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ATL@HOU: Braves commit four errors vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- When the Braves lost three straight to begin the season against the Mets, they could take solace in the fact that many successful teams had encountered the same record. But after throwing potential victory away in the fourth game, this bunch is starting to show some frustration.

The mood was solemn in the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park late Monday night. Hours after gaining their first lead of the season, the Braves found themselves discussing the effects Juan Francisco's third-inning defensive blunder had in an 8-3 loss to the Astros.

"We're not real pretty to watch right now, but we'll get it going," said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who has seen offensive struggles, pitching woes and now a lackluster defensive exhibition influence his club's 0-4 start.

When the Braves fell to 0-3 on Sunday, they could take solace in the fact that their 2003 club had an identical record on the way to a 101-win season. But with a fourth consecutive loss, they now face the reality that the last Atlanta club with an 0-4 record was the 1988 team that went 54-106.

Ken Oberkfell committed 15 errors while playing 113 games at third base for the 1988 club. Francisco notched one-fifth of that total while playing just the first six innings Monday. His three errors marred what had the potential to be a solid season debut for Brandon Beachy.

"Once the mistake happens, you've got to throw the mistake out the window and keep the ball rolling," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "You can't dwell on the mistake and then allow the mistake to have a domino effect."

This one certainly did. After gaining their first lead of the season and a three-run advantage, the Braves entered the bottom of the third with plenty of optimism. They exited that half-inning deflated by Francisco's inability to take advantage of two chances to record the final out.

After retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced, Beachy made the costly mistake of issuing a two-out walk to Jordan Schafer. Francisco then bobbled Jose Altuve's potential inning-ending groundout. The hefty third baseman recovered in time to still have a chance to retire Schafer, who was stuck between second and third.

But Francisco's throw toward third base proved too low for shortstop Tyler Pastornicky to handle. Travis Buck followed with a two-run double down the left-field line, then jogged home on Carlos Lee's game-tying RBI single.

"You just got to get out of those innings," Beachy said. "You've got to make one pitch. I just didn't make it. I should have never walked a guy there. I should have never had a baserunner at that point. Realistically in my mind, I shouldn't have been facing that guy to begin with and that is my fault."

There is no doubt that Francisco shouldn't shoulder all of the blame. But the game certainly had a completely different feel after he was unable to record the final out in the third. After jumping on J.A. Happ for three runs in the first three innings, the Braves' bats were as silent as they had been during most of the series against the Mets.

Happ allowed consecutive RBI singles to Pastornicky and Beachy in the second. But after surrendering Brian McCann's third-inning RBI single, the left-hander retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced.

"They did a good job there [in the second inning]," Happ said. "After that, I felt good. I settled down a little bit and was hitting my spots a little bit better and getting ahead where I needed to be."

Beachy's frustrations were extended in the fourth, when Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-out double over Matt Diaz's head in right field. Happ followed with an RBI single to further doom the Braves right-hander, who allowed four runs (one earned) in five innings.

"We got real ugly after that [error]," Gonzalez said. "It could have taken the air out of your club a little bit. But we're big boys."

Gonzalez's decision to play Francisco was based on the desire to get a feel for his abilities against left-handed pitchers. The 24-year-old infielder's opportunities to play will be minimized when Chipper Jones makes his expected return from the disabled list on Tuesday.

Instead, Gonzalez gained some indication of how Francisco combined for 39 errors while playing for Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville during the 2009 season.

"We're not playing our best right now," Bourn said. "We've had a slow start, everybody from top to bottom. It's like a free fall. When it rains it pours. But we believe in each other. It's just a matter of time. We just have to continue to work it and grind it out."

Francisco was not the only recent addition to play a part in this loss. Livan Hernandez, who was signed hours after the Astros released him on March 30, saw a one-run deficit grow to three runs as he pitched the sixth. Then to add to it, Chad Durbin -- who was signed after being released by the Nationals last week -- allowed a two-run home run to Justin Maxwell in the eighth.

"We're still going to be fine," Beachy said. "We're still four games into the season. But definitely a loss like this hurts. We're up three runs. I should have closed the door right there and it should have been it. It didn't happen. It hurts to lose the way we did. But we're going to be fine."

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