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Braves’ offense sputters in 4-1 loss to San Diego

Braves outfielder Martin Prado makes a sliding catch during Monday’s game against San Diego to retire Carlos Quentin.

Braves outfielder Martin Prado makes a sliding catch during Monday’s game against San Diego to retire Carlos Quentin.

Braves moving to 6-man rotation for two weeks

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are moving to a six-man rotation for two weeks.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday he’ll pick the best five starters at the end of August. The Braves are in a stretch of playing 20 consecutive days before a day off on Aug. 30.

“After that, we’re going with five,” Gonzalez said. “Somebody is going to have to go to the bullpen and that’s just the way it is.”

Gonzalez said he will not defer to seniority when picking his five-man rotation for September as the Braves chase first-place Washington in the NL East.

“No, we’ll go with our best five and I can promise you on that,” he said. “Our best five, or the five healthiest guys.”

The Braves created a surplus in their rotation last month by trading for Paul Maholm, signing Ben Sheets and moving Kris Medlen from the bullpen. Right-hander Tommy Hanson, who leads Atlanta with 12 wins, returns from the disabled list this week and will start on Friday against the Dodgers.

Hanson has been out with a strained lower back since July 31.

There are other health concerns in the rotation. Tim Hudson, the veteran of the rotation, missed a start in June due to bone spurs in his left ankle. Sheets completed a long comeback from surgery on his right elbow when he made his first start in the majors in almost two years last month.

Gonzalez said he is moving to the six-man rotation “for the concerns of taking care of some of the guys.”

“We need to be able to go into September with all of the cylinders hitting and everybody healthy,” Gonzalez said. “This is one way to keep those guys healthy.”

Gonzalez is trying to avoid a repeat of the Braves’ historic collapse last season, when they won only nine of their last 27 games and were passed by St. Louis for the NL wild card on the last day of the regular season.

Medlen is 2-0 as a starter, allowing only three earned runs in three starts. He also has been effective in the bullpen and said he is comfortable in either role.

“I’ve been saying the entire time, whenever I get the ball, starter or reliever, I’m good,” Medlen said Monday. “I don’t get too caught up in trying to figure out what’s going on. That’s when you get caught with something unexpected.

“I know I’m starting Thursday and I take it from there, one start at a time.”

Gonzalez says Medlen will stick in the rotation if his success continues.

Medlen is 3-1 overall with one save and a 2.38 ERA.

Sheets is 4-2 with a 2.13 ERA in six starts. His worst start came in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Mets when he gave up five runs, four earned, in six innings.

The six-man rotation includes Mike Minor, Hudson, Maholm, Sheets, Medlen and Hanson.

Former All-Star Jair Jurrjens and Randall Delgado couldn’t hold spots in the rotation this season.

ATLANTA — San Diego manager Bud Black called Eric Stults’ performance classic pitching.

The Atlanta Braves called it frustrating.

Stults combined with two relievers on a five-hitter, Chase Headley homered and drove in two runs and the Padres beat Atlanta 4-1 on Monday night.

Stults (3-2) gave up five hits and one run in 7 2-3 innings — his longest start in three years. While with the Dodgers, Stults beat the Giants 8-0 on May 9, 2009, his last complete game.

Stults kept his pitch count low early in the game against Atlanta’s impatient hitters.

“They were swinging early in counts,” Stults said. “I was able to get some quick outs, which allowed me to go deeper into the game.”

Stults’ curveballs were clocked in the mid-60s, making his high-80s fastball look faster. That range helped keep Atlanta’s batters off-balance.

“He frustrated us,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He got us out of our normal game plan of seeing pitches and working the count a little bit.

“He really, really was frustrating. We just weren’t our normal selves.”

The Padres, who had a six-game winning streak snapped on Sunday, have won eight of 10 for the first time this season.

Stults pitched for Los Angeles from 2006-09 and appeared in six games with Colorado in 2011. Any memories of Stults were too few and too faint to be of help to the Braves.

“It’s the first time we’ve faced him,” said Martin Prado, who actually was 2 for 4 in his career against the left-hander before Monday. “For me, I was trying to recognize what he had.

“He looked pretty good. He was mixing all his pitches in a real good way. We were trying to figure it out. The next time we’ve got to be patient, because he’s one of those guys who can spot the ball.”

Black said Stults’ change of speeds made it difficult for the Braves.

“When you have a range like he did as far as velocity, 90 at the high end and 66 at the low, that’s awful tough,” Black said.

Stults did not walk a batter.

“He was spotting the ball well, in and out, up and down,” Black said. “It really was classic pitching.”

The weather conditions made Turner Field a pitcher’s park. Rain delayed the start of the game for 25 minutes and left the air unusually cool. The first-pitch temperature was 71 degrees and the wind was blowing in.

Yonder Alonso had three hits and Chris Denorfia had two hits and scored two runs for the Padres.

Stults lost his bid for a shutout in the eighth when Michael Bourn singled and scored on Prado’s triple into the right-field corner. Luke Gregerson struck out Jason Heyward to end the inning.

Dale Thayer pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.

Atlanta starter Mike Minor (6-9) gave up three runs and nine hits in six innings.

Stults has worked in relief and as a starter since he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox on May 17. He has won two straight starts, including 5 1-3 innings in a 2-0 win over the Cubs on Aug. 6.

Stults was dominant early, allowing only one hit in the first five innings. That was nothing new; in his first six starts with the White Sox and Padres, he had a 0.75 ERA in the first four innings. Stults’ problems had come after the fourth, when he had a 6.94 ERA.

This time, Stults retained his edge longer into the game.

The Braves’ first threat came in the fourth, when Heyward reached on first baseman Alonso’s fielding error with two outs and moved to third on Chipper Jones’ single to left. Freddie Freeman’s groundout ended the inning.

Prado and Heyward had consecutive singles with two outs in the sixth before Jones ended the inning with a fly ball to center.

Denorfia led off the second with a double and later scored on Cameron Maybin’s sacrifice fly. Denorfia led off the sixth with a triple and scored on Alonso’s single.

Stults singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Headley, who was thrown out as he tried to advance to second. Headley hit his 19th homer off Chad Durbin in the seventh.

NOTES: When RHP Tommy Hanson (strained lower back) comes off the 15-day DL to start Friday against the Dodgers, the Braves will move to a six-man rotation for about two weeks. Gonzalez said he will pick the five best — or healthiest — for September. … Braves SS Jack Wilson, who has been on the 15-day DL with a dislocated right little finger, aggravated the injury in a rehab game with Triple-A Gwinnett and was back in Atlanta to have the finger examined. … Headley was named NL player of the week after hitting .333 with three homers and 11 RBIs for the period ending Sunday. … Padres LHP Clayton Richard, coming off a shutout of the Cubs, will start against Braves RHP Tim Hudson on Tuesday night.