By PAUL DIGIACOMO
(AP) -- After getting off to their worst start in 24 years, it appeared that last season's late collapse was still fresh in the minds of the Atlanta Braves.
That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
Atlanta looks to stay hot when it opens a daunting seven-game road trip against the top two teams in the NL West, starting Thursday night with the first of four versus the defending division champion Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Braves held an 8 1/2-game lead for the wild card in early September, but they went 9-18 down the stretch and were overtaken by St. Louis on the final day of the season.
Atlanta then opened 2012 with four straight losses, its worst start since dropping its first 10 in 1988. The Braves, though, have bounced back to win seven of eight and are coming off a pair of solid offensive performances.
They dropped the opener of a three-game series with New York before outscoring the Mets 23-9 in the final two matchups. Dan Uggla, Juan Francisco and Freddie Freeman hit two-run homers in a 14-6 rout Wednesday afternoon.
Uggla's homer was his first of the season, and the second baseman entered the game with only four RBIs.
"It's a huge load off your shoulders, especially when you're kind of known for being a power hitter," said Uggla, who hit a career-high 36 home runs in his first season with Atlanta in 2011. "It was tough for me to shoulder. I was having dreams about it."
The Braves (7-5) may have a good chance to continue their hot hitting against Josh Collmenter, who is 0-0 with a 12.86 ERA in two starts. The right-hander allowed five runs and five hits - two homers - while walking three in four innings of an 8-7 loss at Colorado on Saturday.
Arizona (7-5) was expecting a big season from Collmenter after he went 10-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 31 appearances as a rookie in 2011.
"He's done it in the past, we have confidence in him," manager Kirk Gibson told the Diamondbacks' official website. "He's had two starts and he didn't have a good spring, but we believe he can do it. He knows how to get guys out."
Collmenter did a good job getting the Braves out last year, as he went 1-1 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts. He allowed six hits over 13 innings, with Freeman getting half of them in five at-bats.
The Braves will send Mike Minor (1-1, 4.38) to the mound for his first appearance against Arizona. The left-hander bounced back from a poor first start by allowing an unearned run and two hits over 7 1-3 innings in beating Milwaukee 2-1 on Saturday in the longest start of his career.
"He keeps getting better and better," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I can't wait to see the next start."
Minor won't have to deal with former All-Star center fielder Chris Young, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday after injuring his right shoulder while crashing into the wall Tuesday.
Young is hitting .410 with five homers and 13 RBIs, and Arizona missed that production in losing 2-1 to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The Diamondbacks, who also had right fielder Justin Upton limited to pinch-running duties due to a left thumb injury, have dropped four of six following a 5-1 start.
Atlanta heads to Los Angeles for a three-game set following this series.
Updated April 18, 2012