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Notes: Smoltz unlikely to start

Notes: Smoltz unlikely for Game 5 start

HOUSTON -- Manager Bobby Cox said Saturday night that if the Braves defeat the Astros on Sunday to force a Game 5 on Monday in Atlanta, John Smoltz probably would not be the starting pitcher.

Smoltz, plagued by a sore right shoulder late in the season, started and won Game 2 on Thursday, 7-1. But coming back on just three days' rest doesn't appear to be an option -- at least as a starter.

With Tim Hudson coming back on short rest to start Game 4 on Sunday, Cox was asked after Saturday night's loss if Smoltz could do the same.

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"I don't think so," Cox said. "John does feel pretty darn good, and I think he's got an inning or two in him for Game 5, not tomorrow. But I doubt very much if he would start Game 5.

"It would either be [Horacio] Ramirez or [John] Thomson. We still feel good. We've got Huddie going tomorrow, and that's a good thing."

Lineup stays static for Game 3: After watching his team solve Roger Clemens on Thursday night, Cox had fewer tough decisions when composing his lineup for Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

Cox's lineup for Saturday night's game against the Astros was the same as the one that chased Clemens after five innings in Game 2. Included was rookie catcher Brian McCann, who certainly earned another start after belting his momentum-changing three-run homer off The Rocket on Thursday night.

When the postseason began, Cox had to choose between Johnny Estrada and McCann, who both were emerging from slumps when the regular season ended. But with Estrada's sore back still limiting him and the rookie catcher having the hot hand, the decision for the time being isn't so difficult.

"Mac was swinging good before the playoffs started, he started hitting the ball awfully hard," Cox said. "You know he hit the big home run the other night, why not go with him? Johnny's still not 100 percent, although he's feeling better. Mac's swinging the hot bat, so we'll go with him."

McCann began September with just seven hits in his first 44 at-bats. But he ended the regular season with eight hits, including two doubles, in his last 17 at-bats.

On the final day of the regular season at Dolphins Stadium, the left-handed McCann stood tall against Dontrelle Willis and began a three-RBI performance with a two-run double in the fourth inning. Left-handed batters hit just .222 off Willis this season.

"I hope he does the same thing that he did [on Thursday night]," Andruw Jones said when asked what he thought about McCann being back in the lineup for Game 3.

McCann's homer came in his first postseason at-bat. It brought back memories of when Jones homered in his first two career World Series at-bats against the Yankees in the 1996 Fall Classic.

Joining McCann in Saturday's lineup was Ryan Langerhans, who after not starting Game 1 responded with a two-hit performance in Game 2. Including the postseason, Langerhans entered Saturday night's game with seven hits in 17 at-bats against the Astros this year.

With Langerhans, McCann and Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta's starting lineup once again possessed three rookies. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the eight rookies they've used in this Division Series is the highest total utilized by a team in the postseason.

"For me, they're not rookies anymore," Jones said. "They have almost a whole season in them. The [regular] season's over. This is the playoffs. We're a team."

Furcal focused on postseason: While he's made it known that he wants to stay with the Braves at the conclusion of this season, Rafael Furcal knows the only thing he can worry about right now is helping his team advance as far in the postseason as possible.

Furcal, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, was as important to the Braves' success after the All-Star break as anybody. His .337 batting average after July 7 ranked second in the National League and fifth in the Majors.

Furcal's .394 on-base percentage after the All-Star break was a big reason why Jones was able to register an NL-best 128 RBIs. Helping his cause on the free agent market will be the fact that he was charged with just 15 errors this season. He averaged 27 miscues during the three previous seasons.

"He's as good a fielding shortstop as there is in baseball right now, for me," Cox said. "He's got tremendous range, a great arm. Right now, he's one of the better leadoff hitters. He's a free agent this year and we're hoping to keep him."

Furcal, who has been with the Braves since signing his first professional contract in 1996, hopes his manager's wish comes true.

"I want to play [with the Braves] if I've got a choice, because Atlanta is very nice," Furcal said. "Everybody treats me so good."

Cox sees a giant: While in the lobby of the team's hotel on Saturday morning, Cox got his first up close look at Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who is 7-foot-6 and 305 pounds.

"He's enormous," a still wide-eyed Cox said late Saturday afternoon.

Cox spent some time Saturday morning having coffee with Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, whose brother, Miami Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy, is good friends with Atlanta third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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