering the playoffs. The last three outings were right where I wanted to be."
Smoltz, who was given a day off on Sunday, finished the season with 44 saves, making him the sixth pitcher to ever compile at least 40 saves in three consecutive seasons.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.