MLB Insiders: Atlanta Braves

The Pirates open a four-game series in Atlanta on Monday night. Right-hander James McDonald will toe the rubber for the Bucs. The Braves will counter with right-hander Tim Hudson.

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't played many meaningful games in Atlanta since Sid Bream beat Barry Bonds' throw home in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in the 1992 NLCS, sending the Braves on to the World Series.

However, with both clubs very much in contention, the visiting Pirates and Braves open a four-game set Monday night in a possible playoff preview.

Pittsburgh (52-47), which hasn't made a postseason appearance since that heartbreaking defeat nearly 19 years ago, begins its seven-game trip atop the NL Central after moving percentage points ahead of both St. Louis and Milwaukee with Sunday's 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh, which dropped both meetings with the NL wild card-leading Braves in May, has lost nine of 13 in Atlanta over the previous four seasons.

The Braves (59-43) are likely looking forward to returning to Turner Field after Sunday's 4-3 walk-off loss at Cincinnati capped a 3-4 road swing. Atlanta has outscored opponents 75-35 in winning 12 of 14 at home, where Tim Hudson (9-6, 3.39 ERA) has won a season-high four consecutive starts.

Hudson, 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA over his last six outings overall, didn't receive a decision despite limiting Colorado to two runs and five hits in seven innings of a 3-2 road defeat Wednesday. The right-hander is 5-4 with a 2.75 ERA lifetime against the Pirates.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, gives the ball to James McDonald (6-4, 4.15), who has thrived since mid-May. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA over his last 11 starts after yielding four hits and three walks while striking out seven in 6 1-3 innings of Tuesday's 1-0 victory over the Reds.

McDonald is 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA over two career starts versus the Braves.

Third baseman Chipper Jones could be back in the Braves' lineup Monday night against the Pirates.

He was eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, although no one expected that to happen unless everything went perfectly.

The original recovery estimate after his July 9 right knee arthroscopic surgery was two to three weeks, prompting Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez to call Jones after his own procedure wondering why he had been told his recovery was expected to be four to six weeks. (Jones had no idea.)

Jones had only a little swelling in his knee the day after the procedure. It did feel stiff, needless to say, and when he began doing some jogging and throwing and catching in the outfield that weekend, he said his right knee felt five pounds heavier than his left knee. He's had enough surgeries to know that's typical.

Jones never felt the necessity to play rehab games.

"As long as I'm able to start working out in full the next couple days," he said last weekend, "I may skip a rehab assignment."

Jones hadn't missed enough time to be worried about his swing or his reaction time in the field. What he was concentrating on was regaining the definition in his right quad, which had puffed up because of the surgery.

But manager Fredi Gonzalez did want Jones to play in a few rehab games. The Braves' Class AAA Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Ga.) team was going to be out of town, so the plan was for Jones to be the designated hitter for low Class A Rome (Ga.) Thursday and Friday. If the knee responded well, he could come off the disabled list when he was eligible, which was Sunday.

Jones took some live batting practice with Gwinnett when the Braves left town for their current road trip, and undertook extensive workouts on his knee. That caused a little more discomfort than Jones expected it would, so the rehab assignment was put off.

And just as quickly, it was back on again: Jones was 0-for-2 with a walk as the designated hitter for the R-Braves on Saturday, and he went 1-for-1 with a walk and a sacrifice fly while playing third base Sunday.

If it seems Jones is rushing back, he is. Because he sees what everyone else sees, that the Braves are not moving runners over as they should. They've fallen into a home run trap.

Sunday night against the Reds, only one of the Braves' three runs came on a home run., but Atlanta's pitchers gave up three homers in the 4-3 loss to the Braves. Scott Linebrink's first pitch in the bottom of the ninth was hit for a game-ending homer by Drew Stubbs.

Notes, Quotes

C Brian McCann added to his home run total with his 18th homer—also his 100th hit of the season—in the top of the fourth inning Sunday. That total leads all major league catchers. Coming into Sunday's game, McCann also led all catchers with a .377 on-base percentage and was second in batting average at .307.

CF Jordan Schafer missed his fourth straight start with a jammed left middle finger. The finger is still swollen enough that he did not swing a bat Sunday after hitting off a tee on Saturday.

3B Chipper Jones completed his rehab with a pair of games with low-A Rome (Ga.) over the weekend and was expected to be activated for Monday's game against the Pirates. He was eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday but was experiencing a bit of soreness in his right knee after extensive work. As the designated hitter Saturday night, Jones was 0-for-2 with a walk; he left the game after six innings. He played third and batted third in Sunday's lineup, and he singled, drew a walk and hit a sacrifice fly in five innings.

2B Dan Uggla snapped his career-high 14-game hitting streak Sunday night with an 0-for-3 game against the Reds. Uggla's game-winning, two-run homer against the Reds on Friday night was not just his first career pinch-hit home run, it was his first pinch-hit of any kind.

LHP Eric O'Flaherty, LHP Jonny Venters and RHP Craig Kimbrel—known around the Braves as O'Ventbrel—have a combined 1.80 ERA in 30 innings since June 1 in the 11 games in which they have appeared together. The Braves are 11-0 in those games.

By The Numbers: 6-1—RHP Tommy Hanson's record after an Atlanta loss.

Quote To Note: "It's the best bullpen I've ever been with." —RHP Tim Hudson, on the Braves' relief corps.

Medical Watch:

CF Jordan Schafer (jammed left middle finger) was out of the lineup July 21-24, but he appeared twice as a defensive replacement. He is day-to-day.

3B Chipper Jones (right knee meniscus tear) went on the 15-day disabled list July 9 and had arthroscopic surgery that day. Jones took batting practice with Class AAA Gwinnett on July 18. He completed a two-game rehab assignment with low-A Rome (Ga.) over the third weekend of July and was expected to be activated July 25.

RHP Peter Moylan (bulging disk in lower back) went on the 15-day disabled list April 15. He had surgery May 17, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 23. He began a throwing program July 14, and he might be able to return in mid-August.

RHP Kris Medlen (Tommy John surgery in August 2010) went on the 15-day disabled list March 27 and was transferred to the 60-day disabled list June 22. He began throwing from a mound in early April. After two setbacks, he was shut down at the All-Star break until late August, meaning he probably will not pitch this season.

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