When Burch Smith first pitched in the major leagues last May a leading Padres official paralleled his demeanor to that of a “deer in the headlights.”

Actually he was more like road kill.

In three starts before his necessary demotion the 23-year-old right-hander gave up 15 runs on 16 hits (including four homers) and six walks in just 7 1/3 innings. That’s an 18.41 earned run average.

But the Smith who returned to the major leagues two weeks ago is a different animal.

Sunday afternoon in Atlanta Smith retired the first 11 Braves he faced --including six by strikeouts --and took a no-hitter into the sixth.

He finished with a solid line no runs on three hits and two walks over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in just 95 pitches.

In two starts since his third tour with the Padres began Smith has allowed two runs on seven hits and six walks over 12 innings with 17 strikeouts. That’s a 1.50 ERA.

Backed by notable home runs by Chase Headley and Tommy Medica Smith led the Padres to a 4-0 win over the National League-East leading Braves. The four-hit shutout that included scoreless innings from relievers Nick Vincent and Huston Street was the Padres fourth of the season.

The win was the first of Smith’s major league career. And it gave the Padres a series victory and a 5-1 season record over the team with the best record in the National League.

The game also added Smith to the lengthening list of pitchers who look to be competing for spots in Padres rotation next spring.

The difference in Smith?

“At other times this season we’ve seen him throw” said Padres manager Bud Black. “Today he pitched. Let’s hope there is a carry-over the next time we see him. There is a major league arm in there.

“Burch had a really good mix of pitches today primarily a fastball-change mix with some curves. He had a nice smooth delivery and carried his velocity into the fifth and sixth. He had a good use of his fastball and change down in the zone and pitched in enough to keep them uncomfortable.”

Smith works his fastball in the mid-90s. It is more of a late-life fastball than a moving fastball. The change and occasional curve are still developing. Sunday they jumped forward.

“The more you can throw the off-speed pitches for strikes the more effective you are going to be” said Smith while discussing the difference four months can make in a pitcher’s development.

“It’s more a mentality of throwing pitches with conviction” said Smith. “With conviction comes confidence. I’m trying to keep it simple. (Catcher) Nick (Hundley) and I got into a good rhythm today.”

Smith shook off Hundley twice all afternoon.

The first time was to pitching rival Julio Teheran leading off the sixth. Smith won the argument – and Teheran rolled a grounder through Smith’s legs and into center for the Braves’ first hit.