ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Braves have been patiently waiting to see some sizzle from Reggie Sanders' bat, but so far it's been all fizzle.
Manager Bobby Cox says he's not giving up on the right fielder, but it's obvious the team has a decision to make. Should general manager John Schuerholz make a trade for a bat before the July 31 deadline or figure Sanders will eventually start hitting?
"Reggie could really help us," Cox said wistfully. "There's no reason why he's not (hitting). I still think he will. He's too young to give up on. I keep thinking it's going to get better."
Cox has been thinking the same thing since April. Sanders swung the bat well in spring training, but when the season began, he disappeared. He hit .139 in April, .214 in May, .189 in June and he's currently mired in a 9 for 47 slide that's kept his average below .200.
Ask Sanders for an explanation and receive a shrug of his shoulders in reply. He has been trying to find a cause for his unproductive swing for almost four months without success.
"I feel good at the plate," he said. "I don't know what it is, I really don't."
Hitting coach Merv Rettenmund says Sanders is mentally "beat down right now." Physically, Sanders is late on most pitches, so the pair went to the batting cage Tuesday afternoon and worked on Sanders hitting the ball to right field, which will get his swing started quicker.
"If he was able to get it rolling right now, it would make it easier on everyone," Rettenmund said. "With Quilvio (Veras) out, he's really capable of carrying the ballclub."
Veras' ACL surgery was termed a success by team physician Dr. Marvin Royster Tuesday. Veras, who is expected to ready by spring training, will spend a couple of days at Piedmont Hospital.
Reliever Greg McMichael also underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn rotator cuff. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure in Birmingham, Ala., and he telephoned the team afterward to say it had gone well.
Cox's five-game suspension ended following Tuesday night's game, just in time for him to take the reins tonight with the return of intraleague play. Look for Cox to keep his temper in check, at least for a few games.
"I didn't like it," he said of the five-game sentence handed down for his July 4 bump of umpire Derryl Cousins. "I watched some of it on TV, but it seems like the game is too easy on TV. I paced a lot too."
Almost four months after John Smoltz underwent "Tommy John surgery" to replace a tendon in his right elbow, he's playing catch from 75-100 feet and reporting no pain.
At the same time, he admits to having difficulty motivating himself because he knows he won't pitch again until next spring.
"I thought it would go a little faster," said Smoltz, who accompanied the team on this trip. "I really feel I could pitch off a mound and that adds to my eagerness, and then I run into a stop sign. This is a little more difficult than I thought it would be. The hardest part is the games."
Smoltz, who says he can see himself "pitching another four years here", can become a free agent following the World Series if the club doesn't pick up his $8 million option. But it's likely the team will exercise the option and keep him in Atlanta, especially when it's evident he's well on the way to making a complete recovery.
"I'm more confident now than I've ever been that I'm going to make a full recovery and I'm going to be a much better pitcher," Smoltz said. "The only thing that's going to end (my career) is another injury and then it's see ya."
Andruw Jones has played in 266 consecutive games, the major league's third-longest active streak behind B.J. Surhoff's 415 and Sammy Sosa's 329. The last time Jones missed a game was Sept. 15, 1998 against the Phillies.
Wally Joyner has come alive at the plate against American League pitchers, hitting .368 in interleague games. He needs 13 hits to reach 2,000 and two homers for 200.
Keith Lockhart had three hits in Monday night's loss, but he remains hitless (0 for 20) as a pinch hitter this season.
The Braves were hoping Class AAA Richmond outfielder George Lombard would help them at some point this season, but he's only hitting .253 and has whiffed 107 times in 88 games. However, he has stolen 25 bases and been caught only six times.
After two disappointing seasons at Class A Macon, first baseman A.J. Zapp, the Braves' No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft, finally seems to be living up his his billing as a pure hitter. He's hitting .317 at Class A Myrtle Beach with seven homers, 36 RBI and a .401 on-base percentage.
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