Originally created 05/11/00

Braves notes: Galarraga trying to be patient at plate



MIAMI -- There's been a noticeable shift in strategy as pitchers adjust to Andres Galarraga.

During the first three weeks of the season, as they tested him after 16 months away, he saw plenty of fastballs. But, as he proved he could still hit a fastball (he estimates seven or eight of his 10 home runs have come on fastballs), he saw more and more breaking pitches.

The result has been a flurry of strikeouts and a scarcity of home runs. Galarraga's 25 strikeouts leads the club and he hasn't homered since April 29.

"They've been pitching me differently," said Galarraga, who needs one RBI to reach 1,200 for his career. "They haven't been throwing me too much stuff to hit. As soon as I get patient and start taking pitches, I'll be all right."

As pitchers began attacking Galarraga with breaking pitches, he started chasing pitches down and out of the strike zone. It didn't take long for word to spread. The more Galarraga chased bad pitches, the more pitchers threw them.

He understands the only way to break the cycle is to stop swinging, take his walks and force pitchers back into the zone.

"It's easy to say," he said. "Before, I was patient and that's why I was hitting home runs. I have to be patient again."

With Galarraga and Brian Jordan struggling, the Braves aren't getting much production from the cleanup spot. The combined numbers of Galarraga, Jordan and Wally Joyner: a .233 average, with six homers and 20 RBI.

ROUGH OUTINGS:

After taking a win in three straight relief appearances, Bruce Chen has thudded back to earth. He gave up a two-run homer to the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal last Sunday, then allowed another two-run shot to Florida's Mark Smith in the ninth inning Tuesday.

It doesn't appear Chen, who has made eight appearances from the bullpen, will return to the rotation soon. John Burkett solidified his spot as the fifth starter in Tuesday night's 10-5 win, leaving Chen as the possible odd man out when Kevin McGlinchy returns from the disabled list next week.

"I think my potential is as a starter," Chen said. "Now I know I can pitch here. I know I don't have to impress anybody. I've shown I can pitch here."

Perhaps, but the Braves still would like Chen to remain on the attack, regardless of the situation. He threw a hanging curve ball to Lieberthal, then fell behind Smith and came in with a fat fastball with the game out of reach.

When Chen pitches like the game is on the line, attacking with fastballs and mixing curves and changeups, he's a far more effective pitcher.

WEISS UPDATE:

Walt Weiss is eligible to come off the disabled list May 19, and he expects his left hamstring to be healed completely.

The shortstop, who missed 66 games with a quadriceps problem two years ago and spent three weeks on the disabled list last year because of another quadriceps strain, says this injury is healing nicely.

"I'll be fine when my time is up," he said. "My quad was completely different. I've had a (strained) hamstring before and this is similar and in a week and a half, it's gone. I think I'll be going full-bore when I get back."

BY THE NUMBERS:

The pitching staff has limited opposing hitters to a .229 average with runners in scoring position. The pitchers have posted a 3.39 ERA on the road and a 3.16 ERA home.

Jordan is struggling against right-handers, hitting .167, while pounding left-handers for a .313 average. Last year he hit .270 vs. righties and .331 against lefties.

Quilvio Veras is hitting .316 at leadoff with a .394 on-base percentage, while Andruw Jones is batting .338 from the No. 2 hole. He's also tied for fifth in the National League with three outfield assists and six grounded into double plays.

Chipper Jones is hitting .379 this month after posting a .299 average in April, and is averaging one strikeout every 13.8 at-bats, the league's seventh-toughest hitter to fan.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.