Smoltz back in starting rotation

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Has there ever been a pitcher in history quite like John Smoltz?

He has won 20. He has saved 50. And now that he's back in the Braves' starting rotation, he'll probably win 20 again.

"Oh, I don't know whether he'll win 20," said his long-time manager Bobby Cox on Saturday. "But I know he'll be real good."

There was a time when the Braves' doctors were advising that pitching out of the bullpen would be easier on Smoltz's reconstructed elbow. But that, said GM John Schuerholz, was "immediately after the surgery." But now that he has had four years to build his arm back to full strength, "they're telling us that starting would be easier on his arm."

Smoltz, though, has always believed that. And after all those postseasons where the Braves were ousted in games in which they couldn't even get him the ball, Smoltz was actively campaigning to be allowed to go out and play the lead in the "Curt Schilling Story" in those games that matter most.

But modern sports medicine was only a secondary reason why the Braves made the trade with Milwaukee that sent Smoltz back to the rotation.

"This wasn't a move we made to protect John's arm," Schuerholz said. "This was a move we made to protect our chances of winning another division championship."

It was a move that was made because the Braves were down to two healthy starters (Mike Hampton and John Thomson). And no team has won a championship with a two-man rotation since about 1906.

So this is a decision that works both for the Braves and Smoltz. In a minor subplot, it also means he'll have a lot more time to hit those golf balls he pounds so well.

"He's a zero handicap now," Cox laughed. "So he can't get much better than that. He might play Tiger [Woods] just [getting] two [strokes] a side now -- instead of three a side."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.