By Kristie Rieken
The Associated Press
KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Derek Lowe is getting comfortable with his new team - on the field and off.
Atlanta's new No. 1 starter, signed in the offseason as a free agent, struck out six in four hitless innings to lead the Braves over the Houston Astros 7-4 on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old right-hander felt like the new kid in school when he first joined the team, but he has since shed that status and feels great on the field and at ease in the clubhouse.
Lowe agreed to a four-year, $60 million contract with the Braves in January after going 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
"At first everyone kind of looks at you, but no one really says anything," Lowe said. "Eventually you've got to break the ice. But it's like that anywhere you go. This place is no different. It's getting a lot more where everyone feels comfortable around each other."
Lowe said Tuesday was his best work of the spring.
"That's about as good as I can do," he said. "It really is, as far as command, being able to throw pitches for strikes. It's important to throw strikes. It's steadily gotten better."
Atlanta reliever Rafael Soriano made his first appearance of the spring after starting camp with an upper respiratory infection. The 29-year-old ended last season on the disabled list after surgery on his right elbow in August.
He allowed one hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning and said afterward that he's "very close" to 100 percent healthy.
"I'm much better now after what happened last year," Soriano said. "Today I felt much better because I got to be on the mound, be in the game and tried to help the team."
Houston starter Brian Moehler allowed four hits and four runs - one earned - with three strikeouts and two walks in four innings.
"My breaking-ball stuff is not there right now," he said. "Curveball, slider, they're sharp - but I can't keep them in the zone right now."
Astros manager Cecil Cooper wasn't impressed with Moehler's outing.
"He's fine physically," Cooper said. "It's nothing to do with his health, he just missed his spots all day."
The Braves scored three times in the first inning thanks to an error by first baseman Lance Berkman and a triple by Omar Infante. Atlanta added a run in the third and another in the seventh before scoring twice in the ninth.
Houston struggled offensively, managing just one run until a three-run ninth when most of the starters were gone.
Also Tuesday, two injured Astros starters made some progress in their rehabilitation.
Houston lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who has a strained muscle on his left side, threw 30 pitches in a simulated game plus 10 more on a side field. He's scheduled for a bullpen session Thursday and is set to pitch two innings Saturday against the Yankees.
"I felt happy today," he said. "No problems."
Right-hander Brandon Backe was feeling better after sustaining the same injury as Rodriguez on Sunday, but will likely miss two starts while recovering.
"We're just trying to hold him back a little," Cooper said. "We don't want it to linger into something more."