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Smoltz returns to starter’s role

Associated Press

John Smoltz wants to finish what he started – which is starting.

Smoltz reported for spring training with the Atlanta Braves acting like an excited rookie, not the longest-tenured member of the team. After three seasons as one of baseball’s most dominant closers, the 37-year-old right-hander is back in the rotation.

Turns out, that’s where he wanted to be all along.

When the Braves worked out a deal for Milwaukee closer Dan Kolb, Smoltz got the call he wanted: He won’t be called in from the bullpen anymore.

“I’m in my 20th spring training,” he said. “I’m supposed to be like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ But I’m pretty fired up.”

Smoltz, who won the 1996 Cy Young Award as a starter, is attempting an unprecedented flip-flop-flip.

He was one of the few pitchers who went from being an accomplished starter to a dominant reliever. And no one has started a game after entering the 50-saves-in-a-season club.

Steinbrenner blasts agent

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner blames Jason Giambi’s agent for not allowing the slugger to address questions about his testimony to a grand jury that he used steroids.

“The court told Jason that he could say anything he wanted to,” Steinbrenner said. “The court gave him permission. And Arn Tellem says no, and he doesn’t.”

“I just don’t like the guy,” Steinbrenner added, regarding Tellem.

Steinbrenner arrived at Legends Field and passed Tellem, who was discussing contract extension talks involving Hideki Matsui with reporters.

When asked about Matsui as he was entering the elevator, Steinbrenner said he would like for the outfielder to remain with Yankees before adding “I don’t like the agent.” He also used a four-letter profanity in reference to Tellem, but later said he shouldn’t have used the profanity.

Kent lends support to Bonds

Jeff Kent once fought in the dugout with Barry Bonds. Still, Kent believes his former teammate should be cut some slack as talk of steroids ripples through baseball.

“Barry tries to do his best, as we all do, to shed light on issues that he has and we all have in our lives,” Kent said from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spring training camp.

“I understand he has a lot he can’t talk about; I understand he has a lot of anger at the media,” Kent added. “I have a lot of respect for Barry. He is one of the best players ever to play the game.”

Bonds hits live pitching

Barry Bonds took a few swings in the batting cage at the San Francisco Giants’ training complex, facing live pitching earlier than the club expected.

Bonds, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Jan. 31, took his first cuts of spring training. The slugger also played soft-toss in the outfield for the second straight day, keeping his rehabilitation ahead of schedule.

Schilling making progress

Curt Schilling made progress in his second bullpen session of spring training and still could start on opening day for the Boston Red Sox.

Manager Terry Francona doesn’t think there’s any reason to rush him.

“Opening day is not judgment day,” Francona said after Schilling’s 43-pitch, 13-minute session. “I think he made progress today.”

Hudson, Braves close to deal

The Atlanta Braves closed in on a contract extension with pitcher Tim Hudson, who has one year left on his current deal and doesn’t want to talk money during the season.

Hudson, acquired from Oakland in December, set a Tuesday deadline for extending his contract.

“It’s pretty close,” Hudson said. “We’ve just got a few loose ends to clear up.”

Cardinals extend Isringhausen

St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who tied for the N.L. lead with 47 saves last year, agreed to a three-year contract extension.

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