New ace set to lead Braves

Division quest begins out on West Coast

With their new ace on the mound and their former shortstop in the other dugout, the Braves will begin their quest toward a 15th consecutive division title.

The Braves will send Tim Hudson to the mound to face Rafael Furcal and the Dodgers on Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. This will be the first game of the season for both teams.

Entering his second season with the Braves, Hudson assumes role of staff ace from John Smoltz, who plans to pace himself throughout this season. This will be the fourth career Opening Day start for the 30-year-old right-hander.

"Hudson is the Opening Day starter of the future, and as long as he's here, he's going to continue being the Opening Day starter," Smoltz said.

Along with Furcal, who left Atlanta via free agency in December, Hudson will be facing a lineup that also features Jeff Kent and former Braves J.D. Drew and Kenny Lofton. In the right-hander's favor is the fact that he's won each of his four previous career starts against Los Angeles.

During his two starts against the Dodgers last year, Hudson totaled 14 innings and allowed just three earned runs. Those were two of his better outings during a season in which he battled another oblique injury and never lived up to the enormous expectations that he created during his highly successful days with the A's.

"I don't think we've seen the best of him yet," said Braves general manager John Schuerholz in reference to Hudson, who has the second-best winning percentage among active pitchers with at least 150 decisions.

The Braves, who split their six-game season series with the Dodgers last year, will begin their 2006 campaign facing Derek Lowe, who is coming off a disappointing year. During his only start against Atlanta last year, he allowed three earned runs in seven innings and got a no-decision. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Furcal each had a solo homer against the right-handed sinkerballer.

The Braves offense will once again be highlighted by Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, who hit a Major League-best 51 homers during his MVP-caliber season last year. Taking Furcal's spot in the leadoff spot will be Marcus Giles.

Edgar Renteria, who was acquired to replace Furcal as the team's shortstop, will follow Giles in the lineup and attempt to create regular run-producing opportunities for the Joneses. Renteria hit .276 and tallied 70 RBIs during a somewhat disappointing season with the Red Sox last year.

This will be Grady Little's first game as the Dodgers manager. Little served as a manager in the Braves Minor League system during the 1990s and once skippered a team that included a young Chipper Jones.

  Braves probable lineup
1.2BMarcus Giles
2.SSEdgar Renteria
3.3BChipper Jones
4.CFAndruw Jones
5.1BAdam LaRoche
6.RFJeff Francoeur
7.CBrian McCann
8.LFRyan Langerhans
9.PTim Hudson

Pitching matchup
ATL: RHP Tim Hudson
• 14-9, 3.52 ERA in 2005
• 2-0, 1.93 ERA in 2005 vs. LA
• 4-0, 2.43 ERA lifetime vs. LA

LA: RHP Derek Lowe
• 12-15, 3.61 ERA in 2005
• 1-0, 3.86 ERA in 2005 vs. ATL
• 1-2, 3.48 ERA lifetime vs. ATL

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
LA: KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM (Español)
ATL: WGST AM 640 and 96 Rock

On deck
• Tuesday: at Los Angeles, 10:10 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: at Los Angeles, 10:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.