Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By CORY McCARTNEY  |  Last updated 9/13/13
ATLANTA -- The headline may as well read "Local boy makes good." It was the stuff of fairy tales, Disney, Hollywood or whatever cliche you want to toss out there. Everything was perfect ... all except for the ending. David Hale stood at his locker in the Braves' clubhouse, a Marietta kid having made his debut for the team he grew up rooting for. He estimated over 100 people came to see him. He had so many ticket requests, he had to ask them to be limited to immediate family only. The Padres claimed the game 4-3 Friday night, in come-from-behind fashion, but the night largely belonged to Hale, the team's third-round pick in 2009, who produced a debut unlike any in franchise history. "It was a dream come true, it really was," Hale said. "I had so much adrenaline an emotion, I'm just glad it turned out that way." With Paul Maholm dealing with soreness in his pitching elbow Hale stepped in and would strike out nine, eclipsing the franchise record for a debut shared by Bob Dresser (1902) and Kenshin Kawakami (2009). To put that into perspective, just 16 players in National League history had more strikeouts in their debut than Hale had in his. "David was outstanding," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "We couldn't ask any more. There couldn't have been a better script." Here are three observations from a loss that, along with the Nationals' 6-1 win over the Phillies, kept Atlanta's magic number at six. 1. Hale went off the scouting report in this one The 25-year-old progressed in his fifth season in the minors, posting a 3.22 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett that was his lowest since making seven appearances in Rookie ball in 2009. But he was largely seen as an inconsistent arm that could come out of the bullpen or make a spot start. But a strikeout machine? Didn't see that coming. While he had 124 in 145 23 innings at Double-A Mississippi in '12, he registered just 77 in 114 23 this season and didn't have more than six in any single game. Against one of the National League's most free-swinging clubs -- San Diego entered Friday fourth in the league in strikeouts -- he would rack up his most Ks since fanning 11 on May 7, 2012 vs. Huntsville. "Adrenaline helped," Hale said, smiling. Hale struck out Will Venable to start things off, then fanned two more in the first inning and registered eight Ks for his first 12 outs. "It just kind of made me relax," Hale said. "After that first pitch, I kind of settled down and let what I've been doing take over." He would deliver his ninth strikeout in the fifth, fanning pitcher Ian Kennedy on three pitches. Hale would give way to Louis Ayala after five scoreless innings, allowing four hits and one walk on 87 pitches and left holding a 3-0 lead. While the bullpen couldn't finish what he started, Hale said it didn't put a damper on his first major league start. "Obviously I wish we could have gotten a win here and cut that magic number," he said. "I'm glad to have gotten my first one under my belt." 2. Justin Upton loves him some NL West pitching The Braves have dominated the National League West, totaling 18 wins, which trails only the Reds' NL high of 19 -- outside of the West teams themselves, of course -- and Justin Upton has been an absolute force in those games. He fired a 79-mph changeup from Ian Kennedy to left field in the fourth inning, giving him 25 on the season and his eighth against the West. While he has one more vs. East opponents, those have come in 69 games. Friday's series opener against San Diego was just the Braves' 31st against West teams. By comparison, Upton has five HRs vs. the Central. In all Upton, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the Braves' loss, is hitting .333.615.428 vs. the West and has 11 extra-base hits. Of course, familiarity helps. Upton spent the first six years of his career in Arizona and six of the seven men who had given up his previous seven HRs were all pitchers Upton had seen as a Diamondback (the only exception being Rockies rookie Chad Bettis). But Friday marked his first career shot off Kennedy, his teammate for three seasons in Arizona, and it was just his second hit in eight at-bats against him and the first extra-base hit. 3. Jason returned (sort of) on Friday The 13th There is no timetable on when Jason Heyward, the Braves' Gold Glove-winning right fielder, will be back in the lineup. But Friday was another step in the right direction as he took batting practice for the first time since fracturing his jaw on Aug. 21 against the Mets. With first-base coach Terry Pendleton pitching, Heyward, who was wearing a helmet with a guard to protect the right side of his face, followed a few bunts by lacing a ball in front of the warning track in left field on his first pitch. While he hit another deep to right-center, none of his hits reached the stands. Heyward, who also fielded fly balls in the outfield, didn't say much on his way back to the clubhouse, telling reporters "I don't have anything for you, other than I hit and I ran and I shagged (fly balls)." The hope is that Heyward will be able to play again before the regular season ends Sept. 29 to get him ready for the playoffs. Before his injury, Heyward turned into one of the Braves' biggest assets by bringing stability to the top of the order. After moving to the leadoff spot on July 27, he proceeded to .341.414..580 in 99 plate appearances as the team went 17-5. Atlanta hasn't been the same team without his presence, going 11-10 as Jordan Schafer -- who got the start Friday, going 0-for-2 with two walks -- and B.J. Upton have combined to hit ..173.222.244 at leadoff and have produced three extra base hits (all by Schafer) and eight walks. Something tells me to expect Heyward sooner rather than later with the main objective getting the best option atop the order back in his rhythm before the playoffs.
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