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Lowe throw four hitless innings against Nationals
Atlanta Braves starter Derek Lowe throws during the third inning of a spring training game against the Washington Nationals on Monday in Viera, Fla. - photo by Charlie Riedel
VIERA, Fla. — Derek Lowe spent the winter overhauling his mechanics and is pleased with his progress.

A few more outings like Monday night’s and Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox won’t care how many tweaks Lowe makes.

Lowe, Cox’s choice to pitch opening day April 5, worked four hitless innings and the Braves beat the winless Washington Nationals 5-2 Monday night.

“(Lowe) got all ground balls and had six punchouts, so he had quite a night,” Cox said. “He was outstanding. That should be one of the best performances of any spring.”

Washington is 0-11, the majors’ only winless team this spring.

“We played pretty good,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “We’re just not winning ballgames.”

Coming off a one-inning stint March 10 in which he was troubled by a blister on his right foot — and gave up three runs and five hits — Lowe allowed only one baserunner. Washington’s Roger Bernadina reached in the second when first baseman Eric Hinske dropped shortstop Yunel Escobar’s throw.

The right-hander credited his ability to master the mental aspects of his new delivery, something he’s had trouble doing in the past when the results weren’t indicative of how hard he was working.

“Hopefully when you do that, you work a little faster because the wheels aren’t spinning between each pitch from analyzing,” Lowe said. “You just get the ball, get back up and throw it. Being a groundball pitcher, that’s what you want.”

He certainly got the desired results against the punchless Nationals. Lowe (1-0) struck out six and was in command all the way in his deepest outing of the spring.

“I’m able to throw it through the target,” said Lowe, who is coming off a disappointing 2009 season in which he was 15-10 but posted a 4.67 ERA, his highest in five years. “If you can throw it through the target, stay on line, you’re going to be able to throw strikes — and that’s something I was really struggling with (last year).”

Cox is accustomed to Lowe’s constant alterations, and thinks the right-hander has made only one substantial change.

“Not complete, just a little thing — his arm’s a little higher,” Cox said. “That’s what I see, he throws his left arm out more now. He’s always tinkering. I know he’s happy with (the results).”

Martin Prado and Joe Thurston homered for the Braves. Prado is hitting .385 this spring and Thurston, battling Brooks Conrad for the backup infielder job, homered for a second straight day. Conrad, who made two nice defensive plays Monday, is batting .348.

Right-hander Garrett Mock (0-2) allowed two runs to Atlanta in the first, then retired his final nine hitters. Mock struck out two and has not yielded a walk in nine innings over three starts.

NOTES: Atlanta reduced its number of players in major league camp by making a round of cuts Monday. RHPs Steve Marek, James Parr and Todd Redmond, and left-hander Lee Hyde were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett; RHPs Juan Abreu and Kyle Cofield, and LHP Jose Ortegano were optioned to Double-A Mississippi. RHPs Erik Cordier and Chris Respo, LHP Mike Minor, Cs Braeden Schlehuber and Jesus Sucre, and OF Cody Johnson were reassigned to minor league camp. ... After an 0 for 3 night against Washington, Atlanta OF Nate McLouth is hitting .040.
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