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CIN@ATL: Freeman hits a two-run homer

ATLANTA -- When the Braves entered this season with an injury-plagued starting rotation, they certainly did not anticipate approaching May faced with the enviable problem of having to decide who they should remove from the rotation to make room for Mike Minor.

With Minor positioned to potentially come off the disabled list within this next week, David Hale took the mound on Saturday night knowing that he might be making his final Major League start for the foreseeable future. If this proves to be true, the rookie hurler can take solace in that he managed to make this rotation decision even harder on the Braves' brass.

Hale retired 22 of the final 23 batters he faced over a career-high eight innings and benefited from the early power Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis supplied in a 4-1 win over the Reds at Turner Field.

After producing this gem in what was just his sixth career start, Hale admitted that he completed this outing with the understanding that he could be the odd man out when Minor is set to join an Atlanta starting rotation that has produced a Major League-best 1.65 ERA through this season's first 23 games.

"Obviously that stuff runs through my head," Hale said. "But I tried not to let it get too deep in there. My goal is to come out here, do the best I can and let things fall the way they will. So, we'll see what happens."

Hale limited the Reds to the two hits and one run he surrendered in the first inning. When asked if this outing further complicated the rotation decision, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez smirked, shook his head and said, "Oh, let us enjoy this one tonight."

There was plenty for Gonzalez to enjoy as his club rolled toward its 11th win in its past 14 games. Freeman further distanced himself from the vision problems he experienced earlier this week by drilling a decisive, two-run home run off Mike Leake's high fastball in the first inning, immediately after B.J. Upton recorded his 1,000th career hit with an infield single.

Freeman was denied another home run when his long drive in the third inning was caught at the top of the left-center-field wall by a leaping Ryan Ludwick.

Ludwick's catch came just before Upton and Gattis hit back-to-back homers off Leake, who had only once previously surrendered three home runs in a game. The shots hit by Freeman, Gattis and Upton accounted for the four runs Leake surrendered over seven innings.

"Pitches were left where they could hit it, mistakes," Leake said. "I don't know if Freddie's was a mistake as much as good hitting. It was a tough pitch to do what he did. The other two were center-cut mistakes."

Justin Upton, who also singled twice off Leake, has batted .389 (21-for-54) with seven home runs in his past 15 games. Most of his damage has been done in front of the home fans. He has batted .552 (16-for-29) with six home runs in his past nine home games.

"Everyone always talks about how you score runs -- with home runs or by keeping the line moving," Gonzalez said. "But it always boils down to your pitching and catching a baseball."

Hale began his outing with two quick outs and then allowed each of the next three hitters he faced to reach safely. But after allowing the Reds to gain an early one-run advantage with Ludwick's double off the left-center-field wall, the stoic Braves hurler faced the minimum over the remainder of his outing.

"It's always nice to be able to throw from the windup the whole time," said Hale, who has produced a 2.31 ERA through the four starts he has made this season.

The only blemish on Hale's line over his final seven innings came courtesy of the leadoff walk he issued to Jay Bruce in the fourth inning. Bruce, who also walked in the first inning, was retired when Brayan Pena grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"As far as I noted, we had five balls that we hit hard today," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That's not a lot. He did a nice job keeping us off the barrel and made good pitches. He had a good mix of fastball, breaking ball and changeup. He did a nice job. He never really gave us a chance to create a rally."

While it would not be easy to remove Hale from the rotation after this kind of outing, the Braves will soon have to make room for Minor, who ranks fourth among National League left-handers with the 2.90 ERA he has produced dating back to July 1, 2012. The Braves certainly are not going to remove Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Ervin Santana or Aaron Harang, who leads the NL with a 0.85 ERA.

But instead of making an immediate decision, Gonzalez wanted to savor Hale's performance.

"That was really good," Gonzalez said. "I think his first two outings that he pitches, the first two starts of his career last year, he was pretty good, but today, he was … he had that sinker ball going early. He got a lot of balls in play, a lot of ground balls. After the first inning, he settled down and he did a nice job of keeping us in the ballgame."

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