Chipper shines in return, but Braves fall

Chipper shines in return, but Braves fall

MILWAUKEE -- Chipper Jones returned to the Braves' lineup with a bang. But his contribution wasn't enough to overcome the two-out, sixth-inning damage that marred what was shaping to be a strong effort from Tim Hudson.

Just when it looked like Hudson was producing his second masterpiece in less than a week, the Brewers' bats awoke and further heightened the realization that the Braves' offense needs more than simply having Jones back in the lineup.

While constructing their 4-2 win at Miller Park on Tuesday night, the Brewers found a way to solve Hudson and, at the same time, put themselves in position to claim their first three-game sweep of the Braves in Wednesday afternoon's series finale.

"You've got a lot of guys in here that are frustrated," said Jones in reference to the fact the Braves have been inconsistent while winning just nine of their first 20 games. "Yeah, we're only 20 games in, but you keep saying that in 20-game increments, and all of a sudden, you're 100 games into the season and you're 10 games out. We don't want that to happen."

Knowing that Jones, Edgar Renteria and Marcus Giles have all missed significant time, the Braves can take solace in the fact that they entered Tuesday just three games behind the front-running Mets in the National League East standings. But before long, Atlanta needs to get its pitching and offense working at the same time.

Jones, who was playing for the first time since spraining both his right knee and right ankle on April 9, provided the Braves' only offense with his two-run homer in the fourth inning off Milwaukee starter Tomo Ohka. The Atlanta offense has averaged just three runs per game in the past nine contests. The Braves scored four runs or more during each of their first 11 games.

"It's good to get back in there," said Jones, who added a sixth-inning single. "I had three good at-bats where I felt like I hit the ball hard. It was good to get us out to a lead. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it."

Hudson, who allowed four earned runs and nine hits in seven innings, was in control through the first five innings, damaged only by a solo homer in the fourth to Geoff Jenkins. But the righty ran into trouble after allowing Gabe Gross to begin the sixth-inning rally with a one-out double.

Three batters and one out later, the decision to use a defensive shift against Prince Fielder proved costly. The left-handed-hitting Fielder directed a soft grounder through the vacant left side of the infield where shortstop Wilson Betemit would have normally been positioned. It easily scored Carlos Lee, who reached on a two-out, run-scoring single and then stole second base uncontested.

"I thought Huddy pitched really well," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We had the shift on Fielder and the little dribbler got through. But he pitched awfully well tonight. He should have fared a lot better."

Before ending his evening with two consecutive strikeouts, Hudson encountered further trouble. Bill Hall began the seventh with a double and scored one batter later on a Damian Miller single. But the middle-inning trouble wasn't a product of fatigue.

Hudson, who tossed just 97 pitches in his complete-game effort against the Mets last Wednesday, threw just 57 pitches threw the first five innings. He threw more than 15 pitches in just two of his seven innings against the Brewers -- the fifth (17) and the seventh (22).

Most of his success came via a sinker that he described as being "as good as it's been in a long time." But he felt like he relied too heavily on the pitch, and ended up paying the price when Gross and Lee were able to get their bats on what he thought were pretty good pitches.

"If I have that same stuff nine times out of 10, I'm probably going to win nine of those games," Hudson said. "This was just the one time where they got me."

The loss marked the second straight time Jones homered in his first game back from the disabled list. The veteran third baseman previously did it against the Giants on July 18 of last year.

But his opposite-field, fourth-inning homer, which was sandwiched between singles from Ryan Langerhans and Andruw Jones, was one of the few balls hits sharply off Ohka, who allowed just the two earned runs and seven hits in seven innings. It was also Atlanta's only extra-base hit on a night that ended with Derrick Turnbow striking out Jeff Francoeur with Adam LaRoche at first base.

"I can't believe we only scored two runs," Brian McCann said. "I think we gave [Ohka] some at-bats. I thought we could have put more runs on the board. We're struggling right now with the sticks."

It appears Renteria will be back in the lineup by the start of this weekend. His return can't come at a better time. The Mets will head to Atlanta on Friday to begin a three-game series against what is now a frustrated Braves club.

"Hopefully we can get back home quick enough and in time to get things straightened out," Chipper Jones said.

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