Having avoided their longest home losing streak in nearly five years, the Atlanta Braves seek back-to-back wins when John Smoltz starts the series finale against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday.
Atlanta (29-30) entered Tuesday having lost five in a row, but hung on for a 5-3 victory that improved it to 2-7 on its 10-game homestand.
“We had to start winning sometime,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Might as well be today.”
The Braves haven’t lost six straight at home since Aug. 8-21, 2001, the year Smoltz became the team’s closer after he missed all of 2000 with a torn elbow ligament.
Smoltz compiled 154 saves over the next four seasons before rejoining the starting rotation in 2005 and going 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA.
Smoltz (4-3, 3.72 ERA) tied a season high with 10 strikeouts Saturday, but lost 4-2 to Arizona. The right-hander allowed eight hits and didn’t walk a batter for the first time in five starts.
This will be his third appearance against the Nationals this season. He is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA and pitched a four-hitter the last time he faced them in a 6-2 win May 12.
Smoltz is 16-7 with a 2.54 ERA and 17 saves in 58 games, including 31 starts, against the Washington franchise.
His 32nd start against the team will come on three days’ rest. Citing his comfort level at home, the 39-year-old Smoltz asked Cox if he could pitch Wednesday instead opening a road series against Houston on Thursday. Cox was initially unenthusiastic about the idea before agreeing to move Smoltz up even though the right-hander threw 110 pitches against the Diamondbacks.
Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run shot for Washington (26-33), his 22nd, to move within three of injured St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols for the NL lead. The Nats lineup, though, mustered little else for rookie Shawn Hill.
The right-hander went six innings and gave up three runs, striking out two.
The loss snapped Washington’s five-game winning streak and dropped it to 5-3 on its nine-game road trip. The Nationals are 10-4 in their last 14 overall.
Right-hander Ramon Ortiz (4-4, 5.05) is slated to start the series finale.
Ortiz has won four straight starts for the first time since notching five in a row from June 3-25, 2003. That season, the right-hander won a career-high 16 games with the Angels.
In his last outing Friday, he allowed two runs and struck out a season-high seven in a 10-4 victory at Milwaukee.
“He was better in his last two starts,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He is getting to the point where he is keeping the game in check.”
Ortiz has struggled against Atlanta in his career, going 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in four starts. He lost to Smoltz and the Braves on May 12, giving up six runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings.
Soriano has homered in 10 consecutive series and is two behind Vladimir Guerrero’s franchise-record 12, set in 2001. Soriano is 3-for-8 (.375) with two homers against Smoltz.
Washington will open an 11-game homestand Thursday with the first of four games against Philadelphia.