Phillies-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves won't be short-handed for their pursuit of the NL's best record.

With reserve outfielder Reed Johnson appealing his suspension after a brawl in the Braves' most recent game, Atlanta is hoping to get another strong start from David Hale on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Phillies.

After a 4-0 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday, Atlanta (93-65) is now one-half game behind St. Louis in the race to earn home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. What happened during the first inning of that defeat could have played a big part in that chase.

The Brewers' Carlos Gomez got into a verbal argument with pitcher Paul Maholm and first baseman Freddie Freeman after hitting his 23rd homer, and catcher Brian McCann kept him from touching the plate when he confronted him between third and home. That resulted in a benches-clearing brawl that led to ejections for Freeman, Gomez and Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird.

After the game, Gomez said he was upset because Maholm hit him in the leg with a fastball in a 7-4 loss June 23.

"If you have a beef with the pitcher, have a beef with the pitcher," Freeman said. "Don't make us get involved. That's us. We're going to back up our pitcher. I'm fine with how everybody handled it."

Gomez was tossed for shoving Johnson, who received a one-game ban Thursday. However, the Braves caught a break with no other players getting suspended for the opener of this four-game series against Philadelphia (72-86).

Being without key players may not have hurt the Braves anyway considering how impressive Hale was in his major league debut.

While starting in place of an ailing Maholm, the 25-year-old Hale set a franchise record with nine strikeouts in his first game Sept. 13 against San Diego. The right-hander also pitched five scoreless innings, but the Padres denied him a win by rallying for a 4-3 victory.

"David was outstanding," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's website. "We couldn't ask any more, really. Couldn't have been a better script. He was outstanding."

Hale (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will next face a Phillies team that's batted .215 and scored 18 runs while dropping six of seven. Philadelphia had 10 hits Wednesday in Miami but lost 3-2.

Hale will also pitch opposite a struggling Tyler Cloyd (2-6, 5.40). The right-hander is 0-3 with an 11.77 ERA in three starts since being recalled from the minors Sept. 3.

Cloyd, who has never faced Atlanta, allowed one run in his first five innings against the New York Mets on Saturday but didn't make it out of the sixth. He was charged with all four runs in that frame in a rain-shortened 5-4 loss.

"I wish I could figure it out," he said. "I'll keep continuing to work on everything I need to work on."

The Braves have won four of their six home games against the Phillies this season, but they endured a three-game sweep in Philadelphia during the most recent matchup Sept. 6-8.