The Braves began Thursday night’s game off to their worst start since 1990, but Smoltz and Jones provided a lift to help beat the Florida Marlins 8-0.
Smoltz pitched five shutout innings and struck out 10, increasing his career total to 2,996. Jones went 4-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs.
There were other heroes: Atlanta hit five homers, including three in a row off Ricky Nolasco. Four relievers combined to pitch four hitless innings and complete a three-hitter with 16 strikeouts.
But Smoltz and Jones remain the best thing about this year’s dismal start for the injury-plagued Braves, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for only the third time in 10 road games.
“Every win is big for us right now,” Jones said. “Let’s build upon this and start something of a roll.”
Smoltz has been nursing tightness in his right shoulder, but he lowered his ERA to 0.56 and improved to 3-0 in three starts, while the rest of the Braves staff is 3-9. He walked none, allowed only three hits and reached double figures in strikeouts for the 44th time.
“He can’t pitch any better than that,” manager Bobby Cox said.
“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.”
Jones raised his batting average to .443. He had an RBI double in the first and a homer in the third, and with two out in the fifth, Jones, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann hit consecutive home runs in a span of 12 pitches. Kelly Johnson added a two-run homer in the sixth.
Jones’ multihomer game was the 37th of his career.
“I have never seen Chipper start a season the way he’s starting,” Smoltz said. “He’s carrying us. He’s hot, and you know everyone else around him is going to get hot. And when that happens, we’re going to be a very, very difficult team to pitch to.”
Cox called a team meeting before the game, and the Braves responded with a win to finish an 11-day trip 3-6.
“Bobby does a lot of things at the right time that a lot of people don’t know about,” Smoltz said. “This was an encouragement meeting. The manager doesn’t speak often, and when he does, he seems to know what to say.”
Nolasco (1-1) gave up nine hits—all for extra bases—and left after McCann’s homer put Atlanta ahead 6-0. The last time the Braves hit three consecutive homers was on May 28, 2003, against Cincinnati.
“It’s kind of tough to swallow,” Nolasco said. “I fell behind some guys, and they made me pay.”
Smoltz was sharp from the start, striking out the side on 12 pitches in the first inning. He had eight strikeouts after 3 1-3 innings, but because of his shoulder he departed after throwing only 81 pitches.
“We just don’t want to take any chances,” Cox said.
Florida had runners at second and third with none out in the second, but two strikeouts and a popup allowed Smoltz to escape. After Hanley Ramirez reached second with none out in the third, Smoltz retired the next three batters.
“You knew after the first inning, the way he was throwing, we were going to have to battle,” said Luis Gonzalez, one of three Marlins to strike out three times. “He just had good stuff.”
Braves RHP Tim Hudson said he felt fine Thursday, less than 24 hours after struggling with his velocity and lasting only three innings in a loss to Florida. … RHP Jeff Bennett will start Friday when the Braves open a homestand against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … Marlins 2B Dan Uggla, batting .179, was given the night off. … Braves RHP Jorge Campillo has a no-hitter going this season, with five hitless innings in two relief appearances. … Jones improved to 6-for-10 lifetime against Nolasco.