Cubs-Braves Preview

Tommy Hanson lived up to the hype as a rookie. In 2010, he might
establish himself as an ace for the Atlanta Braves.

Hanson will make his season debut Thursday night as the Braves
look to complete a season-opening three-game sweep of the Chicago
Cubs.

A top pitching prospect coming into last season, the 23-year-old
Hanson backed up the high praise. The right-hander was called up in
June, and went 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his first eight starts before
finishing the season with an 11-4 record, a 2.89 ERA and 116
strikeouts in 21 games.

At Turner Field, he was 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 11
appearances.

A 22nd round pick by Atlanta (2-0) in 2005, Hanson spent the
offseason improving his change-up to complement his other three
pitches.

“(The changeup is) just a feel pitch,” Hanson told the Braves’
official Web site. “It has to come out of your hand a certain way.
That’s something I always battled with, because it was inconsistent
coming out of my hand. Sometimes the pressure would be on different
fingers.

“I feel really good with the grip I have now, and the way that
I’m throwing it feels a lot more comfortable than last year.”

He’ll try to keep the Cubs (0-2) off-balance while helping
Atlanta to its first 3-0 start since 2007 and first sweep of
Chicago since May 26-28, 2006.

Chipper Jones got the Braves closer to matching that feat,
connecting for his first homer of the new season – a two-run shot
in the eighth to rally them to a 3-2 win Wednesday. That came two
nights after Atlanta rolled 16-5 in the season opener.

“You just felt like that was an opportunity to at least get the
game tied,” said Jones, who had 18 homers and 71 RBIs last year for
his lowest totals since becoming a full-time player in 1995. “I’m
not thinking homer there. I’m thinking get the run in, hit the ball
in the gap.”

Atlanta’s bullpen is off to a strong start, allowing four hits
in seven scoreless innings. Billy Wagner has been a big reason for
that, surrendering one hit in two innings and getting the save
Wednesday, his first since undergoing left elbow surgery after the
2008 season.

Wagner, sixth on the all-time saves list with 386, signed a
one-year contract with Atlanta after acting as a setup man in 17
games with Boston and the New York Mets last season.

Unlike the Braves, the Cubs’ bullpen is off to a rocky start,
getting tagged for 10 runs and six walks in 8 2-3 innings so
far.

“We’ve played two games,” manager Lou Piniella said Wednesday.
“We’re not in our 22nd game or our 42nd game, for God’s sake. It
was just a tough loss. Let’s leave it at that.”

Piniella will give Randy Wells his first start of the season
after he shined in 2009. The right-hander was recalled from the
minors in May, and went 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA in 27 starts becoming
the first Cubs rookie to get at least 10 wins since Kerry Wood in
1998.

Wells was almost unbeatable during a nine-start stretch from
June 21-Aug. 3, going 8-1 with a 2.85 ERA. That included a 4-2 win
over the Braves on July 6 as he allowed two runs in six
innings.

He was even better in his only start at Atlanta, yielding two
runs and two hits in seven innings of a 6-5 12-inning loss June
2.