Brewers swap sends Smoltz back to rotation

<b>ANAHEIM – </b> It took years of not-so-mild nudging, but John Smoltz finally got his wish. <br><br> After losing Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright to free agency earlier this month, the Atlanta Braves filled a hole by trading for Milwaukee Brewers closer Dan Kolb on Saturday. The move presents Smoltz with his long-awaited opportunity to return to the starting rotation.

"John was delighted," Braves GM John Schuerholz said. "You could hear him smile on the other end of the phone. ... We've talked for several years about it."

The maneuver came at the expense of 23-year-old fireballer Jose Capellan, widely regarded as one of baseball's top pitching prospects. Capellan struggled in a late-season call up to Atlanta this year, going 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in three games (two starts), but is a likely bet to enjoy success as a part of Milwaukee's starting rotation.

"We're delighted to have Kolb, even at the loss of one of the finest young power arms in the game," Schuerholz said. "We needed John to start and we could get Kolb to close. It's a pretty good opportunity to get both."

Kolb, 29, turned out to be a huge steal for the Brewers, who picked him up off of baseball's scrap heap two years ago and squeezed 60 saves out of the right-hander (including 39 in 44 opportunities this season).

Brewers GM Doug Melvin arrived at the Winter Meetings hearing buzz about Kolb – the Chicago Cubs were said to have interest – but wasn't intent on dealing until the Braves dangled Capellan.

"We still feel like we're a year or so away, but we have some good young players like Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "[Capellan] fits into our short-term and long-range plans. …

"When you come out here and see the cost of what starting pitching is in the free agent market, it's important for us to try and develop some starting pitchers," he said.

Smoltz's return will be the most noticeable part of yet another Braves rotation overhaul that now figures to include Mike Hampton, John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez. Even at age 37, Atlanta team physicians believe that Smoltz will be effective in the starting rotation – perhaps more so now that he has a full four days between starts to recuperate.

"With his great competitive spirit, desire to win and leadership capabilities, he's the kind of guy we need in this rotation," Schuerholz said. "I think Smoltzie's going to be outstanding. He loves it, and we need him more than ever."

Bryan Hoch is in Anaheim covering the Winter Meetings for

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