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Manuel on Lee's 2011 Phillies debut

Chipper Jones has said that the 2011 Phillies boast the first rotation that can legitimately compare to those dominant former Braves staffs fronted by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

"I've heard that comparison thrown around before," Jones said recently. "But this is the first time where I look at it and say, 'Yeah, I can see it.'"

This weekend, the current Braves will host their home opener and get their first look at the Phillies' Phab Phour ... or three of them, anyway. And that should lead to a heightened atmosphere at Turner Field, as what is expected to be an intriguing National League East race will begin in earnest.

And what better way to get it started than to pair two of the NL's top starters, Cliff Lee and Tim Hudson, in the standing-room-only series opener Friday night?

The Braves, who won the NL Wild Card after finishing six games behind the Phillies in the East last season, come limping into this series having dropped three straight to the Brewers this week. So they're certainly in need of some home cooking.

But facing Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, in that order, will be a tall order for their offense, which has produced two runs or fewer in four of the season's first seven games. The consolation is that the Braves won't have to deal with staff ace Roy Halladay, who pitched Thursday.

"We got them right off the bat," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the Phils' rotation. "Those are the guys we'll be up against the whole year, and why not get them at home in the opener, where we've got a nice crowd and the whole thing?"

The telltale statistic for the Braves in the early going might be their performance against left-handed pitching. Atlanta is batting an anemic .193 (11-for-57) with 11 strikeouts and just one extra-base hit against lefties. So the prospect of facing Lee -- who was utterly dominant in his first start of the season -- and Hamels is a challenging one this weekend.

For the Phillies, the momentum leading into this start is going quite the opposite direction. They've been on a roll from Day 1, with their bats backing up the strong efforts of their starters, save for one poor performance from Hamels in his 2011 debut. The Phillies are averaging 7.2 runs per game. It's a torrid pace that only serves to make their vaunted rotation look all the more daunting.

They hope to keep the run going, and they hope to live up to the grand expectations thrust upon them this season. But they also know that this Braves team, which boasts a solid rotation in its own right, is talented and deep enough to make their jobs difficult this weekend and all season long.

"Playing teams in your division, you always want to do well," outfielder Ben Francisco said. "I know they are a lot more improved. I think going on the road, it will be a good test for us. They are always tough games there. But I think we're all looking forward to the series. These division games are always fun and competitive."

Braves: Hudson happy at home
Hudson's season got off to a strong start, as he turned in seven quality innings in a win over the Nationals, allowing just one run on three hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

And now the veteran is returning to a place where he's quite comfortable. In 82 career starts at Turner Field, Hudson has gone 40-23 with a 3.32 ERA.

"You should feel more comfortable at home," he said. "It's a really fair park. It's probably a little more of a pitcher's park than a hitter's park. You should be better there than on the road."

Hudson retired the final 17 batters he faced in his 2011 debut.

"Your first start of the year, you always want to start on a positive note," Hudson said. "It didn't exactly start the way I wanted in the first inning, but it couldn't have ended any better for me. I felt like I locked in pretty good after the first inning and started making some really good pitches.  It was just an overall positive game for me. It was a lot of fun."

Phillies: A different reception for Lee
It was the return of the conquering hero when Lee made his first start of the season Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. The Philly faithful were quite vocal in their support of Lee, who turned down bigger bucks with the Rangers or Yankees to return to the team that traded him after an NL championship run in 2009.

"I gave myself a second walking in to notice that," Lee said of the crowd noise. "I could definitely hear the volume when I was walking in."

The Atlanta crowd won't be quite as kind to Lee, but that's to be expected. All Lee hopes is to keep the good vibes going from his first start, in which he struck out 11 while allowing three runs on four hits over seven innings in a victory over the Astros.

This will be just Lee's third start at Turner Field in his career. He was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in the previous two.

Worth noting
• While Friday's game is a sellout, a batch of $15 standing-room tickets is available through braves.com/tickets. Parking will be by permit only, so fans are strongly encouraged to use MARTA.

• Jones is just two hits shy of 2,500 for his career and six RBIs shy of 1,500. He would become the ninth switch-hitter in Major League history to reach the 2,500-hit mark and just the third to reach the 1,500-RBI level. Only one switch-hitter in history has pulled off the 2,500/1,500 feat, and that was Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray (3,255 hits, 1,917 RBIs).

• The Phillies lead the NL with seven pinch-hits in the early going. Their pinch-hitters are 7-for-12 thus far.

• The Phillies are 130-87 against NL East foes over the past three years.

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