Originally created 03/29/03

Boston silences Atlanta



ATLANTA - When a sinker-ball pitcher keeps the ball low in the strike zone, Atlanta Braves second baseman Marcus Giles said, he's going to win his share of ballgames.

Or, in the case of Boston's Derek Lowe, he'll be virtually unhittable.

Lowe pitched six innings of one-hit ball to stifle a potent Atlanta offense and beat the Braves 4-0 in Friday's exhibition game at Turner Field.

Giles shrugged off Atlanta's poor hitting performance as merely an aberration.

"What do you do? You tip your cap to the pitcher," said Giles, who collected one of Atlanta's four hits. "When you keep the ball low, you'll be successful."

Even after Lowe exited the game and the Braves, who led the Grapefruit League with a .300 batting average this spring, put runners in scoring position, they couldn't capitalize.

With runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, Rafael Furcal was caught looking and Robert Fick weakly grounded out to second base to end the threat.

In the eighth, Atlanta loaded the bases with no outs, but Jesse Garcia popped out to the shortstop, Julio Franco lined out to right field and Darren Bragg struck out to insure the shutout.

To put an exclamation point on Atlanta's poor clutch hitting, Mike Fessman hit a one-out double in the ninth but was stranded at second to end the game.

"Lowe probably has more movement on the ball than anybody else in baseball," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who will whittle his roster to 25 today after the Atlanta-Boston exhibition at 1:05 p.m.

Lowe certainly was better than anyone the Braves offered.

Making his home debut at Turner Field in front of 19,741 fans, Russ Ortiz (2-1) managed to look effective and unimpressive at the same time.

He allowed three hits and one earned run while striking out two in two innings, but what was most disturbing was his pitch count. He threw 37 pitches through the first two innings and had 50 overall in his three-inning performance.

Reliever Kevin Gryboski also struggled. After replacing John Smoltz - who had a 1-2-3 fourth inning - Gryboski gave up three hits and three runs (one earned) in the fifth to stake the Red Sox to their four-run lead.

The rest of Atlanta's hurlers were solid, combining to give up two hits and no runs in five innings of work - including a two-inning, two-strikeout performance from Trey Hodges, who is battling Jason Marquis for the fifth starting job.

But if anybody looked like they were in mid-season form, it was Lowe (1-0).

Perfect through four innings, Lowe gave up one hit in six innings and seemed to perform at the same level as last season when he went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA and finished third for the Cy Young Award.

Lowe began the game retiring the first 12 Braves - 10 of which were groundouts - until Chipper Jones ended the perfection with a single up the middle. Atlanta could do little else.

"He was hitting his spots and keeping his sinker low," Giles said. "I wouldn't be too worried. He was just good tonight."