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ATL@TB: Hudson scatters four hits through 7 2/3

It's only May, but meetings between the Braves and Nationals will have high stakes.

The two teams are jockeying back and forth for first place in the National League East, and Friday will be the first clash of the clubs this season.

Washington has built its success so far this year on the backs of its pitching staff. Entering play Wednesday, the Nationals had a 2.87 team ERA, which led the NL. The staff also led the league in strikeouts, with 375. Starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann ranked sixth, eighth and 16th, respectively, in ERA heading into play Wednesday.

Atlanta is also a strong pitching team, with starter Brandon Beachy leading baseball with a 1.77 ERA. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson also have ERAs ranking in the NL's top 40. And once the starter exits the game, closer Craig Kimbrel takes over. He leads the NL with 13 saves.

It'll be Hudson taking the hill for the Braves in the series opener. The righty got a late start to the year, but he's 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Excluding the seven-run roughing up he suffered May 4 at the hands of the Rockies, Hudson has allowed just five runs in his other starts. He tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Rays in his last outing, allowing just four hits and a walk.

Things seem to be going in the opposite direction for Nationals starter Ross Detwiler. His ERA was 1.59 after his fifth start of the year, but in his last three outings he's allowed 14 runs. That includes a particularly rough outing last time out against the Orioles. Detwiler gave up six runs in only five innings, surrendering two home runs.

But these teams can hit, too. Entering play Thursday, the Cardinals were the only National League team that had scored more runs than Atlanta.

Washington took advantage of its first off-day in more than two weeks Thursday, while the Braves lost their fourth straight game in Cincinnati to finish out a stretch of 16 of their last 20 games on the road.

Nationals: Desmond finding power stroke
Shortstop Ian Desmond has hit eight home runs this season, tying his total from 2011. He's only two away from his career high of 10 long balls, which he clubbed in 2010. The eight homers lead all NL shortstops.

• The Nationals have won six of the eight road series they've played this season. Washington didn't win its sixth road series last season until mid-September.

Braves: Aching stars
Injuries to key players are piling up for Atlanta. Catcher Brian McCann missed his third straight game on Thursday with flu-like symptoms, which are also affecting Matt Diaz. Chipper Jones has been sidelined since May 18 with a leg bruise, making just one pinch-hit appearance since. And Freddie Freeman has been sitting out with vision problems.

"I think we should be OK for the Nationals and the Cardinals, knock on wood," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Hopefully we get a lot better. Every team goes through it. I'm glad it's the flu and I'm glad it's not broken ankles and pulled hamstrings and that kind of stuff that teams go through. I'm glad it's just a couple of days of flu-like symptoms, a banged up ankle and a guy who is having trouble with his contacts. It could be a lot more serious than that."

• Martin Prado is on a hot streak for Atlanta. In his last 16 games, Prado has hit .429 with eight doubles, a triple, a home run, nine runs scored and five RBIs.

Worth noting
• No one on the Nationals roster has ever hit a home run off Hudson. In fact, no one on the Nationals roster has picked up more than one extra-base hit against Hudson. Desmond has had relative success, gathering nine hits in 32 career at-bats (.281).

• With just 11 more RBIs, Chipper Jones will reach 1,596 and tie Hall of Famer George Brett for the all-time lead among third basemen.

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