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With Hampton OK, worry turns to Smoltz

ATLANTA - Tim Hudson will start tonight's opener against the Nationals in Washington, but the Atlanta Braves are already thinking ahead to next Sunday.

Will John Smoltz by ready to pitch?

The Braves expect Smoltz to make that start against the New York Mets. But if he can't, they have Chuck James in reserve.

Although Smoltz and James will start the season on the disabled list, they are eligible to come off in time to face the Mets in the homestand finale.

"It looks like Smoltzie should be ready to go, but we've covered even if he isn't," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Smoltz, who made just one Grapefruit League start, is scheduled to pitch today in a minor league game in Florida. The veteran right-hander has been bothered by tightness between his neck and shoulder.

James is recovering from a slight rotator cuff tear. The left-hander is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday at Rome in a simulated game.

The Braves don't need a fifth starter until April 6 because of an off day on Tuesday.

Tom Glavine will start the home opener Monday night against Pittsburgh. Jair Jurrjens will pitch against the Pirates on Wednesday, followed by Mike Hampton on Thursday. Hudson and Glavine will start the first two games of the weekend series against the Mets.

Jeff Bennett made the opening roster as a spot starter and long reliever, beating out Buddy Carlyle.

On Saturday, Carlyle was optioned to Class AAA Richmond as the Braves finalized their 25-man roster.

Ruben Gotay, claimed off waivers from the Mets on Friday, joined the Braves on Saturday and played in the exhibition finale against Cleveland.

"I was surprised," Gotay said.

"I thought I played well last season. But I just have to come here and show what I can do. I want to help this team."

Gotay, a switch-hitter, batted .295 in 98 games with the Mets. He hit .288 (15-for-52) as a pitch hitter. "He can swing the bat," Cox said.