ATLANTA (AP) – 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 – he stopped 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 Tuesday, announcing that Smoltz will pitch Game 2 of the NL division series against the Houston Astros instead of the opener. Tim Hudson will go in Game 1 on Wednesday 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 (since his last start). 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 on 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,” he said. “I don’t feel like their 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 up to Smoltz’s numbers, the Braves have plenty of confidence in the 30-year-old right-hander.

“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 on Thursday.

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 and the NL’s seventh-best ERA.

“Coming out with Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt, you’ve got to feel pretty good about it,” manager Phil Garner said. “If I had one other guy to add to this rotation, it would be Cy Young. It would be hard to get him here now, I guess. But, nonetheless, I feel pretty good about it.”

The Astros’ offense is another story. Houston finished 13th in the NL with a .256 batting average and 11th in runs (just under 4.3 per game).

“Hopefully,” said Morgan Ensberg, whose 101 RBIs were 19 more than anyone else on the team, “the rules of baseball that have applied for a hundred years – pitching and defense wins games – will carry over here.”

Atlanta captured its 14th straight division title while in the midst of a youth movement. Eight rookies made the postseason roster, led by 21-year-old phenom Jeff Francoeur.

The Braves believe all those kids might help them overcome their history of postseason failure. Since the streak of division crowns began in 1991, they’ve managed only one World Series championship. The last three seasons ended with opening-round losses in Game 5 at Turner Field.

In fact, it was Houston that knocked out the Braves a year ago.

“That youthful ignorance can be a good thing,” Hudson said. “These guys don’t know about winning 14 in a row. They’re 1-for-1. This is their first chance to win a World Series.”

AP-ES-10-04-05 1748EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.