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 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.”

Mets release Sanchez

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Reliever Duaner Sanchez was released Tuesday by the New York Mets after failing to regain form following two shoulder operations.

Sanchez will be paid 30 days’ termination pay, $276,639, rather than his salary of $1,687,500.

He gave up two runs – one earned – and three hits in one inning Monday against Baltimore with a walk and two strikeouts and had been scheduled to pitch Tuesday.

Sanchez was 5-1 with a 4.32 ERA in 58 1-3 innings last season.

Ramirez to make spring training debut Thursday

PHOENIX – Manny Ramirez is scheduled to make his spring training debut Thursday when the Los Angeles Dodgers play South Korea’s World Baseball Classic team.

The exhibition game won’t count in Cactus League standings, but Ramirez’s return to the Dodgers after agreeing to a $45 million, two-year contract last week will make it a major attraction.

Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said Tuesday he isn’t sure if Ramirez will play the outfield or be the designated hitter, but the slugger will get a start on the 50 or so at-bats he’s expected to receive before opening day.

“With the veterans, I usually go back to the old press guides to see (how many at-bats) they’ve had in the past,” Torre said. “You just want to make sure they are comfortable.”

Ramirez has been showing up at 6 a.m. each day since he arrived in camp, lifting weights in full uniform before most of his teammates check in for the day.

“I’m behind, so I have to catch up,” said Ramirez, who planned to be in camp Wednesday while his teammates get a day off. “I’m going to run the bases and lift and do what I need to do. I’m still sore, but it’s getting better day by day. I’m still getting used to wearing (spikes) again. But I’m ready to see how I do.”

Cubs’ Harden sharp in Cactus League debut

PEORIA, Ariz. – Rich Harden would prefer questions about his health to disappear.

But because of arm problems the past few seasons, the issue won’t go away for the Chicago Cubs right-hander.

“I totally understand, that’s just the way it is,” said Harden after pitching two shutout innings in his first Cactus League appearance during the Cubs’ 8-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. “I’m always going to get those questions, even if I’m healthy four years in a row. I just accept it.”

Harden, who was acquired from Oakland in a midseason trade last year, served one stint on the disabled list in 2008 after three straight injury-plagued seasons with the A’s.

He went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA with Chicago and was unbeaten in his past 10 starts. The 27-year-old underwent a rigorous offseason workout program designed to build up the strength in his pitching shoulder.

The Cubs, however, have taken a cautious approach with Harden, who is slated to be fourth in Chicago’s rotation. He made two appearances in exhibition games and threw two rounds of batting practice.

before being cleared to pitch in a game. Harden went two innings against Seattle, allowing two hits with one strikeout.

. The first batter he faced, Franklin Gutierrez, lined a ball up the middle but Harden quickly snared it.

After giving up a double to Yuni Betancourt, the righty got Ken Griffey Jr. to ground out and Adrian Beltre to fly out.

Griffey, playing in consecutive games for the first time this spring, went hitless in three at-bats for the Mariners. Before the game Griffey chatted with Lou Piniella, his manager for seven seasons when both were in Seattle.

“It’s nice to get the first one out of the way,” Harden said. “I feel normal now, like I’m part of the team. I was a little off but I was throwing strikes. I felt great, felt strong.”


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