Tigers 5, Braves 0

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ATLANTA (AP)—Kenny Rogers picked up right where he left off in October.

Making his first start of the season after a blood clot was removed from his pitching shoulder in the spring, Rogers allowed only two hits in six innings to lead the Detroit Tigers past the punchless Atlanta Braves 5-0 on Friday night.

The Braves have been shut out in three straight games for the first time since 1988.

“This surpasses what I would have expected,” Rogers said. “I don’t ever go into a game saying I’m going to shut a team out. I’ve always been willing to give up a run here and there to minimize the damage.”

Maybe it’s time to change those expectations. The 42-year-old lefty played a vital role in Detroit’s run to the World Series last year, winning all three of his postseason starts and pitching 23 straight scoreless innings.

Eight months later, having recovered from scary surgery on his left shoulder, the oldest starting pitcher to win a World Series game got started on a new streak. And he didn’t have anything on his hand, for those who might remember that smudge found on his thumb in Game 2 against St. Louis.

“Kenny was Kenny,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He did what he usually does, a little of this, a little of that, in and out, changing speeds. He picked right up where he left off.”

After two rehab outings in the minor leagues, Rogers (1-0) got off to an ominous start—he hit Kelly Johnson with the very first pitch—then breezed through a Braves lineup that’s having trouble scoring off anyone.

“The first inning felt weird,” Rogers said. “It was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. I was a little tentative in my approach. But I got more relaxed the last couple innings.”

After grazing Johnson on the right shoulder, Rogers retired the next 10 hitters, including Edgar Renteria on a double play that erased the leadoff hitter. The Braves finally got their first hit with two outs in the fourth: Renteria’s clean single past third baseman Brandon Inge.

Scott Thorman had the only other hit off the Detroit starter, a single to right leading off the sixth after the Tigers broke up a scoreless duel in the top half with five runs against John Smoltz (8-4). Rogers finished with a flourish, however, striking out the next two hitters before Yunel Escobar lined out to center.

The Braves haven’t scored in 28 innings and became the first team to take three straight shutouts since Kansas City on July 5-7, 2004, during a series at Minnesota.

“Not to beat a dead horse, but we’ve got to score,” Smoltz said. “We know that. We’ve just got to score. And the pitchers have to be there when we do.”

Rogers threw 75 pitches, struck out five and didn’t walk anyone. Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay and Eulogio De La Cruz finished off the two-hitter.

In an interesting twist, Rogers’ first start of the season came at Turner Field, where he had one of the worst moments of his career in 1999. Then pitching for the New York Mets, Rogers came on in relief for Game 6 of the NL championship series and walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded, sending the Braves to the World Series.

“I’ve had a few games in the playoffs; that wasn’t the best one,” Rogers said a couple of days ago. “I plan on improving on that.”

Did he ever.

Of course, he sure picked the right team to come back against. The Braves have turned downright feeble offensively, getting outscored 20-0 over the last three games while managing just 12 hits. They didn’t even get a runner into scoring position against the Tigers.

Andruw Jones went 0-for-3 and has gone hitless in 21 straight at-bats, dropping his average below the Mendoza Line to .199. The Braves didn’t have injury-plagued Chipper Jones, who sat out with a strained adductor muscle.

“I thought we hit the heck out of the ball,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox, always looking to put a positive spin on things. “Nothing happened.”

Smoltz, who started out in the Detroit organization but never pitched for the Tigers, matched Rogers through five innings. But the Tigers’ potent offense finally broke through in the sixth, scoring all five runs with two-out hits.

Deciding to go with Smoltz pitches, Magglio Ordonez had an RBI single, Carlos Guillen a two-run double and Ivan Rodriguez another double that made it 4-0. All four hits went the opposite way. Finally, after Sean Casey was walked intentionally, Inge pulled Smoltz for another RBI single.

“He was pitching very well before the sixth inning,” Rodriguez said. “Then everything changed.”

The only consolation for Smoltz: He struck out seven during his six-inning stint, moving past Jim Bunning for 16th place on the career strikeout list with 2,861.

“I wouldn’t have given a nickel for our chances early on,” Leyland said. “Smoltz was unhittable. Fortunately, we went with some pitches we could hit and put up a number on him.”

Ordonez, who already has 68 RBIs, left the game in the eighth after being hit on the left hand with a pitch in the eighth. X-rays were negative and the outfielder said he expects to be back in the lineup Saturday.

Notes

Braves LHP Wil Ledezma, acquired from Detroit on Wednesday, made his Atlanta debut against his former team. He struck out the side in the ninth. … The game drew a crowd of 44,034. It was the first time since September 2000 that the Braves had four straight turnouts of more than 40,000, coming on the heels of a sold-out series against the Boston Red Sox.

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