G-Braves fall short of sweep, still in 1st

LAWRENCEVILLE - Tim Hudson hopes to rejoin the Atlanta rotation in September and be a key contributor as the Braves try to chase down Philadelphia in the National League East.

But before that, there is another pennant race that the rehabbing veteran is participating in on an interim basis.

The Gwinnett Braves took three of four games in a showdown series against Durham and lead the Bulls by a game in the International League South.

After the G-Braves pulled out ninth-inning victories the previous two games, it was the Bulls who won with a comeback in their final chance Thursday night at Gwinnett Stadium.

Down by a run, Durham scored six times off G-Braves closer Luis Valdez for a 9-5 victory that evened the season series between the teams at nine wins each with four games to be played down the stretch in North Carolina.

Valdez (5-4) leads the International League with 22 saves, but he has also blown eight chances and flirted with disaster numerous other times.

With two outs and the game tied after a triple by Henry Mateo, Durham had five straight hits to put the game out of reach. The G-Braves got one run back in the bottom of the ninth, but it was not nearly enough.

Hudson has made two Class AAA starts and Gwinnett has split the games. That Hudson wasn't as sharp this time as he had been when working four scoreless innings against Lehigh Valley on July 27 was understandable. He hadn't pitched since.

The veteran tweaked his left leg warming up on July 31 before a scheduled start against Rochester, setting his comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery back almost two weeks.

"I have to admit that I was a little tentative at first," Hudson said of his latest outing. "But then I started to get more comfortable and confident about my leg."

Hudson allowed four hits and two runs in the first inning before giving up two hits and a walk over the next three innings. He struck out three, with 42 of his 63 pitches strikes.

"All in all, it went really good," Hudson said. "The elbow felt great. It didn't get stiff."

The former 20-game winner will likely make three more rehab starts before returning to Atlanta in September. His next outing is scheduled for Tuesday and will tentatively be for the G-Braves at Norfolk.

Before heading to Virginia, Gwinnett hosts Pawtucket in a four-game series beginning tonight.

· Who: Pawtucket Red Sox

· Where: Gwinnett Stadium

· When: Today-Saturday 7 p.m.; Sunday-Monday 2 p.m.

· Radio/TV: WDUN 550-AM/CSS Saturday, Monday

· Affiliation: Boston Red Sox

· Manager: Ron Johnson

· Season series: Gwinnett and Pawtucket are tied 2-2

· Red Sox update: John Smoltz refused assignment to the Class AAA team and Clay Buchholtz may be with the big-league team, but All-Star knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will be part of the PawSox' rotation, pitching Saturday in a rehab start. ... Three pitchers have seven wins for Pawtucket, but only Enrique Gonzalez is a regular starter. Gonzalez last pitched Aug. 3, throwing 61/3 innings. ... DH Chris Carter is the team's best every day hitter at .278 on the year but is hitting .333 in his last 10 games. Carter is a 2001 graduate of high school football power De La Salle High School.

· Did you know? This is the last series the G-Braves will play against a non-division opponent. The final 21 games of the season are against teams in the International League South Division.

SideBar: Bulls 9, G-Braves 5

· What happened: Durham, down by a run, scored six times in the ninth inning off closer Luis Valdez to salvage the final game of the four-game series Thursday night at Gwinnett Stadium.

· Pivotal moment: C Clint Sammons couldn't hold the ball during a collision at home plate on the tying run and the Bulls went on to score five more runs with two out.

· Rehab watch: RHP Tim Hudson pitched four innings, allowing two runs and five hits. He struck out three and walked one.

· Lending support: In the crowd of 5,535 were Hudson's Atlanta teammates Brian McCann and Adam LaRoche.

· Pennant race: Gwinnett (67-52) lead the Bulls (66-53) by a game in the International League South race.

· Season series: The teams are tied at 9-9 with a four-game series remaining in Durham on Aug. 29-Sept. 2.

· Streaking: 1B Wes Timmons drew a walk in fifth inning, extending his on-base streak to 45 games. He was 0-for-4 otherwise.

· Thank you, Mr. Jones: RF Brandon Jones, the ninth-inning hero for the G-Braves the previous two nights, was 2-for-4. He is 12-for-33 with three homers and six RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.

· Worth noting: 1B Barbaro Canizares was one of five G-Braves with two hits and he drove in three runs. ... SS Diory Hernandez had a triple in his two hits and is 4-for-11 since coming down from Atlanta. He is batting .355. ... The G-Braves had a runner picked off first and another caught trying to steal in the fourth inning, getting nothing out of three hits.

· On deck: LHP John Halama (3-4, 4.62 ERA) will start for the G-Braves in the opener of a four-game home series against Pawtucket. RHP Charlie Zink (5-12, 5.59) will start for Boston Red Sox affiliate in the 7 p.m. game.