HOUSTON (AP) - The way the season has gone so far, no one could blame the Atlanta Braves for wanting Chipper Jones back on the field as soon as possible.
Backup third baseman Juan Francisco had as many errors as his team had runs Monday night, and the Braves fell to the Astros 8-3 for their worst start to a season in nearly a quarter century.
Missing Jones, their emblematic third baseman, as he recovers from left knee surgery, the Braves are 0-4 for the first time since 1988, when they lost their first 10 games en route to a National League-worst record of 54-106.
The 39-year-old Jones took early batting practice prior to the series opener at Minute Maid Park and said he expects to come off the disabled list for Tuesday's game against Houston.
``He's a big part of our offense when he's healthy, and he is a presence in that offense,' Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ``He gives you good at_bats at 40-years-old. ``Him coming back is probably a good thing for us right now.'
Atlanta could certainly benefit from Jones' experience in the Braves' infield. Francisco, his replacement, had a tough night, committing three errors - including two in the third that yielded runs.
The errors helped the Astros erase Atlanta's 3-0 lead and tie it in the third.
``We were playing good baseball up to that point, and all of a sudden we mishandled some of the plays back there, and we weren't real pretty after that as a team,' Gonzalez said.
Travis Buck drove in two runs to help the Astros capitalize on the Atlanta gaffes in the third, Marwin Gonzalez had three hits and scored three runs, and Justin Maxwell homered in his first at-bat as an Astro as a pinch-hitter in the eighth to cap the scoring for Houston, which improved to 3-1.
Braves right-hander Brandon Beachy (0-1) lasted only five innings after getting tagged for four runs - three unearned - on four hits.
``It was a struggle to feel for any of (the pitches),' said Beachy, who struck out three and walked three. ``I was able to get through the first couple of innings on the fastball alone, but you're not going to get guys out for very long when you can only throw strikes with a four-seam fastball.'
Atlanta's struggles in the third inning began with Beachy's two-out walk of Jordan Schafer.
Francisco, who had picked up a throwing error the previous inning, mishandled a seemingly routine catch that allowed Jose Altuve to reach, then compounded to the situation with a throwing error that advanced Schafer to third.
Buck followed with a two-run double to bring the Astros within one run. He advanced to third on a throwing error by Tyler Pastornicky and scored the tying run on a Carlos Lee grounder to center.
``I had two outs,' Beachy said. ``I just have to get out of those innings, make one pitch, and just didn't make it.'
The Braves jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second inning on the strength of back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Pastornicky and Beachy.
Atlanta wasn't done rattling Happ. Martin Prado doubled off the left-hander to open the third, and Brian McCann followed with an RBI single to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
Happ never looked back, retiring the next 11 batters he faced before walking Matt Diaz with two outs in the sixth. Happ (1-0) allowed six hits and three runs with five strikeouts in six innings for the win.
J.D. Martinez added to the Astros' cushion with a pinch-hit RBI single in the sixth off Livan Hernandez, who also allowed Altuve a sacrifice fly to left that scored Gonzalez to make it 6-3 Astros. Hernandez was picked up by the Braves after the Astros released him in spring training.
Maxwell, who had joined the club Monday after being picked up off waivers from the New York Yankees, hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to cap the scoring for the Astros.
``We're still going to be fine; it's still four games into the season,' Beachy said. ``But definitely, a loss like this hurts. We're up three runs. I should have closed the door right there, and that should have been it, and it didn't happen.'
NOTES: The Astros optioned LHP Fernando Abad to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday to make room on the roster for Maxwell. ... Former Astros star Craig Biggio helped Houston honor Jones, who said he will retire at the end of this season, before the game. Biggio presented Jones with a cowboy hat as footage of his many memorable games against the Astros played on the video screen.
The Associated Press News Service
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