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Martes shows improvement, comfort in 3rd start

Right-hander fans 3 in 3 scoreless innings; Kyle Tucker plays against brother, Preston
Special to MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Through two innings in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium, Astros right-hander Francis Martes was cruising. He had faced the minimum, including back-to-back strikeouts of Nick Markakis and Ronald Acuna to end the second inning.

But a leadoff walk of Johan Camargo on a 3-1 pitch led to trouble for Martes in the third inning. Martes struck out Ryan Schimpf looking before Dansby Swanson flied out to deep center field. Ender Inciarte dribbled a two-out single through a gaping hole in the right side of the infield, moving Camargo to third. But center fielder Tony Kemp ran down another deep fly ball for Martes, this one off the bat of Ozzie Albies, to end the threat.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Through two innings in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium, Astros right-hander Francis Martes was cruising. He had faced the minimum, including back-to-back strikeouts of Nick Markakis and Ronald Acuna to end the second inning.

But a leadoff walk of Johan Camargo on a 3-1 pitch led to trouble for Martes in the third inning. Martes struck out Ryan Schimpf looking before Dansby Swanson flied out to deep center field. Ender Inciarte dribbled a two-out single through a gaping hole in the right side of the infield, moving Camargo to third. But center fielder Tony Kemp ran down another deep fly ball for Martes, this one off the bat of Ozzie Albies, to end the threat.

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"I feel good, because I feel comfortable when I throw my slider," Martes said. "My changeup, I did a lot of work on [it] in the offseason. I did a lot of working on my fastball outside to the righties and lefties. I got it right today in the game."

In his first two starts this spring, Martes allowed four runs and four hits in as many innings, walking two and hitting one. Only two of those runs were earned. He completed neither the second inning Feb. 26 against Miami nor the third inning March 3 against Washington before manager A.J. Hinch removed him.

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"Martes was good," Hinch said. "It was good for him to get a routine. I thought he threw a couple of good breaking balls, good fastball. He's a starter by nature; sometimes he gets into a reliever mode on this team, but for him to start the game and get through three was big."

Martes improved his ERA from 4.50 to 2.57 from his three scoreless innings Thursday, striking out three and allowing one walk and two singles.

"I focused on the strike zone," Martes said. "My location was good. Everything was good today."

As a rookie in 2017, Martes threw 54 1/3 innings for Houston across 32 appearances, four of them starts. Although his record was 5-2, his ERA was 5.80. In eight starts for Triple-A Fresno in 2017, Martes' ERA was hardly better at 5.29 in 32 1/3 innings across eight starts.

"He's a young pitcher," Hinch said, "and I think he's realized that he's going to need all of his pitches, especially when he can stay in control and stay in the strike zone."

Video: HOU@NYM: Tucker clobbers solo moonshot to right

Family ties

A pair of Astros had the opportunity to visit family while facing Atlanta. Outfielder Kyle Tucker, who spent most of 2017 with Double-A Corpus Christi, is the brother of Braves outfielder Preston Tucker. Preston had debuted with the Astros in '15 and spent '17 with Triple-A Fresno before Houston traded him to the Braves this winter. Kyle's hitting coach in Corpus Christi, Troy Snitker, is the son of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker.

Up next

The Astros return to West Palm Beach, Fla., to host right-hander Miles Mikolas (0-2, 19.29 ERA) and the Cardinals at 6:05 p.m. ET Friday on MLB.TV at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Right-hander Justin Verlander (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his third start this spring for Houston.

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com.

Houston Astros, Francis Martes