KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) – The Atlanta Braves signed Derek Lowe to be there ace, and he’s pitching like one.

Lowe struck out seven in six sharp innings for the Braves, but the Toronto Blue Jays rallied for a 7-5 victory Thursday.

The Braves gave Lowe a four-year $60 million free-agent contract to lead the Braves’ revamped rotation. He gave up a run and five hits without walking a batter, lowering his spring ERA to 3.27. He has 24 strikeouts in 22 innings.

“He was good again,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s had a terrific spring.”

Cox hasn’t decided on his opening day start, but Lowe is in line for the honor.

“It hasn’t been brought up,” Lowe said when asked about starting on opening night at Philadelphia on April 5.

Lowe was 0-3 in that role with Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’m overdue for a win,” he joked.

Cox said he might have a decision by Friday.

Brian McCann, playing in his third straight game after returning from the World Baseball Classic, caught Lowe for the first time as he continued his crash course with Atlanta’s new starters. He caught Javier Vazquez for the first time on Tuesday and Kenshin Kawakami for the second time Wednesday.

“It went really good,” Lowe said. “He knows how I pitch. He’s seen me plenty of times.”

Braves rookie Jordan Shafer, competing for the job in center field, had a triple and single to raise his average to .383. He also threw out a runner at the plate in the fifth inning.

But the Atlanta bullpen blew a 5-1 lead, giving up three runs in the eighth inning and three in the ninth. The damage was done against Boone Logan and rookie Kris Medlen.

Rookie Brad Mills, in the running for a spot in Toronto’s rotation, allowed 10 hits and four runs in six innings, striking out three and walking one.

Kelly Johnson had a double and two singles for the Braves, scoring twice. Chipper Jones drove in a pair of runs with a sacrifice fly and a single.

Notes: Top Braves prospect Tommy Hanson was among eight players sent to the minors Thursday, leaving the team with 36 in camp. Hanson was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four Grapefruit League games. Jo-Jo Reyes, who was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA this spring, catcher Clint Sammons and shortstop Diory Hernandez were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett, while Hanson, catcher Alvin Colina, shortstop Brandon Hicks, outfielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman were reassigned to the minor league camp. … First baseman Casey Kotchman, still weakened by the flu, was scratched from the Braves’ lineup. He hasn’t played in a week. Atlanta left-hander Tom Glavine, who turned 43 on Wednesday, is scheduled to make his second spring start Thursday against Detroit. He is coming off elbow surgery. Braves reliever complained about a sore side after pitching an inning on Tuesday night against Pittsburgh.

AP-ES-03-26-09 1715EDT

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