SAN DIEGO -- It's surprising to see a hitter mired in an 0-for-30 skid maintain his sense of humor, but Reggie Sanders somehow has managed to do it.
Sanders, who made a favorable impression on the Padres and their fans during his one season here, was greeted in the usual manner when he arrived at Qualcomm Stadium Friday afternoon.
As is their custom, a retired couple, tailgating five hours before the start of the game, handed him a bag of oatmeal raisin cookies as he headed for the visitors clubhouse.
Later, when Sanders was told the National League had substituted game balls for "Reggie balls" that fly straight into outfielder's gloves, he laughed and said, "I believe it. That's how it's going for me right now."
Those cookies would taste better if he could get a hit or two against his former team. He's done everything he can to emerge from the worst slump of his career, working extra in the batting cage with hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, reviewing videos of his swing from past seasons and even offering up a prayer or two, all to no avail.
Sanders last had a hit April 14 in Milwaukee. Two cities and a couple of time zones later, he'll try again.
"Granted, I'm not getting any hits, but I'm making contact," he said. "It's a slump, but I don't go home and say, `what's going on?' I know it's going to end."
Cookies aside, Sanders admitted he would be a bit more jacked up Friday night when he saw his former teammates across the field.
"There's always that getting up a little more for the game because it's the team that, in so many words, didn't want you," he said.
HOMECOMING II: It also was a homecoming for second baseman Quilvio Veras, who played here for three years before coming to the Braves in last December's trade.
He also was glad to be back, especially since he's one of the club's hottest hitters, producing a sizzling .452 average during the 9-0 homestand and riding a nine-game hitting streak.
"I understand the business," Veras said of the trade. "The best thing that could happen to me was going to Atlanta. I have a lot of friends here, but I'm happy being a Brave."
LIGTENBERG CONCERNS: Kerry Ligtenberg is at a loss to explain his sudden lack of effectiveness.
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone says it's his arm angle. Manager Bobby Cox says he needs to get the reliever some more work.
Ligtenberg just knows it's not as simple as everyone believes.
"Right now, it's frustrating because it's something I can't pinpoint," he said. "I know the problem, but I don't have the exact solution. Once I get to the root of the problem, I'll take care of it one way or the other."
Ligtenberg, who has a 13.50 ERA and has given up six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings, may have to address his problems elsewhere.
With Kevin McGlinchy likely coming off the disabled list when the team returns home next week, Ligtenberg had better solve his problems in a hurry or he'll be doing it in the minors.
"If we could get him some regular work he could overcome it, but it's hard the way we've been going," Cox said.
Mazzone says Ligtenberg's arm angle was almost sidearm during Thursday's disastrous three-hit, two-run appearance against the Dodgers. Ligtenberg will attempt to fix the problem by throwing on the side, but he can't judge the effect unless he works against hitters.
"Right now I'm not being consistent on the side and going into games and throwing the ball all over the place," he said. "I don't know what to do except throw more on the side and hope it gets ironed out."
PITCHER PERFECT: While the hitters have started to come alive, particularly the Jones Boys, Andruw and Chipper, it's the pitchers who have been nearly perfect during the 10-game streak. The staff has a 1.74 ERA, while the bullpen has produced a 1.27 ERA in helping the Braves to baseball's best record.
BURKETT'S TURN: John Burkett needs a strong performance tonight in the second game of the series to hold onto a job.
The veteran right-hander, who left last Saturday's game after three innings with a sharp pain in his shoulder, says he's ready. The Padres are the perfect team to help him regain his effectiveness. In one start against them last year he had a 1.50 ERA and over his career he's 8-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 games.
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