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Smoltz a go for Braves

He starts Game 2 against Clemens

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz slipped out of the Atlanta Braves clubhouse through a side door, hoping to avoid reporters camped out by his locker. He knew what was coming and, frankly, he was a little tired of talking about it.

Smoltz walked all the way to the parking lot before finally -- with more than a little reluctance -- stopping by his car to chat.

''Everybody's putting me in a coffin," Smoltz said. ''All I've got is a stiff shoulder. It's not that big a deal."

The Braves made it official yesterday, announcing that Smoltz will pitch Game 2 of the NL Division Series tomorrow against the Houston Astros instead of the opener. Tim Hudson will go in Game 1 today against Andy Pettitte.

Manager Bobby Cox waited until the Braves were traveling home from their final regular-season game before revealing his plans to those involved. He called it a precautionary move, giving the team some flexibility in case Smoltz's shoulder acts up again.

''John is not 100 percent. But if he's 95 percent, that's good enough," Cox said. ''He is feeling good. He's thrown a lot in between this time. He doesn't really ache or anything like that. It's just a matter of locating his fastball a little bit better."

Still, it was big news when the Braves passed over Smoltz for Game 1 in the best-of-five series. After all, he's the winningest pitcher in postseason history with a 14-4 record. He wanted to get back in the rotation to start games such as this, feeling he didn't have as much impact during the last four postseasons as a closer.

But the wear and tear of pitching a team-high 229 2/3 innings apparently got to Smoltz late in the season. He pushed back one start a couple of days, then sat out the last nine days of the regular season to rest for the playoffs.

Even though Smoltz (14-7) felt better during a bullpen session Sunday, Cox wanted some assurance that his Opening Day pitcher could come back on three days' rest for Game 4, if necessary.

Hudson (14-9) was a pretty good backup choice, having pitched in four Division Series for Oakland.

''I'm not exactly chopped liver," said Hudson. ''I don't feel like they're settling for me going in the first game. It really doesn't matter who goes first and who goes second."

While Hudson's postseason resume -- 1-2 with a 3.44 ERA in six starts -- hardly matches Smoltz's, the Braves have plenty of confidence in the 30-year-old righty.

''To me, it's just another bullet in our belt," second baseman Marcus Giles said. ''We have just as much confidence in Huddy as we do in John. Huddy has pitched in a lot of big games. I don't look at this as a bad situation.

''And if we get Game 1 under our belt," Giles added, ''look who we've got going in Game 2."

Well, look who the Astros have going in Game 1. And Game 2. And don't forget Game 3.

Pettitte (17-9) has 13 postseason wins -- trailing only Smoltz -- and put up an ERA of 2.39 this season, which was second in the National League to . . . teammate Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87), the future Hall of Famer who will oppose Smoltz tomorrow.

Houston's rotation is so strong that Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94) won't go until Saturday, when the series shifts to Texas, despite his second straight 20-win season.

''Coming out with Pettitte, Clemens, and Oswalt, you've got to feel pretty good about it," manager Phil Garner said.

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