RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — Paul Maholm's rocky start with the Chicago Cubs is all but forgotten. After giving up 12 runs and 12 hits over eight innings in his first two outings, Maholm has more than settled down.
He has become one of the team's best pitchers.
Maholm pitched seven strong innings Wednesday, combining with two relievers on a four-hit shutout as the Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves 1-0. Backed by some good defense and an RBI single from Bryan LaHair in the seventh, Maholm outpitched Tim Hudson and earned his fourth straight win.
"I think for four games I've pitched well," Maholm said. "I'm going to have another rough outing at some point, it's part of baseball. But I'm going to ride this as long as I possibly can and hopefully for a good while."
Maholm (4-2) allowed three hits and combined with James Russell and Rafael Dolis to blank the Braves in a game that took only two hours and five minutes to play. Maholm walked three and struck out three as Chicago took two of three from Atlanta after doing the same in the previous series against the Dodgers.
"After probably his second start, he's been as good as anybody," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said of Maholm, signed as a free agent after seven seasons with the Pirates. "We knew what we were getting, we were getting a guy who throws strikes, can throw four pitches, can manipulate the ball, he's a good athlete. He's done a great job."
After Maholm came out to warm up for the eighth, Russell replaced him and gave up a two-out double to Martin Prado and a walk to Freddie Freeman, then retired Dan Uggla on a flyout. Dolis worked the ninth for his third save in four chances.
Hudson (1-1) allowed one run and five hits in seven innings in his third start this season. He gave up only three hits through the first six innings and — thanks to a pair of double plays — faced the minimum 18 batters.
"It's disappointing. I felt like we played a pretty good game. Obviously they had a guy over there who was throwing the ball pretty well, too," Hudson said. "He made some pitches. They had some breaks with some of their defensive alignments with some guys on base. The ball was bouncing their way. Not a whole lot else you can say about it."
David DeJesus hit a leadoff single in the seventh, and Tony Campana bunted him to second and he reached third on Starlin Castro's grounder to first. LaHair then hit a hard grounder under shortstop Jack Wilson's glove to give the Cubs the lead.
Prado doubled and reached third in the sixth and after Uggla walked with two outs, Chipper Jones lined out to second baseman Darwin Barney, who was positioned behind the bag at second in a defensive shift. Otherwise, it would have been a run-scoring single.
"Chipper almost hit me in the forehead and Barney caught it," Maholm said. "It's scary and then it's very good."
The defensive shifts are something Sveum favors, saying that third base coach Pat Listach studies all the opposing hitters and their tendencies, allowing the Cubs to move defenders around by playing the percentages on which direction the ball likely will go when it comes off the bat.
"The shift won them the game today," said Jones. "You live with it, you're gonna die by it. It's just unfortunate today we couldn't really get anything going, and when we did, we hit a bullet right at somebody."
Atlanta threatened with one out in the fifth when Heyward walked and Ross reached on a single when Campana lost his high fly to center on an overcast day at Wrigley Field and it dropped in. Maholm retired the next two batters.
Castro tried for an inside-the-park home run, hitting a ball near the right field line that a diving Jason Heyward couldn't reach. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, Castro kept running and Listach waved him home. Castro was tagged out easily by catcher David Ross on second baseman Uggla's relay.