KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Jeff Bennett lost so much weight after last season that Braves manager Bobby Cox didn't recognize him at the start of spring training.
Cox knows Bennett now.The right-hander pitched four scoreless innings in Atlanta's 10-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, extending his streak of scoreless innings this spring to 11.Bennett probably secured a roster spot as a reliever even before proving in his last two appearances he also can deliver as a fill-in starter.He gave up one hit with two walks and three strikeouts against Washington.Bennett has allowed only three hits over seven scoreless innings in two starts since John Smoltz was held out with stiffness in his right shoulder on Friday."He hasn't given up anything, hardly, and throws a lot of strikes, a lot of groundballs," Cox said. "A pretty important guy, I would say."Smoltz is expected to open the season on the disabled list with plans to return for an April 6 start against the New York Mets.Smoltz plans to throw off a mound Thursday. If he experiences any setbacks, Bennett might have earned consideration to make a spot start."He could start. He could go six innings, I would say, easily right now," Cox said.Mark Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a double and a two-run homer, and Martin Prado drove in three runs with two hits for Atlanta.The 27-year-old Bennett was 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA in two starts late last season."He's just as impressive this spring as he was last year," Cox said.Bennett is in his second season since missing 2006 following Tommy John surgery. He lost about 54 pounds, from 262 to 208, last year, with much of the weight loss coming after the season.Washington's Matt Chico gave up seven hits and five runs in 5 2-3 innings.Chico learned after the game he has earned a roster spot. He made his third start since changing his delivery to return to the high leg kick he used in high school.Since making the adjustment, he has walked three batters in 15 innings, compared with six walks in 8 2-3 innings earlier in the spring.Chico said he threw too many fastballs -- "maybe 80 percent" over his last three innings."He hit a wall there in that fourth inning, for some reason," manager Manny Acta said. "I like the way he's thrown the ball with that new motion. This was probably his worst outing of spring training. He's throwing the ball real good for us."Chico walked Chipper Jones to open the fourth inning and then gave up a two-run homer to Teixeira, who began the day hitting .188 with one homer.The Braves led 5-2 before scoring five runs in the eighth off Ray King. Prado drove in two with a bases-loaded single. Brent Lillibridge followed with a two-run triple.King got only one out while giving up four hits and five runs.