John Smoltz thinks a checkup Wednesday will show that his surgically repaired right shoulder is progressing ahead of schedule.
The 41-year-old Smoltz, who this year became the 16th pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts, also looks forward to showing Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren that he's worth a new contract in 2009.
"I've been down this road before," Smoltz said Tuesday. "It's not like it's the only time I haven't proved what I've said in the past."
Smoltz left open the possibility that he would consider pitching for another team next season after spending his entire major league career with the Braves. His first preference, however, is to stay in Atlanta.
"I really don't even know why I'm answering that question," he said. "I've been here for 21 years and I'm going to be here as long as there's a position for me."
The only pitcher in major league history with 200 wins and 150 saves, Smoltz has been on the disabled list 11 times before. He returned to pitch effectively each time, most notably in 2001, the first of three-plus seasons he spent as one of the NL's most dominant closers.
"I've been written off before and I'm sure this is finally the time when everyone says, 'Finally! This is the end,'" Smoltz said with a laugh. "But I certainly don't think that."
The 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner will drive to Birmingham, Ala., to meet with orthopedist James Andrews, who repaired a torn labrum and injuries in his AC joint and biceps when Smoltz underwent season-ending surgery June 10.
If Andrews gives him the go-ahead, Smoltz, who feels no pain in his shoulder and says he faces no limits in his daily physical routines, will begin soft-tossing in October.
"I'm sure it'll be a little more than that," he said with a grin. "I think in 15-20 days, I'm think I'm going to know. I think I know now, but what's the difference?"
Atlanta's rotation has been in flux since Smoltz went on the disabled list April 28 with biceps tendinitis, but the pitching staff bottomed out when Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine underwent season-ending surgeries in the last two months.
The Braves were second in the NL with a 3.79 ERA before the All-Star break. Since then, Atlanta's 6.10 mark ranks as the second-worst in the majors.
Smoltz returned to the rotation in 2005 and over the next three seasons went 44-24 with a 3.22 ERA in 100 starts, a span of 667 1-3 innings. This year, before one failed attempt as a closer, he was 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts.
"I never thought three months (ago) from today (that) I'd be in position to feel good about my rehab," he said. "There were a lot more unknowns then than there are today."
Smoltz's contract, which pays him $14 million this year, ends this season. Had he reached 200 innings, an option would've triggered a guaranteed $12 million deal in '09.
He said it's too early to discuss contract terms with Wren, who has a similar situation regarding 300-game winner Glavine, another Braves icon who has stated he wants to return next year at 43, but only if he can pitch for Atlanta.
Smoltz insisted he's not pressuring Wren into beginning negotiations.
"It's not on my radar screen," Smoltz said before later adding that contract talks are a "non-issue" at this point.
"If I can pitch, I want to pitch," he said. "And my first desire is to pitch here as it's been for the previous 21 years."
Smoltz also doesn't know if he would return as a starter or a closer. He blew his only save opportunity in a 4-3 loss to Florida on June 2, giving up a two-out, two-run single to Jeremy Hermida.
That setback carries no weight with the right-hander, whose .917 save percentage in 168 chances from 2001-04 was second only to the .962 posted by Eric Gagne, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"There's all kinds of exciting controversy that seems to surround the innocence of answering that question," Smoltz said before adding later that he will put his rehab under a timetable of sorts.
"I know I'll be here unless they say I'm not good enough. How can I say 100 percent when I don't know? If I can pitch pain-free, I think that bodes well for the comeback that most people either, A, don't think I should or, B, don't think I can. Quite frankly, I've been down this road many, many times."
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