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NYY@ATL: Beachy hurls six frames of three-run ball

Two starting pitchers coming off vastly different 2011 seasons will make their season debuts Monday night when the Braves and Astros open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

While Houston left-hander J.A. Happ will look to bounce back from a rough year that included a forgettable start, Atlanta right-hander Brandon Beachy will get his first shot to show that his surprise rookie campaign was anything but a fluke.

Happ burst onto the scene with the Phillies in 2009, by going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA. He was dealt to the Astros as part of the Roy Oswalt deal in July 2010, and his first full season with his new club was a struggle from the get-go.

The Reds hammered Happ for seven earned runs in his first outing, and he went 4-14 with a 6.26 ERA over his first 22 starts. But Happ followed a brief demotion to Triple-A with a 2.43 ERA in his final six outings and will attempt to follow the lead of the Astros' first three starters.

"It certainly would be nice to start strong," Happ said before Sunday's 3-2 win over the Rockies. "Wandy [Rodriguez] and Lucas [Harrell] have done well the first two and we're going to try to keep that going. As long as I can feel my body and feel good out there, I feel good about my chances of having success."

Rodriguez and Harrell didn't allow an earned run in 13 1/3 combined innings, and Bud Norris held Colorado to two runs in seven innings Sunday.

Happ notched a 5.79 ERA in 18 2/3 Spring Training innings, but said he felt good on the mound.

"I think it just needs to be more of a pitch-to-pitch thing with me and not try to get three outs with one pitch or try to do too much," Happ said. "Just try to focus on one pitch at a time and realize that a lot of times, you're just one pitch away from getting that out or getting that big ground ball."

The 25-year-old Beachy made a name for himself last year, after debuting with three starts in 2010. In 25 outings in '11, he went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA and recorded 169 strikeouts, the most by a Braves rookie since 1900.

It was a stunning performance by a player Atlanta signed in 2008 as an undrafted free agent, for a signing bonus of $20,000. Beachy had played third base and pitched some as a closer for three years at Indiana Wesleyan University, before a Braves scout saw him on the mound in a college league in Virginia.

Now ready for his second season, Beachy is feeling at ease with his place in a big league rotation.

"I definitely know I belong here and have an idea of what to expect from my surroundings," he said.

Braves: Chance for a happy homecoming
Michael Bourn last played as a visitor at Houston's Minute Maid Park on July 4, 2007, with the Phillies.

The speedy center fielder was traded to the Astros that November in the Brad Lidge deal and spent the next three-plus seasons calling Houston home before being shipped to the Braves shortly before last year's Trade Deadline. This series will be Bourn's first time back at Minute Maid, where he has hit .275 with 95 steals in 282 career games.

"It's always a good experience to go back and play," Bourn said. "I'm going to enjoy my time there. It's good to get it out of the way and then you can go on with what you have to do."

The current Astros club bears almost no resemblance to the ones Bourn played on in his first few seasons in Houston, but he's not taking his return lightly.

"They have a lot of talent over there that people don't know about," Bourn said. "I got to play with some last year and they've got some players who can play. You can't underestimate teams like that."

• A Braves starting pitcher allowed six earned runs or more in a start only nine times last season, but Mike Minor gave up six in five innings Sunday against the Mets.

Astros: Another outfielder in the mix
Houston announced Sunday that it had claimed outfielder Justin Maxwell off waivers from the Yankees. The 28-year-old former fourth-round pick is expected to join the club Monday.

The Astros will have to make a corresponding move to clear space on their 25-man roster, but had space available on their 40-man roster, which stands at 39.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Maxwell last played in the Majors in 2010, when he appeared in 67 games for the Nationals. In 122 big league games, all for Washington, Maxell has hit .201 with nine home runs, 26 RBIs and a .698 OPS, striking out 83 times. He has played all three outfield positions, mostly in center.

• The Astros' win Sunday over the Rockies improved them to 2-1, the club's first winning mark since it was 51-50 on July 29, 2009.

Worth noting
• Braves catcher Brian McCann has decimated Astros pitching in his 14 career games at Minute Maid Park, hitting .341 with four home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.056 OPS. He smacked two homers and drove in five runs in three games there last season.

• Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer, acquired in the Bourn deal, will play against the Braves for the first time. Schafer was Atlanta's third-round pick in 2005 and played 102 games for the club between '09 and '11, batting .223.

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