ATLANTA — What a debut for Kenny Rogers.
Making his first start of the season after a blood clot was removed from his pitching shoulder, Rogers allowed only two hits in six innings to lead the Detroit Tigers past the punchless Atlanta Braves 5-0 on Friday night.
The Braves were shut out for the third game in a row, their scoreless streak stretching to 28 innings. It was the first time since 1988 that Atlanta has been the victim of three straight shutouts.
The 42-year-old Rogers played a vital role in Detroit’s run to the World Series last year, but he needed surgery late in spring training when the clot was discovered in his left shoulder.
After two rehab outings in the minor leagues, Rogers got off to an ominous start — he hit Kelly Johnson with the very first pitch — then breezed through a Braves lineup that’s having trouble scoring off anyone.
Rogers (1-0) retired the next 10 hitters, including Edgar Renteria on a double play that erased Johnson. The Braves finally got their first hit with two outs in the fourth: Renteria’s clean single past third baseman Brandon Inge.
Scott Thorman had the only other hit off the Detroit starter, a single to right leading off the sixth after the Tigers broke up a scoreless duel in the top half with five runs against John Smoltz (8-4). Rogers finished with a flourish, however, striking out the next two hitters before Yunel Escobar lined out to center.
That was it for Rogers. He threw 75 pitches, struck out five and didn’t walk anyone. Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay and Eulogio De La Cruz finished off the two-hitter.
In an interesting twist, Rogers’ first start of the season came at Turner Field, where he had one of the worst moments of his career in 1999. Then pitching for the New York Mets, Rogers came on in relief for Game 6 of the NL championship series and walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded, sending the Braves to the World Series.
‘‘I’ve had a few games in the playoffs; that wasn’t the best one,’’ Rogers said a couple of days ago. ‘‘I plan on improving on that.’’
Did he ever.
Of course, he sure picked the right team to come back against. The Braves have turned downright feeble offensively, getting outscored 20-0 over the last three games while managing just 12 hits. They didn’t even get a runner into scoring position against the Tigers.
Andruw Jones went 0-for-3 and has gone hitless in 21 straight at-bats, dropping his average below the Mendoza Line to .199. The Braves didn’t have injury-plagued Chipper Jones, who sat out with a strained adductor muscle.
Smoltz, who started out in the Detroit organization but never pitched for the Tigers, matched Rogers through five innings. But the Tigers’ potent offense finally broke through in the sixth, scoring all five runs with two-out hits.
Deciding to go with Smoltz pitches, Magglio Ordonez had an RBI single, Carlos Guillen a two-run double and Ivan Rodriguez another double that made it 4-0. All four hits went the opposite way.
Finally, after Sean Casey was walked intentionally, Inge pulled Smoltz for another RBI single. The only consolation for Smoltz: He struck out seven in six innings, moving past Jim Bunning for 16th place on the career strikeout list with 2,861.
Ordonez, who already has 68 RBIs, left the game in the eighth after being hit on the left hand with a pitch in the eighth. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.
Notes: Braves LHP Wil Ledezma, acquired from Detroit on Wednesday, made his Atlanta debut against his former team. He struck out the side in the ninth. ... The game drew a crowd of 44,034. It was the first time since September 2000 that the Braves had four straight turnouts of more than 40,000, coming on the heels of a sold-out series against the Boston Red Sox.