The Atlanta Braves are no doubt eager to get their ace back on the mound.
The Braves (66-62) dropped the last three games of their four-game series in Cincinnati, capped by Thursday’s 9-7, 12-inning defeat. They enter this set six games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets and three behind San Diego for the NL wild card lead.
The Braves also got bad news on Thursday, as shortstop and former Cardinal Edgar Renteria was placed on the 15-day disabled list after aggravating his sprained right ankle the day before. He had been activated from the DL just a day earlier.
Atlanta’s only two wins over its last eight games have been recorded by Smoltz (11-6, 3.05 ERA) and Tim Hudson. Besides their two top starters, the Braves have not gotten a win from their rotation since Aug. 7, when Buddy Carlyle beat the New York Mets.
Smoltz is coming off perhaps his most dominant start of the season. He allowed two runs in eight innings of Sunday’s 6-2 win over Arizona and struck out 12 batters - his most since fanning 15 on April 10, 2005 against the New York Mets.
The fifth strikeout gave him 2,913 for his career, moving him past Phil Niekro’s Braves record.
“I’ve been struggling lately mechanically, and I’ve been really trying to fight to get it right,” the 40-year-old right-hander told the Braves’ official team Web site. “The last five or six innings were outstanding.”
However, the win was just Smoltz’s second since the start of July despite a 3.17 ERA over that span.
“Smoltz has been kind of a tough-luck loser the last couple of starts,” said first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has five homers in his last five games. “We haven’t gotten him a lot of support. For us to come here and score some runs early, he was great.”
Smoltz is facing the Cardinals (61-63) for the first time this season but is 10-11 with a 4.20 ERA in 39 career appearances - 28 starts - against them.
St. Louis has won 10 of its last 14 games but is coming off Thursday’s 11-3 loss to Florida. Albert Pujols went 0-for-3, ending a franchise record-tying streak of five straight games with a homer.
Pujols, who left Wednesday’s game early with a lingering hamstring injury but still got the start, also had his seven-game RBI streak snapped. He is 7-for-15 (.467) with three homers all-time against Smoltz.
The Cardinals, who matched a season high with four errors, missed a chance to move back to .500 for the first time since they were 6-6. They are three games behind the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.
St. Louis will hand the ball to Kip Wells (6-13, 5.24), who is making his first official start since allowing three runs in six innings of a 12-4 victory in Milwaukee on Aug. 14. He took the mound Sunday against the Cubs and pitched into the third inning before the game was postponed because of rain.
“You never know,” he told the Cardinals’ official team Web site of his brief outing at Wrigley. “Obviously if you make good pitches, you’re going to get fair results. I gave up that hit there in the third that was kind of a poorly hit ball, but I felt good. My sinker was good. My slider was good. I made good pitches.”
Wells is 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts this month, and has given up more than three runs just once in his last six starts.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 2.43 ERA in six career starts against the Braves but has not faced them since 2005 while with Pittsburgh.