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Braves hope to get offense going vs. Phils

The Atlanta Braves may have defended their starting pitcher last time out, but their offense remains punchless with just a few games to go before the playoffs.

The Braves hope to get their bats going on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Atlanta has gone just 10-13 this month following a 20-7 August and has been shut out in four of its last 10 games. The Braves are hitting .207 over their last 12 games.

The NL East champs were held to just a pair of hits in Wednesday's 4-0 loss to Milwaukee as Brewers starter Kyle Lohse tossed a shutout. Atlanta's shaky offense took a back page to the first-inning antics of Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez, who admired his home run off Paul Maholm, touching off a benches- clearing incident before he even managed to touch home plate.

Still upset for getting hit by a pitch from Maholm back in June, Gomez had words with the pitcher and several Braves players during his trot around the bases before getting confronted by Atlanta catcher Brian McCann well in front of home plate.

Players rushed out and some punches were thrown. Gomez was ejected along with Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman and backup catcher Gerald Laird.

"I told him to act like he's done it before and run around the bases," said Freeman, who is in danger of further discipline as crew chief Dana DeMuth said after the game he was tossed for being overaggressive during the fight.

Of even more concern is the offensive slump as well as the fact that the Braves fell a half-game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in the National League. The Cards are idle on Thursday.

"We don't really have any panic," said Braves third baseman Chris Johnson, who is second in the NL with a .325 batting average. "We know we've got to get going, have some good at-bats, see some pitches and start playing good baseball. I think we'll be okay."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez will give David Hale the second start of his big league career tonight as the right-hander takes the mound for the first time since Sept. 13.

Hale, 26, set a Braves franchise record for strikeouts in a debut with nine as he scattered four hits and a walk over five scoreless innings of a no-decision versus San Diego.

"Hale was outstanding," Gonzalez said. "He was right out there at 90 pitches and that's what we targeted."

Tyler Cloyd has been the opposite of outstanding this month for the Phillies and tries to avoid a fifth straight losing decision.

In three starts this month, Cloyd has picked up three losses while getting charged with 17 runs over 13 innings for an 11.77 earned run average. The righty is coming off a 5-4 defeat to the New York Mets on Saturday as he gave up five runs on six hits and two walks over five-plus innings.

"He seems to struggle sometimes seeing the lineup the second time," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He'll have another chance to pitch."

The 26-year-old Cloyd is 2-6 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) this season and has never before faced Atlanta.

The Phillies have lost six of their past seven and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Miami Marlins on Wednesday. Cole Hamels went six innings in the no- decision, giving up two runs while getting denied his 100th career win.

Hamels did reach 200 strikeouts for a second season in a row and logged 220 innings over his 33 starts, his highest single-season total since pitching 227 1/3 innings in 2008.

"Being able to get to 200 innings is a goal every season. At least I will end on a somewhat positive note," said Hamels.

The Phillies did record a three-game sweep of the Braves at home in the last meeting from Sept. 6-8, but have lost four of six in Atlanta this season.