Tom Glavine wanted to end his career with the Braves.

If this is the end, it wasn't on his terms.

Atlanta released the winningest active pitcher in the big leagues on Wednesday, a stunning move just when it seemed he was ready to return to the Braves.

The 43-year-old Glavine, who was coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery, threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Class-A Rome on Tuesday night and proclaimed himself ready to pitch in the majors again.

Instead, the Braves cut him, another move that figures to draw the ire of Atlanta fans after the team failed to re-sign John Smoltz during the offseason.

Glavine described himself as "very surprised" in a text message to The Associated Press. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox called it "the hardest thing I've ever been through."

The players were most shocked by the timing of the decision: Why was the 305-game winner allowed to make three rehab starts, then told he wouldn't be pitching anymore for the Braves?

"We all would have preferred to see it happen sooner because he worked so hard to rehab," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Right when he's saying he's ready to come back, he finds out that it's not going to be here."

For those who attributed the move to finances, general manager Frank Wren said it had nothing to do with a $1 million bonus Glavine would have received for being placed on the major league roster. Instead, the team felt it had a better chance to win with a younger pitcher in the rotation.

"This was not a business decision," Wren said. "This was a performance decision."

Top prospect Tommy Hanson will be called up Saturday to start against Milwaukee. Glavine, meanwhile, hasn't decided whether he wants to try to hook on with another team.

"Not sure about pitching," he said in his text.

Glavine was still trying to deal with what appeared to be another bitter split from the Braves.

"We gave him the option, 'If you want to retire, you can retire as a Brave,'" Wren said. "He asked us to release him."

The rest of the team learned the news when players returned to the clubhouse after batting practice. Everyone was caught off guard.

"None of us saw it coming," Jones said.

The Braves made another major move Wednesday, acquiring All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh for three prospects: outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.

Wren said Glavine's impressive performance in the minors had no impact on the team's assessment of his ability to pitch in the big leagues.

"We've been evaluating him the last four weeks and everyone felt we had a better chance to win at the major league level with one of our younger pitchers," Wren said. "The pitching line is irrelevant when you're pitching in low A-ball."

Glavine got the news after being summoned to a meeting at Turner Field with Wren, Cox and team president John Schuerholz.

"I think he was taken aback a little bit," Wren conceded.

Glavine has a career record of 305-203 and returned to Atlanta last season intent on finishing his career with the Braves, his original team, after five years with the New York Mets.

"It would have been a storybook ending if he got it here," Jones said. "Emotionally, we all wanted to see Glav come in here and finish up. He's not going to be allowed to do that."

Smoltz thinks that's a shame.

"That ain't right. I just feel bad for a teammate of mine that I had for a long time," Smoltz said in Detroit, where his Boston Red Sox teammates beat the Tigers.

"It's not how you treat people. He didn't have a chance to fail at that level, if that was the issue or concern. It's just too bad for a guy. First time working his way back and he pitched fairly well. They talked about his velocity being kind of funny, but no one's ever talked about his velocity before."

Glavine pitched his first 16 seasons for the Braves, then signed with the New York Mets before the 2003 season after negotiations with Atlanta turned contentious.

The left-hander reconciled with the Braves, returning to Atlanta with a one-year deal in 2008. At the time, he said he would have retired if not for the chance to play again for his original team.

Glavine pitched only 13 games, however, his season ending with an elbow injury that required surgery _ the first major injury of his career. He also had some minor work done on his shoulder, and negotiations on a return to the Braves dragged on beyond the start of spring training.

Glavine finally signed a $3.5 million deal that included a $1 million bonus when he was placed on the active roster and $1.25 million each for 30 and 90 days on the active roster.

He never made it back _ at least not with Atlanta. Jones, for one, expects to see Glavine in another uniform before he finally calls it quits, on his terms.

"He feels he can still pitch. He feels he can still get people out," Jones said. "And he's probably got a little bit of a sour taste in his mouth and wants to go pitch somewhere."

Shortly before his first scheduled start in Atlanta this season, Glavine began feeling pain in his shoulder, a strain apparently caused by swinging the bat. Two weeks of rest left him feeling much better. He made two rehab starts for Triple-A Gwinnett, throwing five shutout innings in his second appearance, and added to his scoreless streak at Rome.

Wren said the numbers didn't matter.

"The comeback was not working," the GM said. "Our evaluation was he would not be successful."