Sterling Hitchcock is no stranger to the pressures of a playoff race. However, he’s usually a bit more prepared.
Making just his third start after missing nearly four months with a fractured rib, Hitchcock will take the mound when the San Diego Padres open an important three-game series with the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.
Hitchcock, who pitched the Padres into the 1998 World Series after going 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in a six-game NL championship series win over Atlanta, signed with San Diego in the offseason after St. Louis declined to pick up his option.
However, the 33-year-old left-hander suffered a stress fracture in his rib cage in late April and was sidelined until Aug. 5, when he allowed three runs and four hits over six innings in the Padres’ 5-3 loss to Philadelphia.
Hitchcock, who is 74-74 with a 4.98 ERA during his 13-year career, took a step backward in his next outing, allowing five runs and six hits over five innings in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.
“I think as time goes, everything will get a little better,” Hitchcock said. “That’s the big picture of it.”
The Padres, losers of eight of 13 in August, need Hitchcock to give them a quality start. San Diego enters this series in a virtual three-way tie with San Francisco and the Cubs for the NL wild card.
San Diego is coming off a 7-2 win over Cincinnati on Sunday. Right-hander Adam Eaton gave up eight hits and one walk with eight strikeouts over six innings. He also went 2-for-2 at the plate with a sacrifice bunt.
The Braves are well on their way to a 13th consecutive division championship. Atlanta is hoping to keep everyone healthy heading into October. But that plan took a bit of a hit Saturday against St. Louis when outfielder J.D. Drew went down with a sore right quadriceps.
Drew sat out Sunday night’s 10-4 loss and is day-to-day.
The injury occurred in the seventh inning Saturday, when Drew scored from first on a go-ahead double by Julio Franco.
“His leg’s bothering him just a little bit and I don’t want to chance it,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said Sunday.
Mike Hampton will take the ball for Atlanta. The 31-year-old left-hander is on quite a roll, going 6-0 with a 3.30 ERA over his last seven starts.
The Braves have won nine of 13 in August.