The Braves (50-59) have lost three straight and seven of nine. Of the team’s last three wins, two came with Smoltz (9-5, 3.45 ERA) on the mound.
“Smoltzie, we know he’s always going to get you a great game,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said after his ace’s last start. “Nothing that happens surprises me about John. You expect greatness every time out.”
The veteran right-hander won his fifth straight decision on Tuesday, a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Smoltz pitched seven innings, allowing one run and six hits while striking out six. That win snapped the team’s four-game losing streak.
“I approached it today like an absolute must-win,” he said. “There’s no other way we could approach it.”
Atlanta is 12-11 with Smoltz on the mound this season. The only starter the Braves have had more success with is Tim Hudson, who has pitched in 14 of the team’s wins this season despite having an ERA that’s nearly two runs higher.
Smoltz is 19-11 with a 2.98 ERA in 43 appearances, including 36 starts, against the Reds. The 19 wins are the most he has against any team in his 18-year career. He won his only start against them this season, allowing one run in eight innings while tying a season high with 10 strikeouts in a 4-1 victory on July 8.
This game marks the fourth straight Smoltz is pitching following a loss by the Braves.
On Saturday, Atlanta lost 8-6 after a rough outing by starter Jason Shiell, who allowed six runs in three-plus innings. The Braves responded in the sixth when Adam LaRoche and Marcus Giles each homered to tie the score, but Brandon Phillips hit his second homer of the game in the eighth, drawing a curtain call from the Cincinnati crowd.
“That was nice,” said Phillips, who went 3-for-3 with a double to boost his average to .300. “It shows the fans were into it.”
Cincinnati (57-53) is looking to sweep the Braves in a three-game series for the first since Sept. 2-5, 1996.
The Reds will hand the ball to Kyle Lohse (0-0, 9.00), who is making his first start in the NL since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the July 31 trade deadline. He’s made one relief appearance for Cincinnati, allowing one run and four hits to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in a 10-4 defeat.
Lohse started in the Twins’ rotation before being optioned to Triple-A Rochester on May 16 after allowing six hits and five runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 7-4 loss at Detroit. He went 2-4 with an 8.92 ERA in eight starts.
The right-hander was recalled from the minors in early June and came out of the bullpen in his final 14 appearances for Minnesota.
“Starting is all I’ve really known the whole time,” Lohse said. “Going into a relief role was kind of tough,” Lohse said. “Once you get out there on the mound, your job is the same—get outs. That’s what I plan on trying to do.”
Lohse’s only appearance against the Braves was a start on June 11, 2002. He pitched four innings, allowing seven runs and nine hits—including three homers — in an 11-0 loss.