Originally created 03/13/98

Braves notes: Hitters welcome Chen



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The expectations for Bruce Chen were so high this spring that nothing short of a perfect March would have satisfied everyone.

But no one expected to see him fall on his face either.

Major league hitters have welcomed the organization's top pitching prospect with open arms, greeting him with 13 hits in six innings and a .419 batting average.

It's hardly the way the left-hander wanted to introduce himself to manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

"I thought I would do better," Chen said. "I felt like if I threw strikes I could do good, but I kept throwing strikes and they kept hitting them. Now I realize that changing speeds and location is important."

There was little chance that Chen would make the staff here, but no one expected that he'd struggle the way he has either. He has yielded a pair of home runs and has a 12.00 ERA, easily the staff's worst.

Chen, who is only 20 and hasn't pitched above Class A Macon, will probably start the season at Class AA Greenville. He plans to take the lessons he learned here and apply them to the experienced hitters he'll face in the Southern League.

"I think the things I learned here and the experience are really going to help me," he said. "My pitches are there. I feel I have good control. I don't think I have to make a major change. I don't think it's going to take me a whole year to get ready for the majors." ...

  • CHIPPER JONES spent the winter analyzing the Braves' loss to the Marlins in last year's championship series and says there's a simple reason why Florida advanced to the World Series. It had a better club. "We made so many mistakes that were uncharacteristic of our club," he said. "That was a little disappointing. Do I think the Marlins had a better team than we did? Yeah, I do. While you're playing them, obviously you don't think so. But you take a step back and think about all the pitching they had, all the depth they had on the bench, from 1 through 25, they were a better club. Yeah, in certain areas we have better players, but I think they illustrated to everyone that they wanted it, they wanted it bad. I think that's what carried them through." ...
  • GREG MADDUX is running an eye test this spring and if he passes, he plans to banish contact lenses forever. He went to the mound Wednesday wearing glasses for the first time and came away with just one complaint.
  • "I see better, but I don't see the catcher as early as I'd like because the rims get in the way," he said. "I'd like to be able to pitch with them."

    Maddux wears contact lenses only when he pitches and wears glasses off the mound. He's trying to get away from the contacts because he complains they irritate his eyes. Besides the comfort factor, he claims he also sees more clearly, which would benefit his pitching, as well as his hitting.

    "I might hit .120 this year instead of .110," he joked. ...

  • SECOND BASEMAN Tony Graffanino took batting practice and fielded grounders before Thursday's game and said his sore right ankle had improved enough for him to play today.
  • "It feels a lot better," he said. "It actually feels like I can play on it. It's not 100 percent for sure, but I'm a lot closer now."

    Graffanino suffered a high ankle sprain on the first day of workouts and has played in only three games. ...

  • THURSDAY'S GAME game against the Yankees was a sellout, boosting the Braves' attendance at Disney's Wide World of Sports past 60,000 for eight dates. In the first seven games the Braves drew an average of 7,409 fans, the second-best attendance (behind the Yankees) in the Grapefruit League and the third-best in baseball.
  • With seven home games remaining, it seems likely the Braves will break their spring training attendance record of 97,754, set in 1996 in West Palm Beach, and finish with an attendance of about 111,000.

    "The reaction has been phenomenal," general manager John Schuerholz said. "Everything we hoped for and more. The fans love this place and obviously the numbers reflect that."