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John Smoltz strong arms his way back

December 8, 2008 |  8:10 pm

John Smoltz

LAS VEGAS –- Former Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz hasn’t thrown a baseball in competition since undergoing major shoulder surgery in June. But now, his manager with the Atlanta Braves says, he’s planning on winning 15 games this summer.

“I’ve never seen John so fired up about something in my life,” Bobby Cox said at baseball’s winter meetings Monday. “He loves challenges and he’s got a big one ahead of him.”

With Cox looking on last Friday, Smoltz, 41, threw off a mound for the first time in six months. The Braves came away impressed.

“I didn’t think there was any way he could throw like he did,” Cox said of Smoltz, who has won 210 games and saved 154 more in his 20-year career. “It kind of brought some bumps on my arm because he was throwing so well. I wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be that far [ahead] or not. But he is.

“He’s way ahead of schedule.”

The Braves’ rotation will be without left-hander Mike Hampton, who signed this offseason with Houston. But they have added right-hander Javier Vazquez, acquired in a trade with the White Sox. And they’d like to add another arm, which is why they’re making a concerted effort to land free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett or trade for San Diego’s Jake Peavy during the winter meetings.

“Yeah, we’re still looking for more pitching,” said Cox, whose team has missed the playoffs the last three seasons after winning 11 consecutive division titles.

“The budget still is open for another pretty good pitcher.”

-- Kevin Baxter

Photo: Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz in a July 2, 2007, file photo. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times