HEADING INTO the Phillies' series opener in Washington tonight, one question is on everyone's mind:

What's wrong with Brett Myers?

But John Smoltz suggests the biggest problem might not lie with the Phillies' righthander, but with the expectations that surround him.

"Everybody has got to be patient," the Braves' veteran said. "He's going to be fine."

Smoltz knows about the transition Myers is facing.

In 2005, he moved back into the rotation after four seasons as the Braves' closer. On the surface, Smoltz' return went swimmingly. In his first nine games back as a starter, he went 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA.

But Smoltz was 38 at the time and had been a major league starter for 12 seasons prior to his move to the bullpen.

Myers is 27 and has had 4 1/2 seasons as a starter.

Even though the results were there, Smoltz called the transition back to starting "a battle."

And there's no doubt Myers has been battling.

Myers has expressed equal parts frustration and bewilderment with his spotty performance. He has lasted fewer than six innings in five of his nine starts. His 5.91 ERA ranks 61st out of 78 National League starters (minimum 20 innings pitched).

"There's a big adjustment to be made," Smoltz said. "[Myers] will make it. He's been a darn good starter. It's not like you are talking about someone who hasn't had success."

Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee agrees.

"I think he's too talented for it to last all season," he said.

Smoltz said the most important thing Myers can do is block out the criticism. He said he faced doubters when he returned to the rotation, doubters who were singing a different tune after he was successful in 2005.

"You know what I remember? I remember everyone being right, and nobody being wrong," Smoltz said. "They were all wrong. Every one of them. There wasn't one person who said I could do it."

After allowing a season-high eight runs in a season-low 4 1/3 innings last week in a loss to the Braves, Myers labeled himself "a fighter" and promised that he would overcome the struggles that have plagued him throughout his first nine starts of the season.

He gets his first chance tonight, when he faces Nationals' righthander Tim Redding.

Said Smoltz: "He'll get his retribution, too."

Kyle could be back soon

Because Kyle Kendrick threw only 12 pitches before a 2-hour, 4 minute rain delay ended his day, the righthander could be used for a couple of innings in relief before his next scheduled start.

Kendrick said he would prepare for his next start as usual and pitch whenever called upon. He said he is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in 2 days, which means he could be available to pitch on that day.

"They didn't say anything," Kendrick said. "I'm just planning on doing the same routine I always do and getting ready for my start on Friday."

Phillers

Ryan Howard went 2-for-4 and hit his 10th home run of the season, raising his average to .191. That's the highest it has been since April 21 . . . Jimmy Rollins has multiple hits in five consecutive games. In his last 21 at-bats, he has 11 hits, four RBI, six runs and four stolen bases . . . Geoff Jenkins went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .265 . . . Pat Burrell's ninth-inning home run was his first since May 2 . . . The teams combined to use 13 pitchers in yesterday's game. *