ATLANTA -- The whispers started several weeks ago and have grown in volume since.
After watching a certain four-time Cy Young winner lose three of his last five decisions, the chorus goes something like this: What's wrong with Greg Maddux?
The answer, as supplied by the pitcher generally credited with being the best of his generation, is short and sweet.
"There's no reason why, other than it's part of baseball," Maddux said.
That's not the most satisfying of responses, but it's the truth as Maddux knows it. There's nothing physically wrong, he says, nothing wrong except a few pitches strayed from their intended path during his last few starts.
It's been quite an unMaddux-like month. In six starts since Aug. 12, he's 2-3 with a 5.54 ERA and has almost as many walks (13) as he issued in 33 starts (20) last season.
"I haven't got away with many mistakes," he said. "I've made a few less good pitches."
Maddux gets another shot at turning his recent woes around today when the Braves play the Florida Marlins at 1:10 p.m.
Maddux says he's pitched poorly in only two starts, a five-inning, seven-run performance against the Dodgers in which he emerged with a win and a seven-inning, four-run outing against the Astros. Otherwise, he can't fault his pitching.
True to form, he seems less concerned about his recent troubles than anyone. He's worked on the same things in his bullpen sessions as he always does -- "locating my fastball and changing speeds" -- and suggests his last month has been over-analyzed and overblown.
"Honestly, I never got caught up in it when everybody told me how good I was and I'm certainly not going to get caught up when everybody says, what's wrong?" he said.
ON THE MEND:
Rudy Seanez has played catch the last two days and says the slight muscle tear in his right forearm is feeling better. He probably won't test it off a mound for a couple more days, but figures he'll be ready to pitch again later this week.
"(Trainers) told me not to push it, which is pretty tough to do," he said. "Like any kid, you tell them not to do something, they do it anyway."
Seanez, 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA in his last 22 appearances, has turned into one of the league's best setup men and without him manager Bobby Cox has used several relievers in the eighth inning, with varying degrees of success.
Russ Springer is another reliever who's recovering from an injury. He was on the disabled list from Aug. 6-21 with bone spurs in his elbow and hasn't pitched much since then. He made his third appearance Friday night since being activated and was understandably rusty, walking two and allowing a hit, and departed the ninth inning having gotten just one out.
"I could tell when I got out there it felt a little funky," he said. "I'm not throwing as hard as I did last year and won't. I can go out and throw full force and it still won't come out the way it did."
Springer, who plans to undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove the spurs after the season, says he expects to be on the postseason roster, though with the emergence of rookie Odalis Perez, his job might be in jeopardy.
"If I'm healthy I think I'll be on the roster," Springer said. "The way I felt yesterday, I'm one or two outings away from going out and pitching the way I'm capable of pitching."
CLOSING IN ON RECORD:
The Braves lead the league with 199 home runs and are one homer away from reaching the 200 plateau for the third time in franchise history (207 in 1966, 206 in 1973).
The Braves honored their minor league pitchers and players of the year before Saturday night's game and three players were already dressed in Atlanta uniforms. Third baseman Wes Helms was selected from Class AAA Richmond, while left-hander Bruce Chen and outfielder George Lombard were named the Class AA Greenville honorees.
Right-hander Jon Ratliff, who ranked second in strikeouts in the International League, was Richmond's pitcher of the year. Right-hander Robert Bell led the Carolina League in strikeouts and innings pitched and was selected as the Class A Danville 97s pitcher of the year, while outfielder Tyrone Pendergrass (.276, 74 runs) was named the club's player of the year.
Right-hander William Fleck (7-0, 14 saves) and second baseman Marcus Giles (37 homers, 108 RBI) were honored from the Class A Macon team and right-hander Michael Corey (1-0, 1.69 ERA) and outfielder Jerry Simmons (11 home runs, 26 steals) were the recipients from the Class A Eugene Emeralds.
Left-hander Justin Willoughby (4-5, 4.03 ERA) and second baseman Rafael Furcal (.328, 60 steals) were selected from Class A Danville and left-hander Jung Bong (1-1, 1.49 ERA) and outfielder Ryan Langerhans (.277, 19 RBI) were the Gulf Coast League Braves pitcher and player of the year.
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