By George Henry/The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Paul Maholm’s debut with the Atlanta Braves almost went according to plan, but Justin Maxwell got in his way.
Maxwell had a career-high four hits, including two homers, and rookie Lucas Harrell won his first career start at Turner Field in Atlanta’s 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Saturday night.
“I thought he did a hell of a job,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Maholm, the former Mississippi State star. “Most nights, with our offense, you win that game.”
The Astros won for just the fourth time in 33 games, improving to 11-45 on the road — the worst mark in the majors.
Maholm (9-7) allowed three runs, six hits, and two walks. He struck out eight in seven innings.
“I was just trying to make sure I didn’t overthrow,” Maholm said. “I just tried to make sure I stayed down in the zone.”
The Braves, who dropped three games behind first-place Washington in the NL East, had won two straight and nine of 10.
Harrell (9-7) allowed two runs and four hits with five walks and five strikeouts in six innings. Since losing at Texas on May 16, the right-hander is 3-2 with a 2.26 ERA.
“He’s got a good arm and he’s got an idea of what he wants to do out there,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “He kept us to two runs.”
Harrell retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth before walking Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann to load the bases. Uggla’s two-RBI single to left field tied it at 2, but Harrell ended the threat when Paul Janish grounded out.
“He keeps battling,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “I know he had a rough sixth inning. His command started to leave him a little bit, but we really needed him to get through that sixth inning to set up the bullpen, and he did. He wanted the ball and he wanted to stay in there.”
Wilton Lopez got two outs to earn his second career save, and first since 2010. He had converted one of his previous 11 save opportunities.
Lopez, who took over as closer following the trade of Brett Myers and a foot injury to newly acquired Francisco Cordero, relieved Wesley Wright with the bases empty. He walked Uggla before pinch-hitter Juan Francisco grounded into a double play.
Maxwell’s two-run shot made it 2-0 in the fourth, and he added his 12th homer leading off the seventh to give Houston a 3-2 lead. It was his first two-homer game since he played for Washington in an 11-3 loss at Florida on Sept. 12, 2009.
“The two home runs were probably the only two mistakes I really made,” Maholm said. “The first one was a fastball that ran back over, and the second one was a hanging curveball. He did a good job of hitting them a long way.”
Maxwell singled in his other two at-bats to go 4-for-4 for the first time.
Maholm, acquired Monday from the Chicago Cubs, had a career-high, five-start winning streak snapped. The left-hander came in 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 21 previous starts against Houston.
The Astros snapped a six-game losing streak in Atlanta with their first victory there since May 3, 2009.
Fernando Rodriguez faced the minimum in the seventh, and Wright did the same in the eighth for Houston.
Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan and Chad Durbin combined to pitch the last two innings for Atlanta.
Harrell had allowed two hits before Jones led off the fourth with a single and moved to second on Freeman’s groundout. After McCann walked, Harrell escaped the jam when Uggla grounded into a double play.
Harrell improved to 3-6 with a 5.71 ERA in 12 starts on the road.
“Our guys were coming back in the dugout saying, ‘This guy’s got pretty good stuff,’” Gonzalez said. “He’s got a sinker and a slider and a cutter and he’s throwing changeups to left-handers. He competed his butt off.”
Notes: Gonzalez said after the game that LHP Jonny Venters has had a tender elbow over the last few days, but should be ready if needed out of the bullpen on Sunday. … The Braves dropped to 7-2 on the homestand. … Cordero will visit a doctor in Houston either Tuesday or Wednesday. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday with an inflamed right toe. … Mills said OF Steve Pearce (neck) might return to the lineup on Sunday.