KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Jason Heyward appears to be regaining his power stroke, and that's good news for the Braves.
Homering for the second time in three games, Heyward hit a grand slam in the first inning off Wandy Rodriguez as Atlanta beat the Houston Astros 9-5 on Friday night.
Heyward, runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, struggled last season. Bothered by a sore shoulder, he hit just .227 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs.
But the left-handed hitter rededicated himself while rehabbing his shoulder over the winter and came to camp about 20 pounds lighter than a year ago.
``He had a great at-bat,' Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the grand slam. ``He was aggressive and that is what we want to see.'
The drive to right-center field came off a tough lefty. Rodriguez was 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA last year and will be the Astros' starter on opening day this season.
``When he's right, he can hit any lefty,' Gonzalez said of Heyward. ``It doesn't matter who he is facing.'
Instead of waiting and possibly falling behind in the count, Heyward jumped on the first-pitch fastball and sent it a long way.
``I tried to throw a two-seamer, but it didn't move and stayed in,' Rodriguez said. ``I know he has power. He hit that one a long way.'
Rodriguez hadn't pitched in 10 days because of a rainout and allowed five hits and a walk after two quick outs in the five-run first inning. He left with one out in the fourth after Michael Bourn, serving as the Braves' designated hitter, followed a walk with a two-run homer against his old team.
``He took that DH to his head a little,' Gonzalez said of his speedy center fielder.
Tommy Hanson, making his spring debut after having his first start cut shot by rain, pitched three innings and gave up two runs, including a homer by Travis Buck. The right-hander struck out three, walked none and gave up five hits.
Hanson, who was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA last season, didn't pitch after Aug. 6 because of shoulder woes and got a delayed start this spring after sustaining a concussion in an auto mishap at the start of camp.
``Overall, it was OK,' Hanson said of his outing. ``I made my pitches at times and sometimes I didn't. . It's early. It's just going to get better. . I'm back on a routine now and I'm excited about that.'
Hanson took the mound in the rain against the Blue Jays last Sunday and worked into the second inning before the game was called.
``Tommy was fine,' Gonzalez said. ``His delivery was good and he was faster to the plate.'
Braves lefty relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters each worked an inning and allowed a run. Brian McCann had two hits for Atlanta, raising his average to .292.
Jordan Schafer, who came to the Astros from the Braves as part of the Bourn deal last season, had a double, single and two stolen bases. The center fielder is batting .391 this spring.
NOTES: Tim Hudson, coming off back surgery, threw his second bullpen session on Friday. He is expected to spend the first month of the season on the disabled list. . Rookie reliever Arodys Vizcaino, one of the Braves' top prospects, will have his ailing elbow examined by Dr. James Andrews on Monday. He hasn't pitched since feeling soreness in the Braves' exhibition opener on March 3. . The Braves have split-squad games Saturday. Brandon Beachy will start the home game against Toronto, with Kris Medlen taking the mound against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. . Astros lefty Sergio Escalona (elbow) threw batting practice at the Houston camp on Friday and catcher Humberto Quintero got in four at_bats in a minor league exhibition game.
The Associated Press News Service
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