ATLANTA (AP) – The Atlanta Braves have exercised the team’s $8 million option for 2007 with John Smoltz, ensuring the right-hander will return for his 19th season with the team.

The announcement was made before Smoltz started for the Braves at Colorado on Thursday night. It came one day after the Braves agreed on a $6.5 million, one-year extension with closer Bob Wickman.

“I’m happy I know I’m going to be playing here next year,” Smoltz said before the game.

General manager John Schuerholz said he told Smoltz on Wednesday of the team’s plans to exercise the option.

Smoltz, 39, had expressed frustration earlier in the season that the team had waited this long to exercise the 2007 option.

He’s 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA, heading into his start Thursday against Colorado.

The 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner has a 190-137 career record with 154 saves and a 3.29 ERA in 18 seasons, all with the Braves. He’s the only player to have been with the team for each of its 14 straight division titles.

“It was going to get done,” manager Bobby Cox said of Smoltz’s deal.

Cox said the same thing for Wickman, who is 15-for-16 in saves since arriving from Cleveland on July 20. Cox didn’t want to lose him.

“He looks better in a Braves (uniform) than others for sure,” Cox said. “He’s a great guy. He would fit on any team.”

AP-ES-09-21-06 1954EDT


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