Notes: Game 4 starter undecided
Thomson ready, but Hudson could go on three days' rest
HOUSTON -- Braves manager Bobby Cox still hasn't decided who will be his starting pitcher for Game 4 of the National League Division Series. But his decision will be made with the encouraging realization that John Smoltz's shoulder is feeling better than expected.
After Smoltz threw seven strong innings in Thursday night's Game 2 win over the Astros, there was some doubt about whether he'd be available for the remainder of the series. But when the veteran hurler awoke on Friday, he was surprised to find that his shoulder wasn't as stiff as its been for much of the past three weeks.
With Smoltz feeling better than expected, there's a chance he could be used in some sort of relief role for Game 5. Of course to get to that point, the Braves have to win one of the next two games in Houston.
Or they could make things real easy and win both of this weekend's games in Houston and have Smoltz available with plenty of rest for the NL Championship Series.
If the Braves win Saturday's Game 3, Cox will likely go with John Thomson in Game 4. If they lose and face possible elimination in Game 4, Cox may choose to bring Tim Hudson back on three days' rest.
"We'll see how tomorrow goes," Cox said on Friday afternoon "I'll talk to all the pitchers today and again tomorrow to see how they're feeling. There's so many combinations that we can go."
Thomson would likely be chosen over southpaw Horacio Ramirez because of the amount of right-handed hitters in the Houston lineup. Also going against Ramirez is the fact that he hasn't won on the road since June 27, as well as that he allowed 31 homers this season. That's not a good tendency for pitchers to possess when pitching with Minute Maid Park's short left-field porch behind them.
If the Braves are facing elimination, they could go with Hudson, who allowed five earned runs in seven innings of a disappointing Game 1 performance. The veteran right-hander believes his lack of command stemmed from the combination of eight days of rest and the excitement of making his first postseason start for Atlanta.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back out there," Hudson said. "Hopefully I'll get a chance to get back out there and do a lot better."
The best scenario for Hudson might be to wait until Game 5. That would give him a chance to go as long as possible and then hand the ball to Smoltz, who is confident he'll be able to handle whatever task necessary.
"I think John Smoltz woke up early this morning and felt pretty darn good," Cox said. "That doesn't mean he could start Game 5 by any means, but he could be available for Game 5, I think."
Andruw's stroke relocated: When Andruw Jones ended the regular season with just six hits in his final 51 regular-season at-bats, he was battling sore knees and having trouble keeping his concentration. But since the postseason began, he's relocated the stroke that made him a top candidate for the NL MVP Award this year.
Through the first two games of the Division Series, Jones has four hits, including a three-run homer, in seven at-bats. He's played a part in six of the 12 runs that the Braves have scored against the Astros.
"If I don't produce in the middle of the lineup, we're not going to win," Jones said. "That's why my concentration is real high."
Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton isn't surprised by Jones' success. He vividly remembers seeing the Gold Glove center fielder hit .526 with two homers in last year's Division Series against the Astros.
"He always gets fired about this time of year," Pendleton said.
Francoeur shows patience: It's no secret that Jeff Francoeur has found much of his rookie success because of an aggressive style that has earned him the label of being a free-swinger. But in his first encounter against Roger Clemens on Thursday night, the 21-year-old right fielder surprised many with his patience.
In his three at-bats against Clemens, Francoeur saw a total of 20 pitches. Just one day earlier, in Game 1, he swung at the first three pitches he was delivered and saw a total of six pitches in four at-bats.
"It felt good," Francoeur said of the patience he showed on Thursday. "I saw a lot of pitches and it got my timing good. I think it got me relaxed as the game went on."
Pendleton believes Francoeur's first at-bat against Clemens might have been his finest of the season. After falling behind 1-2, he worked the legendary hurler for a seven-pitch walk. Two batters later, Brian McCann hit the game's decisive three-run homer.
"That was pretty impressive," Pendleton said. "Sooner or later, he had to come to grips with what he had to do to be successful here."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.