Braves take tough defeat to close out home slate

Hale keeps Atlanta in it, but 'pen struggles, offense blanked until ninth

Braves take tough defeat to close out home slate

ATLANTA -- As many of the Braves' players and coaches have gone through this week, they have been subdued by a unique sensation they would like to avoid in the years to come. For the first time since 2008, the Braves and their fans are going through the entirety of the regular season's final week with nothing to look forward to but next year.

When the Braves reconvene for the start of Spring Training next year, they will likely look a little different from the roster construction standpoint. But really all they want is a chance to start anew and distance themselves from this year's miseries, which were extended during Thursday night's 10-1 loss to the Pirates.

"You always want to be playing for something, but in our situation, we're not," Braves left fielder Justin Upton said. "So we have to be mentally tough in these situations, give it everything you've got every day and make sure you don't give away at-bats."

While the Bucs improved their playoff positioning, the Braves put an end to the home portion of their schedule with a setback that ensured they will experience just their third losing season since 1990. This stands as just the latest misery to be placed on the Braves, who have gone 5-17 in September and scored two runs or fewer in 16 of their past 24 games.

Though the end of any season often brings sadness, there might be a few members of the Braves' organization who feel some relief after completing the season with this weekend's three-game series in Philadelphia. A little more than two months after being in sole possession of first place, the Braves enter the final weekend with a chance to fall into fourth in the National League East. They sit just a game in front of the fourth-place Marlins.

Instead of bidding adieu to Turner Field with a victory, the Braves had to accept feeling good about such things as the 4 2/3 innings David Hale provided while starting in place of Mike Minor, who was shut down because of left shoulder discomfort earlier this week. Hale, who has spent nearly this entire season as a reliever, surrendered just two runs in what was his first start since June 28.

If nothing else, this outing will give Hale some momentum as he prepares to compete for a full-time rotation spot next year.

"I'm very happy with the way that went, especially after not starting for like three months," Hale said. "That's a good step into the offseason and a good confidence-builder for next year."

The first of the two runs off Hale came courtesy of Travis Snider's first-inning homer. The Pirates added another run in the third inning when Josh Harrison tagged and raced to the plate after right fielder Jason Heyward charged and caught Andrew McCutchen's pop fly approximately 90 feet behind first base.

"He's a starter by trade," Upton said of Hale. "He prepared himself well. He went out and gave us a strong five innings. There's really not much more he could do. If we'd have put some runs up on the board, I think it might have been a little different story."

Unfortunately for Hale, his effort was trumped by Edinson Volquez, who scattered four hits, including two infield singles, and notched 10 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. Volquez held the Braves hitless until Phil Gosselin beat out a grounder to begin the bottom of the fourth.

"I'm very happy with what I've been doing," Volquez said. "I can't complain about what I'm doing and I am very excited to be here. The strikeouts ... got lucky, man. I know I haven't been getting a lot of those."

Along with becoming the eighth different pitcher to notch a double-digit strikeout total against the Braves this year, Volquez also snapped an 0-for-45 skid when he notched his second hit of the season -- an eighth-inning single off Gus Schlosser, who like Luis Avilan allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.