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R-Braves hit with injuries, struggling early in season

Gwinnett isn't the only Braves minor league affiliate off to a slow start.

Class A Rome had the only winning record through Friday's game and manager Randy Ingle's team had lost four in a row after winning the first five games.

The R-Braves lost their home opener 4-1 to Savannah before a sellout crowd of 5,105 as Providence Christian graduate and former Berry College standout Collin McHugh out-pitched highly regarded Atlanta prospect Aroyds Vizcaino.

McHugh, who was 8-2 last season in the New York-Penn League, allowed four hits over five innings while evening his record at 1-1. The 18th-round draft choice by the Mets in 2008 walked one and struck out three.

Rome's pitching remains among the best in the South Atlantic League, but the R-Braves offense went into a funk after slugging South African first baseman Riann Spanjer-Furstehnburg broke a bone in his left hand when hit by a pitch. He is likely out until June.

During the losing streak, Rome had scored just four runs.

Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt had one of the team's two homers and was batting .385 with six RBIs. But fellow catcher Braeden Schlehuber had to join Spanjer-Furstehnburg on the disabled list after he was hurt Friday night.

Julio Teheran, considered Atlanta's top pitching prospect, is 1-0 with a 0.93 ERA in first two starts. He has allowed just three hits and had 12 strikeouts to four walks.

Heath dropped by Braves

Atlanta released suspended pitcher Deunte Heath, who was arrested during spring training and charged with soliciting a prostitute as part of a police sting operation in Kissimmee, Fla.

Heath, 24, allegedly responded to an online listing for prostitution and became ensnared in the police sting when he arrived at the apartment he had agreed upon with a police decoy. He spent a night in the Osceola County jail before being released on $10,000 bond and was suspended the next day by the Braves.

The Atlanta native pitched with Mississippi and Gwinnett last season, posting a 2-6 record. His best season was in 2008, when he started the year 9-2 at Myrtle Beach before being promoted to Mississippi.

M-Braves hurting

Mississippi got off to a 3-5 start and had to place reliever Brett Butts and second baseman Juan Gonzalez on the disabled list during the first week of the season.

The M-Braves' starting pitching had been inconsistent, but closer Stephen Marek had two saves and hadn't allowed a run in four appearances. He had nine strikeouts to one walk in 52/3 innings and had given up just three hits.

Offensively, outfielder Cody Johnson was tied for second in the Southern League with nine RBIs. Cuban third baseman Donnell Linares had two homers and was batting .323.

Pope still in Florida

Van Pope, making the conversion from third base to pitching, wasn't assigned to a team at the start of the season and remains in Florida for extended spring training.

Because he is switching positions, Pope is eligible for rookie ball this summer and could pitch at that level if there isn't room for him in Class A later.

Pope, 26, was one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors, but struggled at the plate. He hit .202 for the G-Braves last season.

Odds and ends

Left-hander Francisley Bueno, with the G-Braves all last season, was released by Atlanta. ... Myrtle Beach outfielder Adam Milligan was tied for the Carolina League lead with three homers. ... Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo, who received a $1.6 million bonus, was kept in extended spring training rather than starting the season at Rome. ... Left-hander Dimasther Delgado suffered a broken leg in an offseason car accident in Panama and is expected to miss the season. He pitched at Rome last year.