Public's With Smoltz
John Smoltz has overcome a shoulder injury to start 2008 in dominant fashion. He has joined elite company, too.
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Smoltz (3-1, 0.78 ERA) began the season on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. That certainly hasn't slowed the 40-year-old right-hander as he leads the NL in ERA, allowing two runs and 15 hits with 31 strikeouts and six walks in 23 innings over his first four starts.
The eight-time All-Star was outstanding again Tuesday, giving up one run and five hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of a 6-0 loss to Washington as the Braves (12-12) generated only five hits.
"A tremendous performance by Smoltz," Braves manager Bobby Cox told the team's official Web site. "He's not going to throw the ball any better than that. Pitch like that, you should win."
Despite losing Tuesday, Smoltz became the 16th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts. His 3,006 career strikeouts is the Braves' franchise record, and he has a chance to strike out at least 10 batters in a third consecutive game for the first time since May 29-June 9, 1996, the year he won the NL Cy Young Award.
Smoltz, though, hasn't fared well in his last four starts at Shea Stadium, going 0-1 with a 4.88 ERA while allowing the Mets (12-11) to hit .316 with three homers. However, he held them to two hits and struck out six over five scoreless innings of a 3-1 home win in his season debut on April 6.
He'll try to win at Shea for the first time since May 7, 2006, and help the Braves rebound from a 4-3 loss at New York on Saturday. Atlanta won 7-4 on Friday in the series opener.
The Mets, coming off just their second win in seven games, hope Nelson Figueroa (1-1, 4.05) can benefit from another home start to rebound from a rough road performance.
The right-hander, who entered the rotation for the injured Pedro Martinez (hamstring) on April 11, allowed three runs and seven hits with five walks in five innings of an 8-1 loss at Chicago on Tuesday following two impressive starts at Shea. In those contests, the Brooklyn, N.Y. native gave up only four runs and five hits in 13 innings while striking out 13.
"He shows poise, and he competes," Mets manager Willie Randolph told the team's official Web site. "He's been a nice, nice pickup for us."
Figueroa hasn't started against the Braves since posting his only win against them with Milwaukee on April 30, 2002.
He hopes David Wright has finally snapped out of his funk after going 2-for-4 with a run Saturday. That came after the third baseman went 0-for-17 with an RBI in six games. Despite the slump, Wright is hitting .294 with team highs of four homers and 20 RBIs.
The Braves hope Chipper Jones can return to the lineup after back spasms ruled him out Saturday. The All-Star third baseman's back bothered him before the contest, and he was replaced by Martin Prado, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and an error Saturday.
"It's crazy," Jones said. "Seriously, it was feeling like somebody sledgehammered me in the back."
Jones is off to a fast start, hitting a major league-leading .433 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 23 games. He has hit safely in 10 straight games at Shea, batting .372 (16-for-43) with two homers, five doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs.