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Top Prospects: David Hale, RHP, Braves

If everything plays out in their favor, the Braves can lock up the National League East as early as Sunday.

But to secure their first division title since 2005 at Turner Field -- they start a six-game road trip Monday -- they have to win their series opener against the Padres on Friday night. The Braves will certainly welcome the return home after losing four of their seven games on the road and eight of their last 13 games away from Turner Field.

David Hale, recalled last week, will make his Major League debut. The 25-year-old posted a 3.22 ERA in 22 games (20 starts) with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Hale grew up just 20 miles north of Atlanta in Marietta, Ga., idolizing the Braves' famed trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the crux of the 1995 team that won the franchise's last World Series.

"I've thought about it plenty," Hale said. "I don't think it will compare to what it will actually be.

"It's crazy to think I was 4 or 5 years old going to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium watching these guys play. It's going to be cool to be a part of it."

Though his strikeouts were down in the Minors -- 77 in 114 2/3 innings, compared to 124 a year ago -- his ERA was the lowest since he made seven appearances in Rookie ball in 2009, when the Braves drafted him in the third round of the First-Year Player Draft out of Princeton.

While the Padres are mathematically eliminated from NL West contention, they are in the midst of a late-season surge, winning six of eight entering Thursday night's finale against the Phillies. San Diego will try to keep rolling behind Ian Kennedy (6-9, 4.86 ERA), who has lost only once since joining the Padres in a Trade Deadline deal with the D-backs.

Kennedy has shown noticeable improvement since the deal, going 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA in seven starts with his new team. He had as many wins in 21 starts this season with Arizona.

Kennedy threw five innings in a Sunday victory against the Rockies, allowing two runs (one earned) and striking out seven. Padres manager Bud Black pulled him after only 87 pitches.

"In the regular season [before Sept. 1, when the rosters expanded], he probably stays in that game," Black said.

Braves: Rotation changes for final stretch
With Freddy Garcia's start Thursday, the Braves skipped rookie left-hander Alex Wood's turn in the rotation and he will start next week in a critical series against the Nationals.

Paul Maholm is skipping his start Friday due to elbow soreness, but an MRI exam revealed no damage in his left elbow and he could return to the rotation next week. Maholm is 10-10 with a 4.35 ERA in 24 starts this year.

Wood, who joined the rotation in late July after spending the first portion of the season in the bullpen, is 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts.

Padres: Alonso progressing
First baseman Yonder Alonso, who hasn't played since August 30 because of soreness in his right hand, has been cleared to play defense. He's expected to hit in the cage this weekend.

"Yonder is doing great, he's going to be able to play defense," Black said. "We're comfortable with him throwing and are comfortable with him if he has to dive. There's motivation for Yonder to get back on the field."

Alonso missed 34 games earlier this season with a fractured metacarpal bone in his hand. He returned from the disabled list on July 12, but didn't have the same success he enjoyed earlier this year, when he hit .284 with six home runs in his first 190 at-bats.

Worth noting
• First baseman Freddie Freeman belted his 20th homer in Friday's win to celebrate his 24th birhtday, giving the Braves a league-best 166 this year. It also ensured Freeman's third consecutive 20-homer season.

• Kennedy is 2-0 with a 3.64 ERA in five career starts against the Braves, but he's struggled at Turner Field. In two starts -- both no-decisions -- he has a 5.91 ERA.

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