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12/09/08 12:12 AM EST

Cox concerned about Braves' rotation

With Hudson out, Atlanta focused on finding No. 1 starter

LAS VEGAS -- Walking with a slight limp as he approached a group of media members on Monday afternoon at the Winter Meetings, Braves manager Bobby Cox smiled and said, "We lost all of the great [starting pitchers] that we used to have."

Even if he hadn't been forced to make a multitude of trips to the mound this season, Cox would have likely needed to get the new set of artificial knees that were inserted in October.

But there's no doubt that he's hoping that he won't be forced to place the same level of stress on his new knees next season.

"You can't win unless you have good pitching, and we lost everybody last year," said Cox, who admits he's never seen a team lose as many pitchers to injury as the Braves did this past season.

Three members of Cox's original rotation were lost, and he said Monday that he doesn't believe Tim Hudson will be able to return in 2009 from the Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that he underwent in August.

Braves general manager Frank Wren softened this by saying that the club remains hopeful that Hudson might be able to return in September. But at the same time, Wren's current roster plans are based on the thought that the veteran right-hander won't pitch again until 2010.

With Hudson out of the mix, the Braves are intent on finding an ace. It's no secret that they are targeting A.J. Burnett, a guy who Cox would certainly like to place at the front of his rotation, even if it means the Braves have to commit to giving the veteran right-hander a guaranteed five-year contract.

"You've got to do what you've got to do," Cox said. "We'll see. He's got a fabulous arm. He's a guy who can go out when he doesn't have his best stuff and throw a no-hitter."

Over the past week, Cox has gained reason to be further encouraged about the pitching staff he might possess next season. The trade that brought Javier Vazquez to Atlanta solidified the middle of the rotation.

Then on Friday, while watching John Smoltz throw off a mound for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery in June, Cox became even more encouraged about the potential depth of a rotation that could also include Tom Glavine, who just began the throwing portion of his post-surgery rehab last week.

"You can't count [Smoltz] out," Cox said. "He's going to pitch, no doubt in my mind. Hopefully, he's going to be with the Braves."

If Smoltz returns next season, the Braves are planning to place him in their rotation. That's his desire, and the bullpen mix already has the potential be strong with Mike Gonzalez serving as the closer. Two wild cards in this mix are Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano, who are both attempting to return from surgical procedures performed on their right elbows.

Cox saw Moylan last week and was encouraged with the progress made by the sidewinding reliever, who could return from Tommy John surgery in May. As for Soriano, who underwent a less significant elbow surgery in August, the Braves won't have a good feel about his return until early January.

"If [Moylan and Soriano] are healthy, our bullpen is going to be dynamite," said Cox, who is also looking forward to the benefits right-handed reliever Blaine Boyer has gained while working out with Smoltz this offseason.

Cox is also looking forward to the opportunity to get a glimpse of Boone Logan and Eric O'Flaherty, two left-handed relievers who have been acquired over the course of the past month.

"We're after more pitching right now, as you know, and I've always felt if you have a lot of pitching, you need to go get some more, because eventually you never have enough," Cox said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.