ATLANTA -- Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox spent two days stubbornly insisting that left-hander Charlie Leibrandt would remain in his World Series rotation, but he surprised no one yesterday when he changed his mind.
Cox announced before the start of Game 3 that Leibrandt has been moved to the bullpen and that his top three starters -- Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz -- each will come back on three days' rest if the Series goes the distance.
Glavine will start in place of Leibrandt if the Braves get to a fifth game, setting up Avery and Smoltz to try to close out the series the same way they did the National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It's not really a change," Cox said. "I just wanted to make sure that Tommy [Glavine] was able to do it. He had a real easy ballgame the last time and he had five days off going into it, so there's no reason he can't do it."
The Braves have been careful not to overwork Glavine since he struggled through a dead-arm period in September. He did not look particularly strong in his first playoff start, but he has pitched well in each of his last two games, even if he doesn't have anything to show for it.
He gave up one hit through the first six innings of his World Series debut Sunday, but suffered his third straight postseason loss on an eighth-inning home run by platoon third baseman Scott Leius.
"Tom only threw 108 pitches last time out, so he'll be OK," Cox said. "They've all done it [pitched on three days' rest] before."
Cox wanted to make sure that the move wasn't viewed as a slap at Leibrandt, who was a surprise starter in Game 1. He pitched four decent innings before giving up a three-run homer to Twins No. 9 hitter Greg Gagne, but that one big swing was enough to beat the Braves and force Cox into a difficult decision.
He raised eyebrows by starting Leibrandt in the first place. Glavine, one of four 20-game winners in 1991, seemed like an obvious choice to pitch the World Series opener. He was rested and ready, but Cox apparently wanted to give him one more day to regain his full arm strength.
The decision made sense, because it guaranteed every pitcher in the rotation sufficient rest between starts, but it had one major drawback. It left Smoltz -- the club's hottest pitcher in the second half -- scheduled for only one start in the World Series. That was remedied yesterday.
Smoltz, who dominated the Pirates in the deciding game of the National League playoffs, would be the starter if the Braves and Twins come down to a climactic seventh game Sunday at the Metrodome.
"I hoped to only pitch one game," Smoltz said. "I had hoped that we'd wrap it up quickly and I'd only have to pitch once. But if I get to pitch in that situation, that would be the ultimate."
Of course, the Braves will have to play a lot of good baseball to push the Series to that point, but they no longer have a weak link in the starting rotation.
Leibrandt won 15 games during the regular season, but he had not won since Sept. 12, despite a solid start in the playoffs. He will pitch in long relief, which means that he probably will pitch again only if the rotation realignment backfires on the Braves.