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NYM@FLA: Hand holds Mets to one run over six frames

Marlins starter Brad Hand can't seem to get a win. Braves catcher Brian McCann can't seem to get his groove back.

Two slumping players will use Tuesday's game between Florida and National League Wild Card-leading Atlanta at Turner Field to try to iron things out.

For Hand, a 21-year-old left-hander who will be opposed by Braves rookie lefty Mike Minor, it will be about repeating the type of game he pitched in his last outing and simply not the result. Hand, who has lost three straight starts, was good enough to win, giving up one run on three hits in six innings to the Mets, but lost anyway.

"Hand pitched well for six innings, despite the number of walks, but he was able to battle out of some jams and give us a good effort," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "He shows improvement each time he goes out there. If he can cut back on the walks, he's going to be all right."

Hand still has difficulty with strike-zone consistency. He walked four batters in that outing and did not register a strikeout. He has thrown a career-high 164 1/3 innings between the Majors and Minors this season and said he's none the worse for it, physically.

"My body feels fine," Hand said. "Usually, the past few years, my body feels better towards the end of the year than the beginning of the year -- body-wise, arm-wise. My body feels good. It's probably the most innings I've ever thrown. If my body tells me I'm all right, I'll just keep going."

That's what McCann will do, too, despite an atypically rough fortnight at the plate.

In his last 13 games (12 starts), the Braves' All-Star catcher is hitting .146 (7-for-48) with one homer and four RBIs. He's struck out 16 times in that span. And after Monday's loss to Florida, the Braves' Wild Card lead over St. Louis remained at 4 1/2 games.

"You've got to be able to do it all offensively, but you're carrying the load pitching-wise, too," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of McCann's challenge as an elite catcher. "We're counting on you to put down the right numbers, and pitchers are counting on you. Blocking baseballs, you're catching in 100-degree heat and all that stuff. That's why we were trying to keep him fresh in the middle of the year when [David] Ross was catching every fifth day.

"He's fine. I talked to him. He's one of the guys I spoke to. Mentally he's fine. He's going to hit. He's always hit and he's going to hit. ... When you're going good, the ball looks like a basketball. When you're not going good, every pitch you take is on the black. Every curveball is the nastiest curveball the guy has thrown. When you hit the ball, it's at somebody. It is what it is. He'll get through and will get out of it. We'll be better off for it and he'll be better off for it."

Marlins: McKeon endorses Nunez
There were some questions as to Leo Nunez's role as closer after he struggled in August, but after Sunday's game, when Nunez worked a perfect ninth for his 34th save in 40 opportunities, McKeon said the job is still his. "Leo still has good stuff," McKeon said. "He's done a great job the whole year. A lot of those relievers, except for maybe Mariano Rivera, a lot of those guys have blown saves." It's possible Nunez heard his skipper, because the right-hander went out and saved Monday's game, too.

• Slugger Mike Stanton came back from a tight right hamstring late in Monday's game -- and at the right time. He delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in the 12th inning that ended up being the game-winning hit. "I told him, 'Let me know when you're 100 percent,'" McKeon said before Monday's game. "Hopefully, it gets well and he can at least pinch-hit."

• McKeon needs one win in the Marlins' last 16 games to finish the season as the all-time winningest manager in club history. He's tied at 276 with the man who will be in the other dugout Tuesday, Gonzalez.

Braves: Freddie fever
Rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman last Thursday eclipsed Ron Gant's 1988 mark (146) for the most hits by an Atlanta rookie. He now has 154, which leads NL rookies. Freeman also has 50 extra-base hits, which is five shy of Gant's Atlanta rookie record of 55 extra-base hits in a season.

• Second baseman Dan Uggla on Aug. 22 extended his own Major League record for 30-homer seasons by a second baseman to five. Only four other second basemen have had as many as three 30-homer seasons: Rogers Hornsby, Jeff Kent, Alfonso Soriano and Chase Utley.

• The Braves have suffered one-run decisions in four of their last five losses and in five of their last eight losses. Atlanta is 28-24 (.538) in one-run decisions this season.

Worth noting
• Since July 21, Marlins second baseman Omar Infante has produced at least one hit in 28 of 34 games, batting at a .347 clip (50-for-144).

• Reliever Jonny Venters has allowed five earned runs on nine hits while issuing six walks over his last eight innings, dating to Aug. 26 at the Mets, to raise his season ERA from 1.10 to 1.54.

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