MIAMI - Would the Atlanta Braves postseason starters please step forward?
Thanks, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Not so fast, Steve Avery.
Avery, who hasn't been included in the rotation for next week's division series, did nothing to advance his cause Tuesday night.
The left-hander didn't make it out of the first inning and the Braves opened their final road trip of the regular season with an embarrassing 12-1 loss to the Florida Marlins in front of 18,245 fans at recently renamed Pro Player Stadium.
"If I'm throwing like that, I don't expect to pitch (in the playoffs)," Avery said. "I'm not going to get many guys out in the Class A playoffs, much less these playoffs."
It was a game that resembled spring training in more ways than one. By the seventh inning, both lineups were filled with players who spent most of the season in the minors.
Manager Bobby Cox sat down all his regulars except Ryan Klesko and kept his veteran relievers out of the game. It all added up to an ugly, though completely meaningless, loss, which snapped the Braves' four-game win streak.
"It's important to us to get guys in shape, but it's important to continue winning too," Cox said.
Well, one out of two isn't bad.
The only good news that emerged from the game was Luis Polonia's performance. The backup outfielder, who'll play a vital role as a pinch hitter in the postseason, collected four hits and is now 8-for 22 since returning to the Braves last month.
Avery (7-9), who will move to the bullpen for the first round of the playoffs, may remain there if his performance doesn't improve. Making his third start since spending two months on the disabled list, he buried the Braves with his worst start since June 26.
It was a case of deja vu for Avery. He left his July 11 start against the Marlins with a strained side muscle after getting two outs in the first inning. The left-hander lasted the same two-thirds of an inning Tuesday night, only this time he was completely healthy. The trouble was, his pitches weren't.
Avery was blasted for seven hits and six runs, the seventh time in 23 starts this season he's yielded five or more earned runs.
"It's not an easy thing to explain," he said. "You throw as hard as you can and the ball is coming out like it's high school. I felt like I was throwing puffballs. I couldn't even throw it by the pitcher."
Jeff Conine's two-out RBI double in the first inning snapped Avery's streak at 11 shutout innings since coming off the disabled list. With his perfection ended, the floodgates opened.
By the time Cox came out to rescue him, Avery had allowed six straight hits with two outs and the Marlins led 5-0. It's a matter of arm strength, the left-hander explained. Not having pitched in two months is like starting from scratch. Tuesday's start was akin to his third start in spring training.
The trouble is, Avery doesn't have much time to get stronger.
"It's not something I'd worry about if it was the spring, but it's almost playoff time and I don't want to be throwing like that when the games count," he said.
Avery's performance was too much for the Braves' backups to overcome. They produced 10 hits, though almost half of them belonged to Polonia. Meanwhile, the Marlins collected 21 hits, matching the most Atlanta's staff had yielded in a game this season.
"Tonight was not good," Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser said. "That's the kindest way I think I can put it."
On this night, not good was the best the Braves could offer.
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