Notes: Smoltz may have one start left
Veteran would take turn Sunday if Astros are in contention
ATLANTA -- As of late Thursday afternoon, John Smoltz hadn't definitely decided whether he'd step on the mound again this season. But with the game's integrity playing a possible part, he knows there's a good chance he'll make his scheduled start against the Astros on Sunday.
While the Braves have already been eliminated from the postseason picture, the Astros have won nine straight games and put themselves in the thick of the National League Central race. After their Thursday afternoon victory over the Pirates, Houston pulled within a half-game of the Cardinals, who have won just one of their last nine games.
"For everything that's at stake, I'd pitch if the game absolutely means something to them," Smoltz said.
After throwing eight scoreless innings against the Mets on Tuesday, Smoltz indicated there was a possibility he'd heed caution and not make another start. He's been bothered by a sore right groin much of this month. But at 39 years old, he hasn't missed a start this year.
"My major responsibility is to go into the offseason healthy," said Smoltz, who has already surpassed the 225-inning mark for the second consecutive season.
If the Braves were to take the first two games of the Astros series and the Cardinals beat the Brewers on both Friday and Saturday, the Astros would be eliminated. But that doesn't necessarily Smoltz won't opt to make the start.
"There are a number of things I have to think about," said Smoltz, who is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last three starts.
While Smoltz could improve his candidacy in a cloudy National League Cy Young Award race, more importantly he must decide whether making the start is worth risking his long-term future. With his success the past two years, he's quieted the many who didn't believe he'd be able to stay healthy after ending his days as a closer to return to the starting rotation.
Now there's reason for Smoltz to believe he can continue his success long after he celebrates his 40th birthday in May. The most successful 40-something of this decade has been Roger Clemens, who -- once again -- could be making the final start of his splendid career on Friday night against the Braves.
"Every time I've thought I've seen [his] last game, some way he comes back," Smoltz said. "Words can't describe what his career has been. It's really been unbelievable."
Clemens, 44, has recorded 38 of his 343 career victories since making his first retirement announcement after the 2003 season. Since rejoining the Astros in June, he's made 18 starts and posted a stellar 2.35 ERA.
"He came back and did better than I thought," Smoltz said. "It's amazing."
Thomson pleased: When John Thomson took the mound in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's 13-1 win over the Mets, there was little need for excitement. But still some loyal fans located in the outfield seats responded with a chorus of cheers when Thomson exited the bullpen.
Making his first appearance since July 9, Thomson tossed a perfect inning against the Mets. More importantly, he felt no discomfort in his previously ailing right shoulder.
"I think I was more nervous last night than I've been in a long time," said Thomson, whose uneasiness may increase over the next few months, when he'll learn how much interest he draws on the free-agent market.
When he posted 1.59 ERA after his first five starts this season, it looked like Thomson was positioning himself for a big payday. But he wasn't as effective in his next six starts and developed a blister on June 14. Since that time, he's pitched just 7 1/3 innings.
That missed time this year combined with the fact that Thomson missed three months with a finger injury in 2005 likely means he may have to settle for a reduction to his current $4.75 million salary.
"All I can control is what I do on the field," Thomson said. "I started this year real good. But in people's eyes, it's always how you finish."
Thomson, who has been with the Braves since 2004, wants to return to Atlanta next year and knows he'd likely have to accept a role as a reliever. But he also understands there's a good chance he'll have a new employer in 2007.
Elias says: After limiting the Mets to one earned run and four hits on Wednesday, Tim Hudson seemed rather relieved. A disappointing season came to a close without the further discouragement that would have been created by encountering the first losing record of his career.
Hudson's victorious effort improved his record to 13-12. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joins Carl Hubbell and Andy Pettitte as the only pitchers since 1920 to post a winning record and have at least 10 wins in each of the first eight seasons of their careers.
Coming up: The Braves will begin their three-game series against the Astros on Friday. Chuck James (10-4, 3.94) will oppose Clemens (7-5, 2.35).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.