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Atlanta Braves: Diaz picking up the slack
Atlanta Braves’ Matt Diaz scores on a Reid Gorecki sacrifice fly in the seventh inning Sunday against the Florida Marlins in Atlanta. Atlanta won 7-5. - photo by John Bazemore

Braves vs. Padres

When: 7 tonight

Where: Turner Field, Atlanta

Pitchers: Braves, Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens (10-8, 2.99); RHP Matt Latos (4-3, 4.82)

TV, radio: SportSouth; 102.9 FM

ATLANTA — Nate McLouth was on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Garrett Anderson and Ryan Church were out because of sore backs.

That left Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox without his top three outfielders for most of an important weekend series against the Florida Marlins.

Up stepped Matt Diaz, who got six hits in wins over the Marlins on Saturday and Sunday, giving Atlanta’s NL wild-card hopes a big lift.

Diaz had four hits and scored two runs in the Braves’ 7-5 win over the Marlins on Sunday. He is batting .429 (21 for 49) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in the last 16 games.

The Braves were off Monday and start a three-game set against San Diego tonight. Cox said Anderson and Church could return for the series opener.

Atlanta began Monday four games behind NL wild card-leading Colorado, helped in large part by Diaz.

"He hits just about anything they throw," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He’s one of those hitters. He was hot."

Diaz, who was hitting .282 on Aug. 5, has lifted his average to .310 with nine homers and 39 RBIs.

The 31-year-old Diaz hit .317 in July and is hitting .375 in August with five homers, more than doubling his total of four for the first four months. He even has a career-high eight steals.

"It’s something that every guy who’s been a bench guy longs for, a chance to step up and help the team," Diaz said after Sunday’s win.

Diaz has never been a full-time starter and has never reached 400 at-bats in a season, but he boasts a .309 career batting average. He hit .338 with a career-high 12 homers in 2007 and .327 in 2006.

After slumping to .244 in 2008, when he battled a left knee injury, Diaz opened this season as the team’s fourth outfielder and was expected to share time in left field with Anderson.

Atlanta’s outfield has evolved through the season. Diaz has seen more starts in right field following the July 10 trade which sent Jeff Francoeur to the New York Mets for Church. The team acquired McLouth earlier in the year to start in center field.

Even with the additions of McLouth and Church, Diaz has seen his at-bats increase three straight months.

The Braves have gained momentum with Diaz, winning 13 of their last 18 games to move past Florida into second place in the NL East.

The Braves have missed the playoffs three straight seasons, but Diaz says he sees a difference on this year’s team.

"The difference in our club this year is our depth and the fact that we trust everyone on this team to contribute when it has to be done," he said.

"We don’t really get down. We have a mentally tough team. We have a lot more confidence this year than we have in the past."

The Braves have had consistent starting pitching through the season, but the July 31 trade with Boston for first baseman Adam LaRoche has helped. LaRoche is batting .406 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 20 games since the trade.

"Our pitching has kept us in every game, it feels like, all year long," Diaz said. "It finally feels good as an offense to finally contribute."

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