(Sports Network) - The Atlanta Braves look to build a little momentum ahead of a big series next week as they begin a three-game set on Friday night against the San Diego Padres.
The Braves had lost four straight before taking three of four on the road against the Miami Marlins. They enter this series with a magic number of six to clinch their first NL East title since 2005.
Atlanta is 11 games up on second-place Washington. The Braves visit the Nationals for three games starting on Monday.
The Braves wrapped up their series against the Marlins with a 6-1 victory on Thursday. Freddie Freeman celebrated his 24th birthday by reaching the 20- homer mark for a third straight season, while Chris Johnson had three hits and drove in two runs.
Johnson is batting .330, second-best in the NL behind only Michael Cuddyer's .334 average for Colorado.
Freddy Garcia, who had made three relief appearance for the Braves before getting the start, was charged with one run on five hits in six innings.
"He knows how to maneuver himself through a lineup and put a little on, put a little off and never give you the same look at any of the pitches," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of Garcia, who began the season with Baltimore. "He's a veteran guy."
After turning to the 36-year-old Garcia on Thursday, Gonzalez sends out 25- year-old starter David Hale tonight for his first major league appearance.
Hale, a Georgia-born third-round pick of the Braves in 2009 out of Princeton, will fill in for Paul Maholm, who is battling elbow discomfort he first experienced in a start on Sept. 2. An MRI on the left-hander showed no structural damage though, and Maholm could return to action by next week.
The right-handed Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 earned run average in 22 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, all but two of those starts.
The Padres counter with Ian Kennedy, who is 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA in seven starts since getting traded to San Diego by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The righty have given up two runs or fewer in five of those outings, including Sunday's no-decision versus the Rockies.
Kennedy scattered two runs -- one earned -- on five hits and two walks over five innings, striking out seven.
The 28-year-old is 6-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 28 total starts this season and faced the Braves twice with Arizona earlier this year. He went 1-0 while giving up six earned runs over 9 1/3 innings, leaving Kennedy 2-0 with a 3.64 ERA in five lifetime encounters.
The Padres, 19 1/2 games off the pace in the NL West, dropped the final two games of their series with the Philadelphia Phillies following a four-game win streak. They were routed 10-5 in Thursday's finale as starter Tyson Ross yielded six runs while recording just two outs.
"Their hitters just squared up and he couldn't get the one pitch to stop the damage," Padres manager Bud Black said of Ross.
Will Venable homered in the first inning and Tommy Medica had two hits and drove in a run.
The Padres swept a three-game set from the visiting Braves back in June, but lost three of four in Atlanta a season ago. They were outscored 19-5 in that set at Turner Field.
The Sports Network