HOUSTON -- Atlanta manager Bobby Cox thinks Javier Vazquez would be in the running for the NL Cy Young award if the Braves had produced better run support for him this season.
Vazquez struck out nine and allowed three hits in seven shutout innings and the Braves snapped a five-game losing skid with a 2-1 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.Vazquez (12-9) lowered his ERA to 3.06, but Atlanta has scored three runs or fewer in 13 games he's started and lost 10 of those."He could have 18," Cox said. "He could be right on for Cy Young. He never gets talked about, but with any luck at all, he'd be right there with 'em."Adam LaRoche and Nate McLouth hit solo homers off Felipe Paulino for Atlanta. Rafael Soriano gave up a run in the ninth, but recovered to earn his 22nd save."It was a good game for us," Vazquez said. "We have to keep battling and see where we're at. We have to do it."Miguel Tejada led off the ninth with a triple to center and scored on Hunter Pence's single. Geoff Blum grounded into a double play and pinch hitter Aaron Boone lined out to end it."We just couldn't get the big hit," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "It's tough to put anything together when you're not putting the ball in play."Paulino (2-8) gave up four hits and struck out six in six innings to lose his fourth straight decision. But the 25-year-old right-hander has looked better with each outing since he was recalled from the minors on Aug. 18."I feel comfortable," he said. "I always try to stay that way in my mind."Vazquez fanned Astros leadoff man Michael Bourn to reach 200 strikeouts for the third straight season and fifth time in his career. Vazquez struck out five of the first 10 hitters he faced.LaRoche homered into the Astros' bullpen in the second, his 21st of the season. LaRoche came in hitting .342 since joining the Braves in a July 31 trade with Boston.Paulino missed the strike zone on 25 of his first 50 pitches. He threw a wild pitch and gave up three walks in the first three innings.McLouth homered to right with one out in the fifth, his 17th of the season. Martin Prado followed with a single to center, but Paulino picked him off with a quick move to first baseman Lance Berkman.Vazquez retired 11 in a row after Carlos Lee's single leading off the second. Blum lined a two-out single to left in the Astros' fifth, but Humberto Quintero flew out on Vazquez's next pitch.The Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth. Tejada then hit a hard grounder that ricocheted off Vazquez's glove. Third baseman Chipper Jones charged in, scooped it up and threw out Tejada by a step."Chipper's play was huge," Vazquez said. "I thought he was going to be safe when I hit with my glove."Pence singled and Blum walked leading off the Houston half of the seventh. Edwin Maysonet advanced the runners with a bunt, but Vazquez escaped again by striking out Darin Erstad and Bourn."Any time you can put away hitters, you can get out of jams like that," said catcher Brian McCann. "He beared down right there and made his best pitches of the night."Left-hander Mike Gonzalez, who blew a save against Cincinnati on Sunday, relieved Vazquez in the eighth. Berkman hit a one-out single before Lee grounded into a double play.
LaRoche has hits in 22 of his last 25 games. ... Vazquez is the fifth active pitcher with five or more 200-strikeout seasons. The others are Randy Johnson (13), Pedro Martinez (9), Johan Santana (5) and John Smoltz (5). ... INF Chris Johnson, whose minor-league contract was purchased by the Astros on Monday, was beaned by RHP Yorman Bazardo during batting practice on Tuesday. "It's all right, it was a mistake," Johnson said. "It happens in baseball. That's why we wear helmets. I'm all right."