ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman is returning to form and Brian McCann is returning to the lineup. That’s good news for the Atlanta Braves.
Freeman homered and drove in three runs, Tim Hudson pitched into the eighth inning and Atlanta beat the New York Mets 9-4 on Sunday.
Reed Johnson also had three RBIs for the Braves. Freeman, who finished with three hits, smacked a two-run double off left-hander Jonathon Niese in a five-run third and added a sixth-inning homer off reliever Jeurys Familia.
The left-handed hitting Freeman hit his home run to left field. The opposite-field shot showed manager Fredi Gonzalez that Freeman is back in form after missing two weeks in April with a strained left oblique.
“When he’s doing that, when any hitter is driving the ball to the opposite field, you know he’s starting to get locked in,” Gonzalez said.
It was an important rebound for the Braves, who had scored a combined six runs in three straight defeats, including a 7-5 loss to the Mets in 10 innings Friday night.
Freeman boosted his batting average to .313.
“I feel good,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. The last couple of days everything has been working out.”
The Braves had 12 hits and seven walks.
“I thought our approach at the plate was outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “The last couple of games I think our offense is picking up a little bit.”
Atlanta’s lineup will receive another boost Monday when McCann, a six-time All-Star catcher, comes off the disabled list. McCann has been recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
David Wright hit a two-run homer in the fourth off Hudson (4-1), who gave up three runs on five hits and a walk in 7 1-3 innings. Wright has homered in three straight games, giving him five overall.
Niese (2-3) matched his career high with six walks while allowing seven runs and seven hits in four-plus innings. His ERA rose from 3.31 to 4.66.
“I walked way too many guys,” Niese said. “It’s embarrassing. I know what I have to work on. In bullpens I’m going to work on pounding the zone and throwing strikes.
“I’ve just got to learn from it and know when to expand the zone and when not to.”
Niese had been New York’s scheduled starter for Saturday’s game, which was postponed by rain. He was making his first start since April 28 — exactly one week.
“Most likely he was probably too strong,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He was losing guys on his two-seamer and he’s a ground-ball guy.”
Collins said Niese had “just no feel today.”
“It’s all due to the fact it’s been seven days since he’s pitched,” Collins said. “He was too strong. He didn’t have his good command.”
The Mets scored twice in the eighth before Eric O’Flaherty struck out Marlon Byrd with the bases loaded to end the inning.
“We kept battling,” Collins said. “We made it a game in the eighth, which I’m very happy for.”
Niese’s last two walks came in the fifth, when he was pulled with none out and the bases loaded. Johnson hit a two-run single off Familia.
The Braves sent 10 batters to the plate in the third. Andrelton Simmons doubled and scored on Justin Upton’s single. Freeman drove in two runs with his double over left fielder Lucas Duda and scored from third on a wild pitch one out later. Johnson added a run-scoring single for a 5-0 lead.
Hudson is almost unbeatable when given such a lead. He improved to 156-6 when receiving at least four runs of support while still in the game.
“Getting Huddy five runs in the first three innings, you start to feel good about yourself,” Freeman said.
After Wright’s two-run homer to center in the fourth, Johnson pushed the lead to 7-2 with his bases-loaded single off Familia. Freeman hit his second homer in the sixth.
Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter led off the eighth with a double against Hudson and scored on Duda’s single off Luis Avilan. Cory Gearrin hit John Buck with a pitch to load the bases with two outs. O’Flaherty, Atlanta’s fourth pitcher of the inning, walked pinch-hitter Justin Turner to force in a run before striking out Byrd on a 3-2 pitch.
Braves rookie catcher Evan Gattis had two hits and an eighth-inning sacrifice fly off Scott Atchison to drive in Upton.
Gonzalez skipped Saturday’s starter, Julio Teheran, so Hudson and the other starters could remain on schedule. Teheran was available out of the bullpen.
With the Mets also off on Monday, Collins said he wasn’t happy his starters would have too much rest. His other option would have been to have Matt Harvey remain on schedule and start Sunday.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it a lick,” Collins said before the game. “But if you skip Jon Niese, all of a sudden now he doesn’t pitch in 10 days. So you move them both back, you try to keep them as prepared as you can.” NOTES: Niese also issued six walks on Sept. 22, 2010, at Florida. ... Gonzalez said the Braves will send INF Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A Gwinnett to clear a spot for McCann. Pastornicky, primarily a shortstop, also will work at second base and in the outfield as he is groomed for a utility role. ... OF Jason Heyward, who had his appendix removed on April 22, will accompany the Braves to Cincinnati but is not ready to start his rehab assignment. ... LHP Paul Maholm will face Cincinnati RHP Bronson Arroyo on Monday night. The Mets open a two-game home series against the White Sox on Tuesday night, with Harvey going for his fifth win.