Smoltz dislocates right pinky
Hurt in collision, righty might be able to make next start
WASHINGTON -- While it might not be the early 40th birthday present that John Smoltz was seeking, simply knowing that there's at least a chance he'll make his next start was certainly welcoming news.
Smoltz was forced to leave Monday night's game against the Nationals at RFK Stadium after dislocating his right pinky finger during a minor seventh-inning bump with Austin Kearns. X-rays were negative and because there wasn't a fracture, Braves manager Bobby Cox says there's a chance his veteran right-hander will start on Saturday against the Red Sox.
"It could have been broken, and he would have had to miss a month or two," said a somewhat relieved Cox after his team's 2-1 loss to the Nationals.
When Cox witnessed Smoltz's initial reaction, he was almost sure something had been broken. After bumping his pinky on Kearns' left elbow during a rundown in front of the plate, the Braves hurler reacted to the immediate excruciating pain. He jumped in the air, took a few steps and violently threw his glove to the ground in disgust.
"It happened so fast and the pain was so great, that I just thought it was broke," Smoltz said. "Then 35 or 40 seconds went by and I was asking [Braves head athletic trainer Jeff] Porter to pull it."
Porter put Smoltz's pinky back in place and by the time the game had finished, the swollen finger was wrapped in gauze. To get a better idea about whether he'll face the Red Sox, the Braves will have to see how the finger reacts over the next few days.
"Hopefully when the swelling goes down, we'll see what it does," Smoltz said. "Fortunately, it's my pinky, and you don't need it on any particular pitch. It's just whether or not the swelling is going to be able to subside."
If there is improvement, Smoltz plans to throw a side session on either Wednesday or Thursday. He's anxious to see how his slider and split-finger react while throwing with this injured digit.
"Those are certainly two pitches that I need against the next team that I'm facing," said Smoltz, while being able to provide a postgame smile.
Smoltz had planned to celebrate his 40th birthday on Tuesday with a round of golf with former Braves teammate Greg Olson. But those plans were altered when the Nationals' Ryan Langerhans was unable to lay down a suicide bunt attempt in the seventh inning.
As soon as the pitch missed Langerhans' bat, Kearns found himself in no-man's land and immediately got in a rundown. This prompted a throw to Smoltz, who was attempting to make a routine tag and walk back to the mound with the second out having been recorded.
"Once I had the ball secured, I was trying to get out of the way and it was too late," Smoltz said. "It was like seven feet [of separation] when I caught the ball, so I thought it was going to be an easy tag. He still was coming pretty good. So I was trying to cushion it and get out of the way and his elbow hit my pinky."
As Smoltz exited the field, he frustratingly motioned toward the Nationals dugout because he thought Kearns had extended his left arm to make contact. But via replays, the right-hander was able to see that the Nationals outfielder kept his arms close to his chest.
"In the heat of the moment, I thought he was trying to knock the ball loose," Smoltz said. "But he was just trying to get out of the way. His elbow hit my pinky and chipped my finger and I was looking at [my finger standing] straight up."
Kearns, whose seventh-inning RBI double accounted for one of the three hits Smoltz surrendered over 6 2/3 innings, said he was initially worried that the Braves hurler had suffered a severe injury.
"I didn't think I did anything wrong," Kearns said. "I felt for Smoltz. He is one of the best. I enjoyed competing against him. I was hoping he didn't think it was anything dirty about it. I sure didn't think so."
While allowing the Nationals two runs, Smoltz lost for the second time this season. Both instances have come in games when his mound opposition was Jason Bergmann, who has limited the Braves to one run and three hits over 14 innings this year.
"I feel like I'm on top of my game right now, and I don't want something flukey to take me out or miss something or alter my mechanics," Smoltz said. "I'll have to see day by day what this does. Hopefully I won't need my pinky and I can get the swelling out."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.