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Braves, Phillies set for showdown

- Associated Press - Thursday, April 7, 2011

ATLANTA | Fans eager to see how the Braves compare with the four-time defending NL East champion Phillies are getting a marquee matchup for Atlanta's home opener on Friday night.

In a pairing of two of the NL's top starting pitchers, Philadelphia's Cliff Lee will face Atlanta's Tim Hudson. Each won his first start this season.

It's an early showdown between the favorites to win the NL East.

Both teams reached the playoffs last season - the Braves as the NL wild card after finishing six games behind the division-winning Phillies.

Lee's return to the Phillies in the offseason helped give Philadelphia a rotation regarded as one of baseball's best since the Braves featured Cy Young winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz from 1993 to 2002.

The timing of the visit from the talented staff isn't the best as the Braves' bats have suffered a slow start. Atlanta (3-4) stumbled at Milwaukee, losing the final three games of a four-game series at Milwaukee - including a 4-2 loss Thursday.

"We'll get some home cooking," said first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez. "I think we've got three series at home, so maybe we'll get our bats going."

Braves catcher Brian McCann said the 3-4 start "ain't bad."

"That's the way you've got to look at it," McCann said. "We were in every ballgame we played and we just weren't able to get the big knock."

The Phillies (5-1) are on a roll that included an 11-0 rout of the Mets on Thursday.

Lee (1-0) gave up three runs in seven innings in a 9-4 home win over Houston on Saturday.

Lee joins Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton as the Phillies' starters. The Phillies are leaning on their pitching as they try to overcome injuries to second baseman Chase Utley, right fielder Domonic Brown and closer Brad Lidge.

Jose Contreras is Philadelphia's fill-in closer. Former Braves backup Pete Orr has played behind Wilson Valdez at second base, and Ben Francisco has taken over for Brown in right field to help keep the Phillies winning.

Hudson (1-0) opened the season by allowing only one run in seven innings in an 11-2 win at Washington on Sunday.

Hudson made a successful return from elbow surgery last season, when he was 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA. He was 2-1 against the Phillies last season.

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