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Smoltz Says He Is Ready for Astros

The right-hander calls his stiff shoulder 'not that big a deal' and will start Game 2 against Houston.

October 05, 2005|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — John Smoltz slipped out of the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse through a side door, hoping to avoid reporters camped by his locker. He knew what was coming and, frankly, he was a little tired of talking about it.

Smoltz walked all the way to the parking lot before finally -- with more than a little reluctance -- stopping by his car to chat.

"Everybody's putting me in a coffin," Smoltz said. "All I've got is a stiff shoulder. It's not that big a deal."

The Braves made it official Tuesday, announcing that Smoltz will pitch Game 2 of the NL division series against the Houston Astros instead of the opener. Tim Hudson will go in Game 1 today against Andy Pettitte.

Manager Bobby Cox waited until the Braves were traveling home from their final regular-season game before revealing his plans to those involved. He called it a precautionary move, giving the team some flexibility in case Smoltz's shoulder acts up again.

"John is not 100%. But if he's 95%, that's good enough," Cox said. "He is feeling good. He's thrown a lot in between this time [since his last start]. He doesn't really ache or anything like that. It's just a matter of locating his fastball a little bit better."

Still, it was big news when the Braves passed over Smoltz for Game 1 in the best-of-five series. After all, he's the winningest pitcher in postseason history with a 14-4 record. He wanted to get back in the rotation to start games such as this, feeling he didn't have as much impact during the last four postseasons as a closer.

But the wear-and-tear of pitching a team-high 229 2/3 innings apparently got to Smoltz late in the season. He pushed back one start a couple of days, then sat out the last nine days of the regular season to rest for the playoffs.

Even though Smoltz (14-7) felt better during a bullpen session Sunday, Cox wanted some assurance that his opening-day pitcher could come back on three days' rest for Game 4, if necessary.

Hudson (14-9) was a pretty good backup choice, having pitched in four division series for Oakland.

"I'm not exactly chopped liver," he said.

Neither are the Astro pitchers.

Pettitte (17-9) has 13 postseason wins -- trailing only Smoltz -- and had an earned-run average of 2.39 this season. That was second in the National League to teammate Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87), who will oppose Smoltz on Thursday.

Houston's rotation is so strong that Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94) won't go until Saturday, when the series shifts to Texas, despite his second straight 20-win season and the NL's seventh-best ERA.

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