Smoltz returns to old form as starter

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- John Smoltz is answering those who doubted he could return to the starting rotation at the age of 37.

Smoltz pitched five shutout innings and Andruw Jones and Ryan Langerhans hit home runs to lead the Atlanta Braves over the Cardinals 9-0 Monday.

Smoltz allowed four hits and was helped by three double plays. The Braves' closer the last three seasons has allowed only nine hits in 14 scoreless innings this spring.

"Why not keep going out there and putting zeros up?" Smoltz asked. "That's going to be my mind-set in the regular season."

Braves manager Bobby Cox said Smoltz is "throwing goose eggs every inning. That's not a shock."

Smoltz won the NL Cy Young as a starter in 1996, but he has not started more than five games in a season since 1999. He has insisted that a starting role will put less pressure on his right elbow than pitching in relief, and said another reason for returning to the rotation is to make a bigger postseason impact.

Even though the Braves added Tim Hudson in the offseason, Smoltz is the likely pick to be the team's opening day starter.

"All signs point to me being the opening day starter and that's what I'm counting on doing," Smoltz said.

Jones, looking comfortable batting fourth this spring, hit his seventh home run in the third inning. He began the day tied for the spring lead with six.

Langerhans, a rookie, added a two-run homer, his first, off Jason Marquis, who now has given up seven homers in 13 2-3 innings. Marquis gave up four homers to Boston last Wednesday. His earned run average climbed to 8.56.

Marquis allowed eight hits and six runs -- four earned -- in four innings.

With Jones hitting cleanup, Chipper Jones has been able to hit in his preferred No. 3 spot this spring. Raul Mondesi, who is expected to miss about a week with a strained hamstring, catcher Johnny Estrada and one of two first basemen -- Adam LaRoche or Julio Franco -- have been following Andruw Jones in the lineup.

Esix Snead hit a two-run triple off Jason Isringhausen in the eighth inning.

Noteworthy

A throwing error by Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols helped the Braves score two unearned runs off Marquis in the first inning.

Pete Orr, competing for a backup infield spot with the Braves, was 2-for-4. Orr and Wilson Betemit may be competing for one spot, and Betemit was 1-for-2 with a run-scoring single.

Attendance at CrackerJack Stadium was 11,380, the second-largest in the stadium's history, behind only Sunday's crowd of 11,421.

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