MLB Insiders: Atlanta Braves

Ross Ohlendorf

The Pirates open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves on Friday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will be on the mound for the Bucs. The Braves counter with ace right-hander Tim Hudson.

The Braves' improbable seven-run rally in the ninth inning Thursday secured their eighth consecutive win against Central opponents, a streak they'll look to extend Friday night when they visit PNC Park for the first of three against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates are 9-5 against Atlanta over the past two seasons - 5-2 at PNC Park - and they'll try to continue that success by handing the ball to Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

Ohlendorf missed a month with back spasms, and pitched well in his second start back despite nothing to show for it. The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits over six innings Sunday at Chicago, but Pittsburgh's bullpen came up short in a 4-3 loss.

Ohlendorf didn't get a decision in his lone start against the Braves, either. He allowed three runs over six innings in a 4-3 loss at Turner Field on June 9.

The Pirates are hitting .225 over their last nine games, and they'll have their work cut out for them against Tim Hudson (4-1, 2.41). The only statistic that isn't impressive for the right-hander is his strikeout-to-walk ratio (23 to 19), but he's held opponents to a .219 average and yielded one run in three of his last four starts.

Hudson lasted a season-high eight innings, allowing one run and three hits in a 13-1 rout of Arizona on Sunday. He hasn't allowed an earned run over 14 innings in his past two starts against Pittsburgh.

The typical day-game-after-night-game lineup change did not materialize Thursday against the Reds.

The main reason was that Braves catcher Brian McCann had caught only three consecutive games, not a week's worth. And along with that, he was batting .350 (7-for-20) on the homestand.

Then, there had been a revival at the bottom of the lineup, where center fielder Nate McLouth's efforts to shorten his stride at the plate were paying off. He went 2-for-4 Wednesday, making him 9-for-24 (.375) on the homestand. McLouth has raised his average from .167 to .208.

But as manager Bobby Cox repeated Thursday, "I like this lineup because (Martin) Prado has a good on-base percentage, (rookie Jason) Heyward's is off the charts, and (Chipper Jones') has always been off the charts. You've got to have somebody on (base) for McCann and (Troy) Glaus and (Eric) Hinske."

Here, Cox pauses. Almost as an aside, he says, "Hinske's kind of livened up our lineup."

Yes, he has. Through nine games starting in left field, he is hitting .438 (14-for-32).

"But," Cox said, "Heyward makes it happen, I think, hitting second."

Things didn't exactly go as Cox planned Thursday, but Atlanta still staged a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. The rally occurred without McCann and Jones, whom Cox had replaced in the fifth and eighth innings, respectively, when the game was thought to be out of hand.

But Cox would not concede that was the reason for the substitutions, reminding everyone that Jones is playing with a sore groin. The manager got what he wanted in the bottom of the ninth with patient at-bats by backup catcher David Ross and pinch hitter Brooks Conrad.

Ironically, all eight hitters who came to bat that inning reached base in some way with the exception of Heyward, who struck out swinging.

BRAVES 10, REDS 9: PH Brooks Conrad hit a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the ninth to cap a seven-run inning and give the Braves their third consecutive win in their final at-bat. Cincinnati had led 9-1 after the top of the fifth. It was the Atlanta's largest comeback for a victory this season.

NOTES,QUOTES

* RHP Tommy Hanson was removed from Thursday's start due to lightheadedness after giving up eight earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. Hanson has had a bit of a flu bug for a few days and felt dizzy warming up in the bullpen. Manager Bobby Cox hoped Hanson could gut it out for a few innings, but after the Reds batted around, Cox had to go get him.

* CF Nate McLouth has been working diligently on shortening his swing and being able to take that into games. It appears he may have made that transition, finally: He is 9-for-24 (.375) for the seven-game homestand, raising his average from .167 to .208.

* RF Jason Heyward leads the team with 30 RBI, which also leads all rookies. Heyward says that, contrary to making him nervous, critical at-bats calm him down because they make it easier for him to focus on that specific plate appearance.

* 1B Troy Glaus, 3-for-4 Thursday, is batting .364 (32-for-88) in his last 25 games. In that period, he's had four home runs, three doubles, 15 walks and 19 RBI.

* 1B Martin Prado was 2-for-5 Thursday, but the consensus in the clubhouse after the Braves' comeback win was that his speed, which allowed him to reach first—with the bases loaded—on an error in the bottom of the ninth is what kept the inning alive.

By The Numbers: 253—Games between Atlanta grand slams, from the one C Brian McCann off the Phillies' Brad Lidge on July 25, 2008, at Philadelphia to 2B Martin Prado's first career slam off the Brewers' Manny Parra on May 10, 2010.

Quote To Note: "I just like watching him play." —Manager Bobby Cox, on rookie RF Jason Heyward.

ROSTER REPORT

Medical Watch:

* RHP Tommy Hanson (flu-like symptoms) left the May 20 game.

* RHP Kenshin Kawakami (blister on right foot, back strain) was hurt during his May 19 start. Manager Bobby Cox thought Kawakami would be able to make his next scheduled start.

* OF Matt Diaz (right thumb infection) went on the 15-day disabled list May 15. He had surgery May 19, and he won't return before late June.

* RHP Jair Jurrjens (strained left hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 30. He was expected to return to the rotation May 18 but suffered a setback May 10 while running before the game. An MRI showed bleeding in the lower left hamstring in a different area than the initial strain. He is unlikely to return before June.

* INF Diory Hernandez (left shoulder surgery in February 2010) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26, then was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 15. He is expected to be out until at least midseason.

* RHP Scott Proctor (Tommy John surgery in May 2009) opened the season with Class AAA Gwinnett, but he was sent back to extended spring training after struggling in April.

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