ATLANTA -- Still trying to get someone going at the top of the order, manager Bobby Cox put center fielder Nate McLouth back in the leadoff spot as the Braves opened their three-game weekend series against the Rockies on Friday night.

With Matt Diaz going 0-for-9 in the last two games at San Diego, Atlanta leadoff hitters fell to 2-for-38 on the season, and six walks barely got the team's on-base percentage from that spot over .200.

Melky Cabrera held the leadoff spot for six of the first seven games until Diaz got his chance against the Padres. Cabrera, 2-for-26 batting first and hitless in his past 15 at-bats, played left field against the Rockies, but was dropped to seventh in the order.

McLouth was 0-for-3 with two walks last Saturday at San Francisco in his only other time in the leadoff spot this season. He snapped an 0-for-12 streak with a single Thursday while hitting eighth.

Saito proving durable as setup man

ATLANTA -- Takashi Saito is again pitching as effectively as in his days with the Dodgers, making his signing by general manager Frank Wren a major coup for the Braves.

Saito has yet to allow a run in five relief appearances, and has allowed just one hit and a walk in five innings of work while striking out eight. Opponents are batting a measly .063 off the right-hander.

Maybe best of all, Saito has shown that he is up to a heavy workload as a setup man for closer Billy Wagner. Twice, the 40-year-old former standout in Japan has pitched in back-to-back games.

The latest instance was Wednesday and Thursday in San Diego. After allowing a hit and striking out two in the middle game of the series, he came back with a perfect inning in the finale that included a strikeout.

"I've gotten older, so I'm not where I once was," Saito said through his translator. "Now, I have more experience. I try not to chase my past, but rather look to the future for what I can do."

Saito had two standout seasons as the Dodgers' closer after coming over from Japan in 2006, but had elbow problems in 2008. He pitched in 56 games for the Red Sox last season before becoming a free agent again and signing a $3.2 million deal for this season with the Braves.

"Not many get to play for a team with such a rich history," Saito said, glancing at the clubhouse mural showing the Braves' run of 14 consecutive division championships. "I'm very thankful to be here."

Hinske more than good-luck charm

ATLANTA -- With three hits in his first six at-bats as a pinch-hitter, Eric Hinske is showing that he is much more than a potential good-luck charm for the Braves after playing on teams that went to the World Series the past three years.

Hinske, who got his second start at first base on Friday in the series opener against the Rockies at Turner Field, drove in a run with a two-out hit in the finale at San Diego. The veteran now has three RBIs off the bench, and that single came after the Padres had countered with a lefty reliever to face the left-handed Hinske.

"You don't do as much pinch-hitting in the American League, so I hadn't done a lot," Hinske said. "But I'm used to DHing, and pinch-hitting is similar to that. You just have to stay loose and take advantage of your opportunities."

Hinske's other two pinch-hits are a triple and a double, both producing runs. And in the finale of the opening series against the Cubs at Turner Field, he hit a ninth-inning smash that looked like it might be a walk-off homer before it was caught near the center-field fence.

The 32-year-old got his first start in San Francisco last Sunday against reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, and finished 0-for-2 with a walk. Hinske signed a $1 million contract with the Braves as a free agent his winter.

While in San Diego, Hinske got his 2009 World Series ring from the Yankees. He also won a championship ring with the Red Sox in 2007 and went to the World Series with the Rays in 2008. The only other player to make three consecutive World Series appearances with three different teams was Don Baylor in the late 1980s.

Freeman off to slow start in Triple-A

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman, who became the Braves' top prospect when Jason Heyward reached the Majors, is off to a slow start with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Like his buddy Heyward, Freeman had an RBI hit in his first at-bat this season, although it was a single rather than a home run like Heyward. But the left-handed-hitting first baseman had just four more hits and one RBI in his next 31 at-bats.

Freeman, 20, hasn't been turning on the ball, with almost all off the balls he's put in play going to the opposite field. His only extra-base hit through Thursday was a double to left -- Freeman's average is .156 and he has eight strikeouts to no walks.

The Braves debated whether to start Freeman at Triple-A or Double-A this season, but his solid spring in Major League camp convinced them that he was ready for the International League. Playing for Gwinnett in the Atlanta suburbs also allowed Freeman to live with Heyward, his Minor League roommate.

Braves release troubled Minor Leaguer Heath

ATLANTA -- The Braves organization released suspended pitcher Duente Heath, who was arrested during Spring Training and charged with soliciting a prostitute as part of a police sting operation in Kissimmee, Fla.

Heath, 24, pitched last season with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 2-6 record. His best season was in 2008, when he started the year 9-2 at Class A Myrtle Beach before being promoted to Mississippi.

The Atlanta native was taken in the 19th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft after his junior season at the University of Tennessee. He signed late with the Braves and began his Minor League career in 2007.