PHILADELPHIA -- The strikeouts are coming fast and furious for the Braves.
No, not the pitchers. The hitters.
With 61 strikeouts in the first seven games of this eight-game jaunt through Pennsylvania, the Braves have upped their season total to 438 strikeouts, which lands them right in the middle of the National League pack.
Andres Galarraga is the team leader with 55 strikeouts, including whiffing four times in Saturday night's 9-3 loss, and he is averaging nearly one strikeout per game.
"I don't feel lost at the plate," he said. "I'm missing a few good pitches. Sometimes when I strike out four times I look bad, but I didn't feel like that. Bobby (Cox) has been giving me some days off and I don't feel tired."
But the bats that hummed through the first two weeks of June have suddenly turned into wind machines. The Braves' average this month has fallen to .268 and in their last four games they have batted only .172 with runners in scoring position and stranded 36 men.
"The bottom line is, we're just not being selective," hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said. "We only have four guys who look confident up there. I don't know why because two days ago we had eight."
The Jones boys, Chipper and Andruw, have been hot. Quilvio Veras has cooled off this month, but he's 7-for-19 with seven runs scored on this trip, and Keith Lockhart is hitting .302 in his past 19 games.
Galarraga, Brian Jordan, Javy Lopez and Reggie Sanders are hitting a collective .198 (16-for-81) on the trip, so it wasn't surprising that Cox gave Galarraga and Jordan the day off Sunday and started Lockhart, Wally Joyner and Bobby Bonilla.
John Rocker won't use it as an excuse, but he's pitched with a painful cut on his left thumb since spring training and it clearly affects his command.
"Every single pitch hurts," he said. "It's (bad) because I know before I ever throw a pitch it's going to hurt. It's tough to finish things off."
By that, Rocker means that because of the cut, he's altered his release point and been letting go of the ball higher in his delivery than normal. The result is so many pitches out of the strike zone.
The cut is on the side of his thumb, next to his nail, and each time he throws, it opens up again. He says it affects his slider more than his fastball, but each pitch is painful to throw.
Rocker got the final four outs, three on strikes, in Sunday's 5-3 win and credited his improved mechanics with feeling more comfortable on the mound.
"A little hip turn," he said. "Putting body ahead of my arm, that's how you get the ball down."
Said pitching coach Leo Mazzone, "His arm slot was dropping down. But today he was strong over the top again. His fastball, with the exception of one, was in a perfect slot."
ALMOST A BRAVES COACH:
Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt told the Bucks County Courier Times that he could have become the Braves hitting coach last November "if I had pushed hard enough."
"I saw it as a great opportunity, but I came to my senses," said Schmidt, who discussed the coaching job with Braves GM John Schuerholz for four hours. "(Schuerholz) and I got to be really close. But I went back to the hotel, slapped myself in the face and said, `What are you doing, Mike? Do you realize that on June 1, you're going to be sitting in that dugout and wondering if this season is ever going to end, while all your buddies are going to be in Tahoe playing in a golf tournament."'
Schmidt, who has been out of baseball since retiring in 1989, says he wouldn't rule out returning to the Phillies someday, either as a manager or general manager. Since his retirement, he's turned much of his attention to his golf game and he's trying to qualify for the Seniors Tour.
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