Originally created 05/12/00

Braves notes: Chipper Jones, Galarraga struggle for clutch hits



MIAMI -- Bases loaded, Chipper Jones, Andres Galarraga or Brian Jordan at the plate. Sound good? Not so fast. The trio, among the most productive hitters in the game, are hitting a combined .071 (1 for 14) with a homer and eight RBI with the bases loaded this season.

Collectively, the Braves are batting .143 with two home runs and 22 RBI with the bases loaded, ranking them next-to-last in the majors, ahead of only the lowly Tigers (.091). The National League average with the bases loaded is .300 and last season the Braves hit .287, the league's ninth-best average.

"If you make an issue of it, it grows," hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said. "You know some of the guys are pressing. The majority of the time we're swinging at bad pitches. There's no reason to help the pitcher out. He's the one in trouble.

"We had six guys swinging good in the lineup (Wednesday night) and the other two kept coming up."

The two are Jones and Galarraga, who twice arrived at the plate with the bases loaded and failed to produce even a sacrifice fly. Jones is hitting .238 with runners in scoring position this season, while Galarraga has posted a .293 average.

Jones says he's lucky to be hitting .308 considering how uncomfortable he's felt at the plate during the first six weeks. His sore right elbow is partly to blame, but it's his swing that troubles him the most. He'll feel good right-handed one day, but not the next, and his left-handed swing is equally sporadic.

"It seems like I've had a bunch of opportunities to drive in runs and either I'm not feeling well or not swinging well," he said. "Some of it's the elbow and some of it's not being right at the plate. It goes in streaks."

BACK TO NORMAL:

Rudy Seanez struck out two of the three hitters he faced in Wednesday's loss, his fastball clocked at 95 mph. Since recovering from a strained right lat muscle, he has worked in six games without allowing an earned run, giving up two hits and limiting hitters to a .125 average.

"The main thing for me is I feel comfortable," he said. "I never feel like I'm behind in the count, even though I may fall behind 1-0 or 2-0. That's very different from the way I felt last year.

"Now, (my arm) doesn't hurt and there's no reason not to be able to make a good pitch."

The return of Seanez, who missed the final six weeks last season after suffering a stress fracture in his right elbow, solidifies the setup role and reduces Mike Remlinger's innings. The pair have nearly perfect, combining for 24 appearances and allowing only three earned runs.

"Once I start getting more innings, I think I have a chance to be even better," Seanez said.

QUIET HITTER:

Ever so quietly, Quilvio Veras is hitting .322 and has a .410 on-base percentage, more production than the Braves hoped for from their new leadoff man. But Veras, who hit a career-high .280 with the Padres last year, doesn't believe he's a .300 hitter.

"I don't know if I can be a .300 hitter," he said. "Maybe later in my career. My dream is to be a .300 hitter year after year, like Tony Gwynn, but I know later on (this season) I'm going to struggle a little."

Rettenmund, who is familiar with Veras' swing after spending nine years as the Padres' hitting coach, says the second baseman has had only two bad at-bats in the first 33 games.

"He's been consistent the whole way," Rettenmund said. "Besides those two at-bats when he was out in front, I don't believe he's had a bad at-bat."

Rettenmund disagreed with Veras' contention that he's not a .300 hitter, yet.

"I think he's capable of doing what he's doing all season," he said. "In the past he would go two or three weeks and throw a week in there where he'd get (his swing) long, but not now. I think he's a .300 hitter because he takes so many bases on balls."