Smoltz will be trying to become the 16th pitcher in major league history to reach 3,000 strikeouts on Tuesday when the Braves wrap up a two-game series with the Washington Nationals at Turner Field.
Smoltz (3-0, 0.56 ERA) is already the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves, and he has more postseason wins (15) than anyone else. Now, he’s on the verge of reaching the 3,000-strikeout plateau faster than only five other pitchers - Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens - despite missing a full season following one of his four elbow operations and a stint of three full seasons as Atlanta’s closer.
“That’s a pretty elite group,” he said. “The thing that means the most to me is it would be here in Atlanta. Nobody else would get to enjoy it as much as the Atlanta fans.”
Despite his age and history of health problems, Smoltz is hardly coasting to his latest milestone. He has allowed just one run in 16 innings in his three starts this season and struck out 10 in just five innings in Thursday’s 8-0 win over Florida - the 44th time in his career he has posted double-digit strikeouts.
However, Smoltz is battling pain in the back part of his right shoulder that forced him to start the season on the disabled list and shortened his start against the Marlins.
“I feel like my slider is as good as it has ever been,” Smoltz said. “My only frustration is that the point I’m at now, I know I’m not going eight or nine innings.”
In 67 appearances - 40 starts - against the Nationals’ franchise, Smoltz has recorded 260 strikeouts - his most against any team. He gave up one run and struck out five in a 10-2 win in Washington on April 12, improving to 21-11 with a 2.58 ERA all-time against the Nationals (5-15).
The 21 wins are also Smoltz’s most against any franchise.
John Lannan (0-2, 4.86), who will start opposite Smoltz on Tuesday, made his first career appearance against the Braves in the April 12 game and was battered for a career-high six runs in a career-low four innings. Now, however, the left-hander will be trying to build on one of the most impressive starts of his young career, after allowing one run and striking out a career-high 11 in six innings of the Nationals’ 14-inning, 3-2 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday.
Lannan had posted just 16 total strikeouts over the first eight starts of his career.
“I had my curveball and slider working, and I was able to throw my fastball and keep it low. … The slider really helps me now. I didn’t have it last year,” Lannan told the Nationals’ official team Web site.
The Braves (10-9) have won five straight, including Monday’s 7-3 win that put them over .500 for the first time this season. Atlanta, coming off a three-game weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, have outscored their opponents 31-6 during the winning streak.
Chipper Jones, who leads the majors with a .453 batting average, returned to the lineup one day after leaving a game with an ailing right quadriceps. Jones was 1-for-3 with an RBI, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.
“We’ll just take it game by game,” Jones said. “I need to be in there as much as possible.”
The Nationals have dropped three straight and 15 of 17 since starting the season with three straight wins. They got 13 hits on Monday, but had two runners thrown out at the plate, the second with Atlanta ahead 6-0, and another thrown out at second to thwart a potential rally in the eighth.
“Every play is important,” manager Manny Acta said. “When you’re struggling to score runs, you tend to push the action.”