ATLANTA -- It was a little more than three years ago that John Smoltz decided he needed a change.
So he came up with an off-speed pitch to go along with his 90 mph-plus fastball and his nasty breaking pitches.
Since then, he's been dominating. Smoltz has won 61 games -- more than any other pitcher in the major leagues -- since 1996, the year he won the NL Cy Young Award.
The Atlanta Braves right-hander, who turns 32 next week, won his ninth straight decision Wednesday in a 12-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. He allowed three runs -- two earned -- and five hits in seven innings. He also had two of Atlanta's hits and raised his batting average to .375.
"That might have been his worst game of the year. If it was, I'll take that the rest of the year," said manager Bobby Cox.
"Now that I have a changeup, I have a way of slowing the hitters down," said Smoltz, who is 5-0 and leads the NL with a 1.69 ERA. "Everything used to be hard, hard, hard. Now they can't look one way.
"It's been a weapon since I started throwing it, and will continue to be a weapon for me," he said.
Last season, coming off elbow surgery performed during the winter of 1997, Smoltz went 17-3. Even more impressively, he is 17-1 since the 1998 All-Star break, his only loss a 4-3 decision to Houston on Aug. 31.
"It's like he's in the hitters' head," said Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones. "Whatever they are looking for, he's throwing something else and making them look bad."
"He's in control. That's the bottom line," said Braves outfielder Brian Jordan.
"Over the last three years I've felt like I've been a pretty darned good pitcher," Smoltz said. "Fortunately, or unfortunately, I've pitched with two of the other best pitchers (Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux) in the game, and sometimes it can go unnoticed."
Smoltz sometimes seeks out Glavine, who has won two Cy Young awards (1991 and 1998) and Maddux, who won the award for four straight years from 1992-95. Both have relied heavily on the changeup.
"I pick Glavine's and Maddux's brain about how to throw it, when to throw it and how to fix it when I'm throwing it badly," said Smoltz.
"The guy is just great," said St. Louis outfielder Willie McGee, who has been in the majors for 17 seasons and went 1-for-3 against Smoltz on Wednesday.
His record "speaks for itself," said McGee.
In 11-plus seasons, Smoltz is 151-105. Prior to 1996, he was 90-82; since then, he is 61-23.
"I try not to think about my numbers. I honestly haven't looked at my stats this year. I haven't looked at the paper," Smoltz said. "I just don't want to get carried away with what's happening. Right now I feel like I'm in a pretty good groove and can't wait for my next start."
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