ATLANTA -- Atlanta's corner outfielders have returned from thumb injuries to give the Braves more reason to believe they can hold their lead in the NL East.
Matt Diaz homered in his third straight game, Jason Heyward added three hits and the Braves beat the San Diego Padres 4-1 on Tuesday night in a matchup of first-place teams.The two outfielders drove in Atlanta's four runs to support a strong start from right-hander Jair Jurrjens, who gave up only one run in seven innings.Padres second baseman David Eckstein left the game with a right calf strain and may be bound for the disabled list.Diaz drove in three runs with a two-run homer in the fourth and a run-scoring single in the seventh.Heyward had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in a run as the Braves expanded a 2-1 lead in the seventh.Diaz said he told Heyward: "It sure is good to hit with a healthy thumb."Diaz has three homers and eight RBIs in his last three games. He was slowed the first two months of the season by an infection in his right thumb. He finally had surgery on May 20 and came off the disabled list on June 29.Diaz has four homers this season, all in the last two weeks."He's over that injury 100 percent," said manager Bobby Cox, who missed the game because of a one-game suspension. "And you saw tonight what happened. He's been hot as heck."Heyward was named an All-Star starter but couldn't play due to a left thumb injury. The rookie came off the disabled list after the All-Star break."It's definitely nice to at least have what you need to be productive," Heyward said.Chris Denorfia hit a second-inning homer for the Padres, giving him three in his last two games.That was all for the Padres as Jurrjens (3-3) gave up only two hits over his last five innings.Billy Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for his 22nd save.The Braves began the day 5 1/2 games ahead of second-place New York in the NL East. The Braves (55-38) passed the NL West-leading Padres (54-38) for the best record in the National League.Jurrjens gave up five hits, struck out seven and walked three. Jurrjens said it was gratifying to make up for giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 17-2 loss at San Diego on April 12."I wanted to come out this time and at least if they beat me they beat me 100 percent healthy," he said. "It took a really big weight off my back. ... That game in San Diego really bugged me the whole season."Wade LeBlanc (4-8) gave up two runs, five hits and four walks in six innings. The Braves added two runs off Ryan Webb in the seventh.Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia filled in for Cox, who drew the suspension after left-hander Jonny Venters hit Milwaukee's Prince Fielder with a pitch on Saturday."Chino was brilliant," Cox said, adding he didn't enjoy being removed from the dugout. "It's nerve-racking, not being part of it."Venters, appealing his four-game suspension, took over for Jurrjens and retired the Padres in order in the eighth.Eckstein said he was hurt running the bases before he was thrown out at the plate while trying to score from second base on Nick Hundley's single to center in the first inning. Melky Cabrera's throw to catcher Brian McCann beat the sliding Eckstein to the plate.Eckstein said he may be placed on the disabled list after his second right calf injury of the season."It's definitely being considered," he said. "It's rough, especially during this time. That's the frustrating part."Everth Cabrera replaced Eckstein in the second inning and played shortstop. Jerry Hairston moved from shortstop to second.
3B Chipper Jones was out of the Braves' lineup for the third straight game with a mild left hamstring strain. Jones popped out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. ... Venters' appeal of his four-game suspension will be heard on July 27 in Washington. ... Cabrera, in the fifth, and Hairston, in the seventh, were thrown out by McCann trying to steal second base. ... 2B Martin Prado was charged with two errors in the first two innings.