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ATL@SD: Hudson fans eight in six scoreless innings

By standing exactly at .500 exiting the All-Star break, the Nationals have emerged as the surprise story of the season in the National League East and beyond. They'll be tested by a division foe right out of the gates when they return to action.

The Braves, who will host Washington for a three-game set starting Friday, have the second-most victories at the proverbial halfway point of the season with 54, behind -- you guessed it -- the division-leading Phillies.

It'll be Livan Hernandez meeting Tim Hudson at Turner Field in a matchup of right-handers to get the second half started with an NL East meeting not many would have predicted before the season would include two teams with first-half success behind them.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson knows a tough division when he sees one, and he definitely sees one in the NL East.

"I consider the National League East a really tough division, just like the American League East," said Johnson, who managed the Orioles in the AL East in 1996 and '97. "I compare those two divisions and I've been in both of them. ... The Phillies are further along. Atlanta has been there forever -- they're further along. We're climbing."

Indeed. The last time the Nationals were .500 this late in the season was 2005, when they finished the year 81-81. Going forward, Johnson knows there are balances he'll have to strike as a team on the rise goes through the second half.

"I want to win every game -- that's the most important thing -- but everything is important to me that happens today, with an eye on tomorrow. I want the things that happen today to be a building block for tomorrow," he said. "At the end of the season, whether we make the playoffs or not, I want there to be very few questions going into the spring."

There can be little question the Braves are where they'd like to be in terms of their record, their lopsided loss at Philadelphia just before the All-Star break notwithstanding. Their 54 wins at the break are the most since 2002, and the seventh-most since 1966.

And now it appears their top acquisition of the offseason is getting into a groove, getting closer to where he'd like to be. After struggling most of the first half, second baseman Dan Uggla doubled Sunday and has hit safely in six consecutive games, including three homers.

"I don't think he allowed any of that stuff to really change who he is. He always seems like the same guy to me," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We all want to do better. But he never did anything different other than play hard throughout this whole first half. The home runs and RBIs will be where we expected them to be at the end of this season."

Nationals: Rookie duo powerful as they come
Entering the break, second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Wilson Ramos have combined for the most homers of any team's rookie duo so far this season, with 24. Espinosa has 16 and Ramos has eight, combining for two more than the Angels' Mark Trumbo (17) and Hank Conger (five).

Espinosa's 16 before the break is the most by a rookie second baseman, and he matched Arizona's Kelly Johnson for the most by any second baseman this season. With seven as a catcher (one came as a first baseman), Ramos is well on his way to eclipsing Brian Schneider's 10 in 2005 for the most by a Washington Nationals catcher.

• One day after pitching in the Futures Game, Nationals right-handed pitching prospect Brad Peacock was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday. Peacock, who was 10-2 with a 2.01 ERA in Double-A Harrisburg, is tentatively scheduled to make his Triple-A debut Saturday.

Braves: Prado to take over at third
With Chipper Jones on the disabled list following successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, the Braves considered pushing Martin Prado's return up to before the break, but decided against it.

"We talked about that, bringing him back for two days," Gonzalez said. "But we don't want to rush him. We'll give him a couple extra games, and he'll be ready to go on Friday."

Prado, sidelined since he was diagnosed with a staph infection June 9, will be activated before the opener vs. the Nationals and will take over Jones' spot at third base, likely batting second in the everyday lineup.

Worth noting
• Atlanta begins the second half of the season by playing 20 consecutive games, taking the field every day from Friday through Aug. 3.

• The Braves remain one win away from becoming just the third team in Major League history to win 10,000 games. They'll join the Giants and Cubs.

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