Originally created 05/01/00

Braves notes: Credit pitching staff for win streak



SAN DIEGO -- Credit the pitching staff for putting up some astonishing numbers during the club's 12-game winning streak heading into Sunday.

The starters have a 1.95 ERA, while the bullpen has produced an 0.87 ERA and no reliever has been more effective than Bruce Chen. He's 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA and his three shutout innings saved the Braves Saturday night.

The pitcher Greg Maddux calls "Jackie" (get it? Jackie Chan) is a more confident pitcher this season, a far cry from last year's tentative left-hander.

He didn't show the Padres anything they hadn't seen before, yet he consistently threw his 88-mph fastball past them, finishing with six strikeouts among the 14 hitters he faced.

So confident is Chen in his ability to spot his fastball, of the 48 pitches he threw, 36 were heaters. He allowed just one hit, walked four and didn't allow a run.

"He's on the attack," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "He's not being passive and he's throwing with more conviction. He's not underestimating his stuff and he can get the ball on top of you before you know it."

It's all a matter of confidence. Chen, who has twice been given the fifth starter's job and twice handed it back, says that as he's become more successful, his confidence has spiked upward.

"There was a stretch (last year) when if I made a bad pitch, I lost concentration and didn't know where the next one was going," he said. "Now I can throw a bad pitch and know I can come back with a good one. There's no pushing the panic button."

Kevin Millwood, who went through many of the same experiences and emerged as an 18-game winner, says he can see the difference in Chen's approach.

"It seemed like last year he was scared to throw certain pitches to certain hitters," he said. "I don't think his velocity has gone up at all, I don't think his breaking balls has gotten better. I think it makes all the difference in the world to go out there with confidence.

"If you don't go out and believe you can get people out, then you're not going to."

STAYING SHARP:

That was Maddux on a bullpen mound with Mazzone three and a half hours before the start of Sunday's game, polishing his pitches and working on pitching in different situations.

"It's pretend, make believe," Maddux said. "I use all my pitches, all locations, all situations. I'm working on consistency, just like I have been for the last 10 years."

Maddux, who shouldn't lack for confidence after winning four Cy Young Awards, nonetheless said he came away with a renewed sense of confidence.

"That's the goal of every side session," he said. "Everybody needs to feel good about himself."

ANDRUW'S APRIL:

Andruw Jones, who has never hit more than four homers in April, has six home runs and 11 RBI, while posting a .375 average from the No. 2 hole.

He attributes his fast start to seeing better pitches behind leadoff man Quilvio Veras, as well as increased maturity and patience at the plate.

"I don't know if I'm going to stay there forever," Jones said. "I'm going to see a lot more good pitches at No. 2 than at No. 6 or No. 7. It's a good chance for me to get in a groove."

CHIPPER HEATING UP:

Chipper Jones has started to come alive at the plate, lifting his average to .310 and upping his RBI total to 18.

Those numbers are an improvement over last April, when he hit .277 with five homers and 15 RBI. With the exception of a one-homer, nine-RBI June, April was his worst month, yet he went on to capture his first MVP award.

BIG CAT GROWLING:

Andres Galarraga continues to amaze.

After the first month, he's hitting .312 and leads the team with 10 homers and 24 RBI, a pace that would produce career-best numbers, all at the age of 38. It's still almost impossible to get a fastball past the first baseman, who has delivered six homers that have given the Braves a lead or tied the game in the fifth inning or later.

"I have to let the bad pitches go and wait for a fastball," he said. "I've been patient, wait for a good pitch and hitting it."

HEATING UP:

After an slow start, Veras is one of the club's hottest hitters with 21 hits in his last 54 at-bats (.389) and has matched his career-best 10-game hitting streak.

He's also played a solid, if unspectacular, second base. He's been charged with only two errors and working with a pair of shortstops, Walt Weiss and Rafael Furcal, he's had a hand in 20 double plays.