WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - After receiving some hitting tips from a Mets minor league coach and Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza this winter, Tony Graffanino is making a strong bid to break camp with the Braves.
The rookie second baseman reached base three times with a home run, single and walk in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Expos. He is hitting .474 and is tied for the club lead with two homers.
Graffanino is making Bobby Cox's decision whether to keep him or not more difficult every day.
"That's what I'm here to do," Graffanino said. "That's my game plan. I'm trying not to think about the numbers and what happened yesterday and the day before and go out and do the job."
He credits working with Mets minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Pentland in Arizona and Piazza at the Bucky Dent School in Delray Beach with improving his approach at the plate and shortening his swing.
"Mike (Piazza) has a style of his own, but he showed me a couple of things - body positioning and stuff like that - to shorten your swing and to get the most out of it," Graffanino said. "So far the stuff is working."
Cox is impressed with Graffanino and sounding like he's made a decision.
"Like (third base coach) Bobby Dews says, you break Graffanino down and he can hit a home run, he can steal a base, he can bunt for a base hit and he can play second as good as you want to see," Cox said. "He can do a lot of things. He's out of options and you don't want to lose him for $50,000. He's a big league player.'
HARVEY SHARP: Bryan Harvey's fifth appearance was his best one of the spring. He retired the side in the ninth inning on six pitches, all strikes.
"I had a better feeling that I could finally throw the baseball," he said. "I'm pretty excited about today."
Harvey showed better velocity on his fastball and threw a split-fingered fastball that dipped like it once did in his prime.
"It was his best outing for me," Cox said. "All his pitches had a lot more character."
TO THE MINORS: Fourteen players cleaned out their lockers, packed their bags and moved from the major league clubhouse to the minor league complex Thursday as the Braves made their first cuts of the spring.
The 14 players were pitchers Chris Brock, Damian Moss, Carl Schutz, John LeRoy, Kevin Millwood and Antone Brooks, infielders Pablo Martinez, Wes Helms and Robert Smith, catchers David Toth, Joe Ayrault and Pascual Matos, and outfielders Marc Lewis and Wonderful Monds.
"This clears out our camp a little bit and we can do more things," Cox said.
None of the players cut was a surprise. Most were youngsters who figure to be playing at Class AA Greenville or Class AAA Richmond this season. Helms was probably the most pleasant surprise in camp, hitting .385 and playing a solid third base.
"He's a prospect," Cox said.
The Braves now have 41 players in camp, including reliever Pedro Borbon, who won't be ready until June or July.
Borbon's first appearance on a mound was pushed back until today so club orthopedist Dr. Marvin Royster could watch him throw. He will throw in a morning session, and then Royster will evaluate his rehabilitation from last August's surgery on left elbow.
Borbon has been playing catch to strengthen his arm and says he's pleased with his progress.
"For still being hurt and being able to throw the ball where I want to, it shows me that when I get back to 100 percent I'll have the same control or better than I had before," he said.
WADE READY: Terrell Wade threw on the side Thursday and pronounced himself ready to make Sunday's start. He left his last start after two innings with a torn nail on the middle finger of his left hand, but after treatment from head trainer Dave Pursley he is throwing without pain.
"Everything looks good and I'm throwing the ball well," Wade said. "Where the nail is broken, I don't even feel it."
OBSERVING: The Braves are playing host to 40 associate scouts and coaches from about 15 countries at their minor league complex this week and another 40 next week. Hailing from countries as diverse as Austria, Hong Kong, Armenia, the Philippines and Croatia, the international visitors are here to observe how Braves minor league coaches conduct drills and batting practice.
"We're just trying to better baseball around the world," said Paul Snyder, the Director of Scouting and Player Development. "The bottom line, of course, is when they find a real prospect they would fax (international scouting supervisor) Bill Clark."
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