Hudson holds Phils scoreless through 7 in Braves' win

ATLANTA (AP) -- Now this is what the Atlanta Braves expect from Tim Hudson.

The struggling right-hander pitched his best game in nearly two months, tossing seven scoreless innings and driving in a run with a suicide squeeze to lead the Braves past the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Hudson (9-10) was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, going 2-6 with a 7.60 ERA over his past 10 starts. During that span, he allowed 76 hits and eight homers in 55 2/3 innings.

But Philadelphia couldn't get a runner past second base against Hudson, who scattered six hits, walked two and struck out eight -- his most Ks since he had 10 against Florida on May 16. He wasn't even fazed after taking Chase Utley's line drive off the back of his right shoulder in the first.

"He looked like the old Hudson with the Oakland A's," manager Bobby Cox said. "He had a lot of strikeouts and a tremendous amount of groundballs."

The right-hander didn't have a 1-2-3 inning but never allowed more than one hit in any frame. The only time he had to work around two runners was in the third, when he walked pitcher Cole Hamels
and Utley. Ryan Howard struck out swinging to end the threat.

Hudson contributed at the plate as well.

The game was scoreless in the fifth when Matt Diaz led off with a triple off the right-field wall against Hamels (4-6). Scott Thorman failed to get the runner home, grounding out to third, before Hudson drove in Diaz by getting down the second of two straight suicide squeeze attempts.

After Hudson fouled off the first bunt, Cox called for the same play. Sensing what was coming, Hamels threw a fastball high and away, but Hudson jumped up and managed to get his bat on it, the ball rolling slowly along the first-base line while Diaz sped home for a 1-0 lead.

"I squared around a little soon and let the cat out of the bag," Hudson said. "He threw a pitch that he probably didn't think I could hit. But I'm pretty good bunting balls that aren't strikes. It's the ones down the middle I have trouble bunting."

Hamels, who allowed six hits and a run in six innings, couldn't believe that Hudson managed to get the bunt down.

"Hudson is a phenomenal athlete," Hamels said. "I didn't think he would do it again. I threw it high enough -- I thought he would pop it up -- but he got it down. I couldn't have done anything more."

Hudson got help from his teammates the next inning.

Howard drove a pitch into the right-field corner, and the ball stuck against the wall. Jeff Francoeur retrieved it and made a throw to Marcus Giles in short right. The 5-foot-8 second baseman had to leap for the ball, but he wheeled and threw in one motion -- a perfect strike to third baseman Willy Aybar, who tagged out Howard attempting to stretch a double into a triple.

"Gilly made a no-look throw to third that was right on the money," Hudson said. "If that play is not made and later on they get a hit, we're tied 1-1 and you never know what might happen."

Hudson began to cramp up on a muggy night and left after 94 pitches.

"It's been a bit of a rough year," he said. "I'm still not where I want to be. I still feel I can throw a lot better than I have been."

The Braves, who seem hopelessly out of the race for a 15th straight division title, remained 5½ games behind NL wild-card leader Cincinnati.

Atlanta added to its margin with two runs in the seventh off Geoff Geary. Diaz drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Thorman doubled off the glove of right fielder Shane Victorino to make it 3-0.

Danys Baez couldn't find the plate after taking over for Hudson in the eighth. The reliever walked the bases loaded with one out, bringing on Wayne Franklin to face David Dellucci, who gave the Braves a huge scare.

Dellucci hit a long drive to center that sent Andruw Jones to the wall. He caught it with his back against the 400-foot sign.

Victorino trotted home on the sacrifice fly, but that was it for the Phillies. Tyler Yates came out of the bullpen to get Chris Coste swinging for the third out, and Bob Wickman pitched the ninth for his sixth save in six chances since coming over to the Braves in a trade with Cleveland.

"It's a good win for us," Hudson said. "Things are tough right now. We've dug ourselves a big hole. But you never know what may happen."

Game notes
After throwing out Howard, Giles was thrown out himself in the sixth by left fielder Dellucci when he tried to stretch a single into a
double. ... The Phillies were awarded a double play in the fourth when Jones grabbed Utley's knee as the second baseman attempted to make a relay throw to first. ... Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand stole two bases in a game for the first time this season.