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Braves-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

Fast starts had been routine for the Atlanta Braves over the past few seasons, while disastrous beginnings had been the norm for the Houston Astros.

When these teams meet Monday night in Houston, it'll be the Astros looking to build on an encouraging start while the Braves try to avoid opening 0-4 for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

After taking two of three in its season-opening series each of the last three years, Atlanta arrives in Houston after being swept in a three-game set by the New York Mets. It's an ominous start for the Braves after they collapsed down the stretch last year.

"It's never good to come into the season and get swept,'' catcher Brian McCann said. "Nobody in here is thinking about last year.''

The Braves totaled seven runs, 14 hits and 25 strikeouts at Citi Field in opening with three consecutive losses for the first time since 2003. They haven't started 0-4 since losing 10 straight to begin 1988.

McCann and Dan Uggla have been at the heart of Atlanta's offensive woes, combining for two hits in 20 at-bats.

McCann, however, has fared well at Minute Maid Park, totaling four homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games there. The six-time All-Star hit .294 with four homers and eight RBIs against the Astros last season to help the Braves go 5-1 in the series for a second straight year, but is 2 for 14 lifetime against scheduled starter J.A. Happ.

Houston beat Colorado 3-2 on Sunday to take two of three. Carlos Lee and J.D. Martinez each homered and had three RBIs in the opening series for Houston, which last started 3-1 in 2006.

After starting 0-5 last season, 0-8 in 2010 and 1-6 in 2009, that first series was certainly a welcome change.

"We're talking about three games - winning two of them," manager Brad Mills said, "(but) moving forward, I think they know and we know that they can do it."

Mills is now hoping Happ can put his troubles behind him.

Happ went 4-14 with a 6.26 ERA in 22 starts last season before being sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 6. The left-hander was recalled three weeks later and pitched well, going 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six outings.

One of Happ's biggest problems was his command. His 4.8 walks per nine innings were the most in the majors by anyone with at least 135 innings pitched. He didn't show much improvement in the spring, however, walking nine in 18 2-3 innings. He had a 5.79 ERA in five Grapefruit League starts.

Happ has typically fared well in his career against the Braves, going 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA in six starts, but didn't face them last season.

Atlanta counters with Brandon Beachy, who will be making his first appearance against Houston.

In his first full season in the majors, Beachy went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts. In 141 2-3 innings, the right-hander struck out 169 - the most in franchise history by a rookie in the modern era.

In six Grapefruit League outings, Beachy had a 5.54 ERA in 26 innings. He struck out 21 and walked nine.

Michael Bourn will be making his first appearance against the Astros since being traded to Atlanta at last season's deadline. Bourn, who was born in Houston and attended the University of Houston, spent 3 1/2 seasons with the Astros and was a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and an All-Star in 2010.

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