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KC@ATL: Minor strikes out five over six strong frames

Two of the teams off to the hottest starts in baseball will meet Monday in Colorado as the surprising Rockies host the Braves, who have begun to cool off following a 12-1 start.

While the Rockies have won three consecutive series, the Braves have dropped four of five games, including losing three of four at the hands of the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Taking the mound for the Braves will be southpaw Mike Minor, who has been as impressive as any pitcher in the Majors through his first three starts of the season. The 25-year-old has allowed just two runs in 19 innings, good enough for a 0.95 ERA.

Minor took a hard-luck loss his last time out against the Royals, when he surrendered just one run on five hits over six innings as the Braves fell, 1-0.

"When I gave up that run, I wouldn't say it was stupid, but it was just a bad pitch," Minor said after the game. "I was kind of [upset], because I knew it was going to be a close game, just by the way the game was progressing. We weren't getting a lot of hard-hit balls."

Opposing Minor for the Rockies, who saw their eight-game winning streak snapped by the D-backs on Sunday, will be Jeff Francis. Following a dominant six-inning, one-run victory over the Padres on April 5, the left-hander hasn't been as good since. Francis gave up seven runs (four earned) to the Giants, then surrendered eight runs (six earned) to the Mets his last time out. The Mets held an 8-2 lead in the game, but the Rockies came back to win.

"It speaks volumes about our club," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said afterward. "These guys compete. They enjoy competing, even in extremely difficult conditions. Getting down by six, they found a way to win a game."

Braves: Freeman to return Monday
Assuming he suffered no setbacks in his final Minor League rehab game on Sunday without any problems, Freddie Freeman will be activated in time to move back into the cleanup spot for the Braves on Monday night.

With Freeman back in the middle of the lineup, the Braves are planning to use Chris Johnson as their primary third baseman. Manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated on Saturday that was going to cancel his plan to platoon Johnson and Juan Francisco at third base. He took a more committed stance on Sunday.

"He'll play third," Gonzalez said of Johnson. "The guy is leading the league in hitting."

Johnson enters Monday with a .407 batting average after going 1-for-4 on Sunday.

Rockies: Fowler, Helton sidelined with injuries
Dexter Fowler was not in the starting lineup on Sunday after being hit with a pitch on the right hand on Saturday and fouling a ball off his left foot last week.

"Dexter's been getting dinged up over the last week or so," Weiss said. "Then, on top of that, day game after a night game, I just felt like it was the right time to give Dexter a day [off]."

Fowler made a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning on Sunday, drawing a walk with one out before being stranded at third base as the tying run.

Meanwhile, Todd Helton, who has a left forearm strain, was not in the lineup for a second straight game on Sunday. Helton suffered the injury on a swing in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday against the Mets.

"His forearm's a little sore, still," Weiss said. "Always going to err on the side of caution, especially here in April. We got a long way to go, so it probably was the right thing to do to keep Todd out."

Worth noting
• The Rockies have received 11 quality starts from their starting pitchers over the first 18 games of the season.

• The Braves' 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Sunday marked the first time Atlanta has been defeated without being shut out this year.

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