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ATL@SF: Freeman's two-run double spoils the shutout

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tommy Hanson made sure the Braves knew he was not happy with their decision to have him make one rehab start before coming off the disabled list last week. If he does not pitch well in his next start, there is a chance he will be voicing his displeasure about being removed from the starting rotation.

But before worrying too much about how their rotation might look heading into September, the Braves might need to be more concerned about an offense that has habitually squandered scoring opportunities over the past week.

Hanson issued two costly walks and was victimized by Freddie Freeman's bad-hop error during a four-run fifth inning that supported Barry Zito and doomed the Braves in Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park.

"I don't feel like I went out there and got lit up," Hanson said. "I don't feel like I went out there and they were hitting lasers all over the place. That was just a tough one. I don't really know what to say."

Before issuing a four-pitch walk and surrendering three hits in the decisive fifth inning, Hanson was minimizing damage and showing better command than he had during the latter weeks of July. But he was never in command like Zito, who was bidding for a three-hit shutout before surrendering a pair of singles to begin Atlanta's two-run ninth inning.

Instead of suffering their 11th shutout loss of the season, the Braves experienced a disheartening conclusion. Martin Prado and Chipper Jones chased Zito with consecutive singles before Freddie Freeman made things interesting with a two-run double against Jeremy Affeldt. Brian McCann came to the plate representing the tying run. But his strikeout quieted a threat that ended with Jason Heyward and Juan Francisco grounding out in consecutive pinch-hit at-bats.

When the Braves claimed a comeback win against the Dodgers last Friday, they were in the midst of a 23-game stretch that included just five losses. They have lost five of the six games that followed and batted .115 (6-for-52) with runners in scoring position during this span.

"That's baseball," Freeman said. "You know you're not going to be rolling the whole season. As an offense, you're going to go through a little bit of a tough stretch and we're going through it right now. We're going to try to get out of it as soon as possible. We're getting some guys on base but we're not getting that big hit."

One night after doing just enough damage against the Nationals' Ross Detwiler, the Braves struggled for the second time this year against the soft-throwing Zito. The veteran left-hander allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings in Atlanta on July 17.

The Braves are 22-26 in games that the opposing team starts a left-handed pitcher. They are 49-28 in games that their opponent starts a right-handed pitcher.

"We weren't very good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I don't if it was Barry being that dominant or us not putting up a good approach against him. We've seen him enough to where we could make an adjustment. He's deceptive. He pitches high enough in the strike zone and frustrates you with the curveball and changeup."

The only run the Giants scored through the first four innings came with assistance from the six-pitch walk Angel Pagan drew with one out in the third inning. Their fifth-inning eruption began with Pagan drawing a four-pitch walk.

After Marco Scutaro followed the leadoff walk with a single to put runners at the corners, Hunter Pence took advantage of a defensive alignment by pushing a bunt single through the right side of the infield. Brandon Belt followed with a sharp grounder took a bad hop and went through Freeman's legs near the first-base bag. Hector Sanchez capped the scoring with a two-run double.

Hanson threw 94 pitches while allowing the Giants five runs -- four earned - and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. His command was better than it was when he posted a 7.45 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .453 on-base percentage in his first four starts out of the All-Star break.

Still when Gonzalez switches from a six-man rotation back to a five-man rotation next Friday, Hanson could be the odd man out. This marked the second time since the All-Star break that he was unable to complete at least five innings.

"That one was tough to swallow," Hanson said. "Obviously, it was that last inning. Starting off the guy with a four-pitch walk is not what you want to do."

Zito issued two walks in the first inning and allowed McCann and Dan Uggla to record back-to-back singles to begin the second inning. But the veteran southpaw then retired seven straight and faced the minimum number of batters before allowing a sixth-inning leadoff double to Reed Johnson, who was still standing on second base when the inning ended.

"Every start is a little bit different, and tonight he was on top of his game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's been sharper going against these guys, and they're a good-hitting ballclub."

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