HOUSTON – One night after Chipper Jones came off the disabled list to have the biggest hit for the Braves in their first win, David Ross came out of storage to get the biggest hit in another victory against the Houston Astros.
Ross hit a tie-breaking two-run double in the fourth inning and the Braves hung on for a 6-3 win at Minute Maid Park to salvage a 2-4 record on their opening trip.
“It felt good to help the team win,” said Ross, who also threw out a runner trying to steal second to end the fifth inning. “I’m happy that we won, and we’re all happy to be heading home to some familiar faces.”
Jason Heyward had three hits including a homer and Randall Delgado (1-0) pitched five solid innings for the Braves, who finished their opening trip with a record not as good as they hoped when it started, but better than many feared a few days ago when they had 10 runs in an 0-4 start.
They have a day off before their home opener Friday against Milwaukee at Turner Field.
“Win a series, go into your home opener [after] winning two games in a row — it’s a good feeling for us,” said Heyward, who also had two RBIs, a stolen base and scored on a Jack Wilson suicide squeeze bunt.
Craig Kimbrel struck out Carlos Lee with runners on the corners in the ninth inning to pick up his second save in as many appearances.
“Nice to win the series,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves were swept in three games by the New York Mets to start the trip. “Got a little two-game winning streak, got a day off tomorrow, kind of re-group a little then we’ve got a tough stretch with [13 games] in a row.”
The Astros scored a run against Eric O’Flaherty in the seventh inning to cut the lead to 4-3 before leaving the bases loaded, and Heyward restored the cushion with a leadoff homer in the eighth, which he called a “momentum killer” for the Astros.
“He’s swinging the bat,” Gonzalez said of Heyward, who had the first three-hit game of the season for the Braves. “He did a nice job.”
Jones had a two-run homer in Tuesday’s 6-4 win, after not playing a game in three weeks and taking 15 swings against Delgado in a workout Friday as the only live pitching he’d faced since knee surgery.
Ross hadn’t gone that long without playing, but the veteran backup catcher hadn’t entered a game this season before starting Wednesday to give Brian McCann a rest. Ross had two RBIs and 21 at-bats in the last six weeks of the 2011 season, and hit .154 with 2 RBIs during spring training.
He had two RBIs with one swing Tuesday, a bases-loaded double off Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez that put the Braves ahead 3-1. Jack Wilson followed with a squeeze bunt that scored Heyward.
Rodriguez (0-1) was 2-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his past seven starts against the Braves before Wednesday, when he allowed six hits and four runs (three earned) in five innings.
He was outpitched by Delgado, a 22-year-old rookie who had had six strikeouts in five innings and gave up five hits, two runs and two walks. After J.D. Martinez’s two-out homer in the first inning, Delgado retired seven of the next eight batters and struck out the side in the second inning.
“I was following [Ross] the whole time,” Delgado said. “He knows about this game.”
The Astros cut the lead to 4-2 in the fifth when former Brave Jordan Schafer hit a bunt single to start the inning, advanced on a Jose Altuve single and scored on a hard ground ball that caromed off Delgado’s shin directly to first baseman Freddie Freeman for an out.
Delgado stayed in the game and got a big assist from the strong-armed Ross, who picked off Altuve straying from second base to end the inning.
“Rossy today was outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “With Carlos Lee at the plate in the fifth, he back-picked that guy at second base. For me that was the turning point in the game. And he comes up with a couple of hits and did a nice job of getting through some of these innings that were difficult.”
Ross said, “The best thing about being a catcher is that you don’t have to get hits to help with the game. If you win, you feel like you had a big part of it. My most important job is getting the pitcher through the game, trying to keep those guys off the bases, hold them to basically one run less than we get…. And if I get a hit and drive in some runs, that makes me sleep well at night.”
The Braves went to their bullpen again after five innings, making it seven of his eight major league starts that Delgado has gone five innings or fewer. But hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any game and improved to 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA in his fledgling career.
“I though Delgado gave us everything we were looking for,” Gonzalez said. “He hadn’t pitched in seven or eight days and we weren’t going to push him to over 100 pitches. So he gave us a nice outing.”
The right-hander has allowed five hits or fewer and two runs or fewer in each of his past five starts.
“He had some nerves when guys got on, and he tried to be a little fast,” Ross said. “I think he was just really amped up to try to get them out. As soon as he just settles in and calms down, he’s going to be great. He threw great tonight, his ball was moving all over the place.
“We’re expecting good things out of him. We’re expecting him to [eventually] be one of our top-of-the-rotation guys, and I think he’s going to do that.”
The Braves plan to start Delgado two or three more times before Tim Hudson comes off the disabled list in the last week of April or first week of May.