Braves 4, Astros 2

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HOUSTON (AP)—Tim Hudson gave the Atlanta Braves a pitching performance they desperately needed.

Hudson allowed three hits and took a shut out into the eighth inning to help the Braves snap a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday.

“It all starts with us, it starts with starting pitching,” said Hudson, who struck out five. “If we go out there and set the tone, it’s going to make everyone else’s job a little easier.”

Edgar Renteria hit a three-run homer and Chipper Jones added an RBI double as the Braves won for just the third time in 13 games.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said Hudson. “But today’s no good without a ‘W’ tomorrow. We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to get guys going with more confidence.”

In Hudson’s only other start at Minute Maid Park, in April 2005, he faced Roger Clemens and gave up only four hits with nine strikeouts in nine scoreless innings. Ryan Langerhans homered in the 12th to give Atlanta a 1-0 win.

This one wasn’t quite as dramatic, but Hudson (6-4) was almost as good, though he did not have to face Houston sluggers Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg or hits leader Craig Biggio. Berkman skipped the game to see his wife give birth to their third daughter, Morgan Ensberg sat out with a bruised right shoulder and Biggio got the day off.

The Astros’ patchwork lineup hardly touched Hudson for seven innings, getting only one baserunner as far as second until Orlando Palmeiro’s RBI triple in the eighth.

Houston manager Phil Garner defended the roster moves.

“You want your best guys in, obviously, but those guys are pretty good, too,” he said. “I felt pretty good about the lineup, actually.”

Hudson struck out five before Ken Ray relieved him and pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save.

If only the Braves would get that kind of pitching more often. Atlanta’s starters are now only 17-26 this season. And despite a 13-7 mark, the bullpen has given up 102 runs, second-worst in the NL to Milwaukee.

Manager Bobby Cox hopes Hudson’s effort rubs off on the rest of the staff.

“Yeah, it can be contagious,” Cox said. “We’re just a little inconsistent on everything right now.”

Houston’s pitchers had amassed a 1.32 ERA in their last four starts, all wins, but rookie starter Taylor Buchholz (3-6) found trouble immediately on Saturday.

Wilson Betemit doubled to right-center on the game’s first pitch, then scored on Jones’ one-out double down the left-field line.

Hudson then opened the third with a single to center and Betemit followed with a double to deep center, drawing Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey out for a mound visit.

After Hickey returned to the dugout, Renteria hit a 3-0 pitch into the Astros’ bullpen in right-center.

“I was trying to throw a strike,” Buchholz said, “but you can’t just lay one in there, either.”

Buchholz sharpened after the bad inning, retiring the next 12 Braves he faced with four strikeouts.

“Certainly, he got into trouble early,” Garner said, “but he gave us the opportunity to win.”

Hudson already had more runs than he needed. He allowed only Mike Lamb’s single in the first, two walks in the second and a walk in the fifth before Jason Lane walked with two outs in the seventh. Hudson then struck out Brad Ausmus swinging, showing no signs of fatigue after 91 pitches.

Buchholz gave up a leadoff single to Betemit in the eighth, then got Renteria to ground into a double play, Houston’s second of the game and 75th of the season. Buchholz struck out Jones with a 94-mph fastball, his career-high eighth strikeout of the game.

Willy Taveras pinch-hit for Buchholz in the eighth and singled to center, ruining Hudson’s bid for a third career one-hitter. Palmeiro then ripped a line drive to right-center and Taveras sprinted home, ending Hudson’s quest for a 10th career shutout.

Lamb followed with a ground out that scored Palmeiro and cut Atlanta’s lead to 4-2. Hudson then struck out Chris Burke before giving way to Ray.

“As in control as this game felt, it was a nail-biter at the end,” Hudson said. “That’s kind of how it goes when things aren’t really clicking on all cylinders.”


Hudson improved to 90-6 when he gets run support of four runs or more. He’s now 88-14 when he pitches beyond the seventh inning, doing it for the 131st time in 226 career starts. … The Astros were aiming for their first five-game winning streak since last September. … Chipper Jones was playing in his 1,700th game. He ranks third among active players in games played with one team, trailing New York’s Bernie Williams (1,998) and Biggio (2,624).

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