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Braves end spring on high note

By from Wire Reports

KISSIMMEE, Fla. ? Mike Hampton completed spring training on a high note.

The Atlanta lefty gave up one unearned run in four innings as the Braves snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Houston Astros 7-2 Thursday.

It was the final game in Florida for both teams, who head to their home ballparks for exhibition games this weekend. Heavy rain forced a 30-minute delay in the fifth inning, but the game was completed under partly cloudy skies.

Hampton, who struggled early in the spring, didn't allow an earned run in his final two starts, a span of 10 innings. Against the Astros, he was tagged for seven hits but used two double plays to stay out of trouble.

The lone run scored in the fourth when Houston strung together three straight singles. Lance Berkman came home after left fielder Chipper Jones bobbled a hit by Richard Hidalgo, but Hampton ended the threat by retiring Gregg Zaun and Geoff Blum.

"The ball was hit, and the ball was up," Hampton said. "I know I've got to work on keeping it down."

With his sinker working better, he got six groundouts, and a few of the hits came on seeing-eye grounders through the infield. He lowered his spring ERA from 4.95 to 4.13.

"It's more consistent," Hampton said. "When I feel my arm drop down, it doesn't take a long time to get it back. The work we put in is definitely paying off."

Gary Sheffield went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Robert Fick added two doubles and scored two runs. Sheffield, healthy most of the spring after a wrist injury limited him a bit in 2002, heads north with a .415 average and a team-high 14 RBIs.

Atlanta closer John Smoltz gave up two hits in the ninth before he struck out Morgan Ensberg to end the game.

Roy Oswalt, Houston's opening-day starter, was roughed up for five earned runs on nine hits in four innings. He fell to 0-2 during spring training with a 4.95 ERA.

The Braves scored three runs in the first off Oswalt. Rafael Furcal led off with a single and moved to third on a double by Fick. Sheffield brought Furcal to the plate with a groundout, and Fick scored on a single by Chipper Jones.

Later in the inning, Jones scored on a ground-rule double by Vinny Castilla.

"I threw some pitches and got some work in to get ready for opening day," Oswalt said. "I felt pretty well. My velocity had been down a little this spring but it was better today."

Earlier in the day, the Astros waived veteran starter Shane Reynolds to make room in the rotation for youngsters Tim Redding and Jeriome Robertson. Since his major league debut in 1992, Reynolds is 103-86 record and 3.95 ERA, ranking seventh in Astros history in wins and fifth with 1,309 strikeouts.