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Red-hot Heyward leads sweep of Astros

Red-hot Heyward leads sweep of Astros

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ATLANTA -- Less than a full month into his Major League career, Jason Heyward has already proven to be a difference maker. When Heyward has hit, the Braves have shown why they entered the season with postseason expectations. When he has experienced inevitable rookie struggles, they have shown how they were capable of enduring a nine-game losing streak.

While some of the damage from that extended losing streak remains, the bitter taste that it created was sweetened at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon, when the Braves rode Heyward's three-RBI performance to a 7-1 win over the Astros and their first series sweep of the season.

"We needed to get a streak going," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose club entered this series with the nine-game skid and exited it by winning a third consecutive game for just the second time this season.

During this three-game set against the Astros, the Braves equaled the run total (21) they had posted during the nine-game slide, and also saw Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera provide some indication that they still could prove to be integral parts of the lineup.

With his two-hit, three-RBI performance in the series finale, Cabrera matched his previous season RBI total, and improved his batting average to .212, marking the first time this season that he exited a game above the Mendoza line.

Riding the momentum of Saturday's three-hit, four-RBI performance, Glaus concluded this three-game set against the Astros with a pair of singles. In a span of just two days, the first baseman's batting average moved from .194 to .237.

"Guys are starting to pick it up a little bit and that's just what we needed, to get home and get some run ratios in our favor once in a while," said Cox, who was also pleased to see his pitching staff surrender just four runs during this rejuvenating series.

When the Braves attempted to determine how they had gone winless on a seven-game road trip that concluded Thursday, they looked at the fact that they had hit .220 (11-for-50) with runners in scoring position. In addition, they knew that they were burdened by the fact that Heyward had hit just .158 (3-for-19) with one RBI during this span.

This weekend, the Braves hit .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position with some of the help coming courtesy of Heyward, who went 5-for-10 with two homers and six RBIs during his first three career games against the Astros.

"He's the guy you want up getting those big opportunities," third baseman Chipper Jones said of Heyward, whose team-leading 23 RBIs rank as the National League's third-highest total.

Moving toward the completion of the sweep, the Braves drew first blood on Sunday when Heyward drilled a second-inning sacrifice fly off Bud Norris. The 20-year-old added a ringing RBI double in the three-run fourth, and then managed to get another RBI courtesy of the bases-loaded grounder that forced Norris to dive to the third-base side of the mound.

"That's where you make your living as a run producer, getting those easy RBI opportunities, where you don't necessarily have to get a hit to get an RBI and if you do [get a hit] you get two," Jones said. "He has certainly taken advantage of those opportunities."

Heyward has batted .450 (18-for-40) with five homers and 20 RBIs in the 11 games the Braves have won and just .098 (4-for-41) with two homers and three RBIs in the 13 games that they have lost.

"In one month to be able to do what he has done has been very impressive, but I think it's gotten to the point that you kind of expect this is who he is," right-hander Derek Lowe said. "He's going to hit 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs in his first year, which is very impressive for everybody. But I think that's the kind of player he expects to be."

Heyward's latest contributions helped Lowe snap his own two-game losing streak and notch his team-best fourth win. The veteran sinkerballer, who limited the Astros to one run and six hits in five innings, incurred his only damage courtesy of the consecutive one-out, fifth-inning doubles delivered by Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger.

By this time the Braves had already built a four-run advantage against Norris, who was charged with a season-high seven earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings. The 25-year-old rookie right-hander surrendered hits to four of the first five batters he faced during a three-run fourth inning.

Cabrera capped a three-run fifth inning by chasing Norris with a two-run double, and the Braves had managed to collect seven hits in the fourth and fifth innings alone. This was the same club that had totaled seven hits or fewer in six of the nine games that were part of that losing streak the Braves would like to soon forget.

"That road trip was brutal and to come back and play good baseball like we did and start swinging the bats, it was a good sign," catcher Brian McCann said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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