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Braves 7, Astros 1: McLouth looking sharp in spring
Centerfielder raises average to .429
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - To this day, Nate McLouth has no idea why he struggled so badly last year.
He's just glad that season is behind him now.

"This year I am going to have more fun," said McLouth, who walked twice and scored in Atlanta's 7-1 victory over a split-squad of Houston Astros on Sunday.

That's exactly what Fredi Gonzalez wants to hear from his starting center fielder. Atlanta's first-year manager said he isn't concerned with what happened last season when McLouth batted .190 with six homers and 24 RBIs.

"If you go back and look at the history of almost every player in the baseball Hall of Fame, they all have at least one down season," Gonzalez said. "This year he is swinging great and he has his confidence back. A lot of those baseball Hall of Famers had their best year after a bad one."

McLouth was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates halfway into the 2009 season and was expected to be the everyday center fielder in 2010. He ended up playing in only 85 games.

It got so bad that McLouth spent a month at Triple-A Gwinnett.

"I wish I had all the answers about what happened last year," he said. "I would have stopped it, gotten it all out of the way, but it just snowballed on me. That was as tough as it has ever been for me."

It has been much better so far this spring, with McLouth surging to a .429 average.

"I am being more aggressive and attacking the ball this year," he said. "I need to be aggressive and go after pitches. My approach is changing this year."

Jair Jurrjens pitched five scoreless innings against Houston, allowing two hits and striking out four with just one walk.

"I feel sharp and I feel loose," he said. "I am just trying to raise my pitch count and trying to attack the hitters. I want to be more aggressive and I am happy with where I am."

Jurrjens also had a big day at the plate, hitting a standup triple.

"I wanted to stop at second, I was tired," Jurrjens cracked. "They told me to keep going."

Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Wilkin Ramirez homered for the Braves.

Jones, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee, went 2 for 3 to raise his spring batting average to .353.

McCann has struggled since lining a foul ball into the Braves dugout on Wednesday that beaned minor league manager Luis Salazar. But he had two hits against Houston, including the long home run.

Astros starter Bud Norris allowed five runs and five hits in three innings. He struck out two and walked two.

"I'm getting close to where I need to be," he said. "The biggest thing is getting my pitch count up. I feel good about everything so far."

NOTES: Gonzalez said he didn't get a chance to visit Salazar in the hospital before the game but he was going directly there after the win. The Braves had no word on Salazar's condition. ... The Braves will play three games on Monday, including a Grapefruit League game in Jupiter, a "B" game early in the morning at their complex at Walt Disney World, and a simulated game later at Disney. Mike Minor will start the regular game, Rodrigo Lopez will start the simulated game, and Brandon Beachy will start the "B" game. All three are vying for the final spot in the Braves' rotation and Gonzalez said it would go down to the wire. ... The Braves' pitching staff has allowed only three runs in the past four games.

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