Braves hit four homers in rout of Astros

HOUSTON — The Braves lost another outfielder to the disabled list Friday, then played as if the Houston Astros had something to do with it.

Freddie Freeman and Alex Gonzalez hit mammoth homers on consecutive pitches in the third inning, and Chipper Jones had three hits that included a home run as the Braves vented scoring frustrations in an 11-4 win against the Astros to open a four-game series at Minute Maid Park.

"I mean, we’ve gone entire weeks without scoring 11 runs," said Jones, who had a satisfying night in his first game back at Minute Maid Park since his season-ending knee injury in Houston on Aug. 10. "I think tonight was a big win for us. You’re starting to see some averages go up and some home run totals go up. Some guys have got some confidence.

"It’s important for us to win ballgames right now while we’ve got so many people injured, so that when we do get them back, we can hopefully continue to do so.”

It was the fourth consecutive win for the Braves, who scored more runs in the third and fifth innings (eight combined) than they scored in the entire three-game sweep against the Florida Marlins that ended Thursday.

Tim Hudson (5-5) allowed two runs, seven hits and no walks in six innings for his first win in six starts.

"We came out swinging it tonight," said Hudson, who remained unbeaten (4-0) in six  starts against the Astros.  "It was well worth waiting for. I’m just glad I was able to be the beneficiary of it. Up and down the lineup, it looked really good tonight.”

Jones had a big night — 3-for-5, three runs, two RBIs — at one of his favorite hitting venues. He has a .395 average with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 36 games at Minute Maid, but was last seen hobbling off the field after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

That injury required season-ending surgery that some believed would end the 39-year-old third baseman’s career.

"He’s looking pretty good, the old battle axe," Hudson said, smiling. "He’s going out there and not looking his age.”

Freeman and Gonzalez collected three RBIs apiece for the Braves, who improved to 5-2 on a 10-game trip and remained two games behind first-place Philadelphia in the National League East standings.

The Braves led 11-2 before Cristhian Martinez gave up a two-run homer to Matt Downs in the ninth inning.

Freeman drove in two runs with a towering, two-out homer that landed halfway up the second seating deck in right in the third inning. He was asked if he hit even harder than one Freeman hit off Roy Halladay at Philadelphia during a September callup.

“I would have to say yeah," Freeman said with a wide grin. "That’s about the farthest one I’ve ever hit. That was a good feeling.”

On the next pitch, Gonzalez hit a homer to left that got out so quickly, left fielder Carlos Lee didn’t bother to turn and pursue or even observe it.

Eric Hinske also homered for the Braves, whose 11 runs matched their total from their previous five games.

Hinske and Jones both hit their homers to the opposite (left) field, and  Jones also singled to left off a right-hander. Before Friday, the switch-hitter was batting just .216 from the left side, compared to .324 from the right.

Jones credited an adjustment that his dad, Larry, recommended during a Friday afternoon conversation in Houston. The elder Jones has always been the person Chipper turns to when struggling with any aspect of hitting.

The Braves did all their offensive damage without two of their only three recently hot hitters — left fielder Martin Prado was placed on the DL on Friday with a staph infection in his right calf, and catcher Brian McCann was given the night off.

Their other hot stick has belonged to Freeman, who continued his surge with hits in his first three at-bats. The rookie first baseman has hit .359 with 11 extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in his past 23 games, raising his average 50 points to .279.

“Little by little he keeps creeping up [the batting order]," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think three weeks ago he wasn’t hitting seventh, and then sixth, and then fifth. He hits fourth today because we gave Mac a day off.

“He’s growing as a major league player, a major league hitter, and we’re seeing what I think everybody has seen since he’s been in the organization – this guy can swing the bat.”

The Braves built a 9-1 lead in their first five innings, including Freeman’s RBI single in the first inning and four-run outbursts in the third and fifth.

The homers by Freeman and Gonzalez came on 89- and 91-mph fastballs from Astros rookie Aneury Rodriguez (0-4), who was rocked for six hits and six runs in four innings to push his ERA to 5.96.

“Wow, did he hit that ball hard," said Jones, who singled and stole second before Freeman's homer.  "I was on second when he hit that ball. Man, that ball was crunched.”

It was the second time this season the Braves hit back-to-back homers, after Prado and center fielder Nate McLouth did it to start the first inning against Philadelphia on May 14. McLouth and right fielder Jason Heyward have been on the DL for nearly three weeks.

After outscoring the Marlins 7-4 in three consecutive one-run wins, the Braves teed off against an Astros team that has lost six of its past seven games while allowing seven or more runs four times.

Hudson, after going 0-3 with a 6.66 ERA in his past five starts, got back on track while improving to 4-0 with a 1.44 ERA in six starts against the Astros.

"Obviously it was exciting to see the guys go out there and put together some good at-bats, get some crooked numbers on the board and drive the ball," Hudson said. “It’s just one game, and obviously tomorrow is a new day and a new pitcher on the mound, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But this can’t do anything but help us and get us going in the right direction.”

Speedy Michael Bourn scored both runs against Hudson, after a triple in the third and a double in the fifth. Bourn had four of the Astros’ 10 hits.