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Braves close Grapefruit slate behind solid Maholm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In their final Grapefruit League tuneup before the regular season commences, the Braves topped the Astros, 2-0, behind yet another stellar outing from southpaw Paul Maholm.

The 30-year-old hurler extended his spring streak to 24 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run with four scoreless frames against Houston. In the month of March, Maholm yielded four unearned runs in five outings, limiting opponents to 18 hits as he tallied 18 strikeouts.

Thursday marked the first time that Braves backstop Gerald Laird has caught Maholm. Consider the veteran catcher impressed.

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"He's a tough guy. He knows how to pitch," Laird said. "He has four pitches he can throw for strikes on both sides of the plate. He's been around a long time. He knows what he wants to do. Today we were just trying to get on the same page, and he did exactly what I figured he would do: mix it up, keep guys off-balance and get ground-ball outs when he needed them."

Andrelton Simmons socked his third home run of the spring in the third inning for the Braves.

Lucas Harrell offered Houston six efficient innings, as he limited Atlanta to two runs (one earned) on four hits while fanning five. The Braves scratched across their first run in the opening frame, as left fielder Justin Upton scored on an errant throw from Astros right fielder Brandon Barnes following a single by first baseman Freddie Freeman.

The Braves' bullpen kept Houston's hitters at bay. Jordan Walden, Craig Kimbrel, Mark Lamm, Anthony Varvaro and Andrew Russell all tossed scoreless innings. Walden set the Astros down in order in the fifth and recorded a pair of punch outs. Kimbrel loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batter, but sidestepped any damage. The All-Star closer induced a popout from center fielder Justin Maxwell, struck out third baseman Brandon Laird and got catcher Carlos Corporan to fly out to dodge harm.

Houston packed the bags full in the ninth with one out, but Preston Tucker lined a pitch directly into Russell's glove. The pitcher then turned and threw to third base for a game-ending double play.

Up next: The Braves have the day off Friday before the team's stars take on the Braves Futures at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss., on Saturday afternoon. Atlanta opens the regular season at Turner Field, where the Braves will host the Phillies at 7:10 p.m. ET on Monday.

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