Hanson eager to take mound against Phillies

Tommy Hanson has been waiting for this.

The Braves right-hander lost just four games last season as a rookie. Two came against the Philadelphia Phillies.

That is why Hanson is looking forward to taking the mound Tuesday night when the Braves open a three-game series against Philadelphia at Turner Field. Sure, it’s a challenge to face the two-time defending National League champions. However Hanson and the Braves have something to prove as well as something to gain.

“I’m ready to get back out there,” Hanson said. “Any time you face the Phillies, it’s a big game. I had a rough one against them last year and I’m excited to get back out there. There are no easy outs in that lineup.”

Hanson went 11-4 last season with a 2.89 ERA. In two starts against the Phillies he was 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA. He can recite the details all too well. On Aug. 28, he worked two innings before leaving after a rain delay. He allowed one earned run on a homer to Ryan Howard. On Sept. 20, he worked five innings, allowing four earned runs.

It’s early but it’s not too early for this series to serve as a measuring stick for the Braves. It’s a chance to see if they’ve closed the gap.

“They’ve set the bar for this division,” outfielder Nate McLouth said. “Anytime you play them, you see how you stack up. I think the mind-set is the same as every other series. That’s to win. They are a tough team. It’s going to be three tough games. We have to have the mind-set of winning the series.”

The Braves won 10 of the 18 games between the teams last season, outscoring the Phillies 88-69. However, they finished seven games back in the NL East. That’s all that matters.

First place in the NL East will be at stake over the next three days. The Phillies lead by just a game over the third-place Braves.

“We did well against them last year and it didn’t get us anywhere,” catcher Brian McCann said. “We are both good teams and they are a team that we have to go through to win the division. Any time you play them, you want to win. You want to play hard and see where you are at.”

The Phillies come to town having lost two of three games to the Marlins and three of their past four. The Braves, winners of four of their past five, took two of three from the Rockies this weekend, being no-hit in the one loss.

Hanson (1-1, 2.38) will face Kyle Kendrick (0-0, 17.47), who was roughed up in his last outing Wednesday, allowing six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Nationals. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are scheduled to start in the series for the Braves.

“We just took two out of three from a very good baseball team,” outfielder Matt Diaz said. “We are excited about that. We feel we have a very good baseball team. We have to go out and prove it. The Rockies made the playoffs last year. The Phillies made the playoffs. We’ve got to go out and prove to other teams that we are a good ball club. We are starting to show it a little bit.”

While the Braves acknowledge that this is an important series, they caution not to make too much of it. It's April.

“Either way, you can’t let if affect you too much," McLouth said. "If we lose the series, we can’t let it get us down and if we win we can’t say ‘OK, we are on our way now.’ We have to be even-keeled but hope to win the series.”