Originally created 09/18/00

Braves notebook



PHOENIX -- Reggie Sanders doesn't have an explanation for the reversal of his fortunes.

For four and a half months he was an easy out. But, since Aug. 15, he's hit .265, including a .310 average, four home runs and nine RBI this month.

He says he wasn't putting pressure on himself at the start of the season to produce big numbers and justify the trade with the Padres, but looking back on it, he admits, "When I didn't produce, there were a lot of things going through my head."

Sanders credits his turnaround with the restoration of his confidence. All the time he spent in the cage with hitting coach Merv Rettenmund has resulted in a return of the swing that produced 26 homers and 72 RBI last season. Now, it's a matter of keeping it.

"I had to get rid of that had happened (before) and take each at-bat as a beginning," he said. "It's easier said than done."

TIES RECORD:

John Rocker's 22nd save Saturday was the bullpen's 51st of the season, tying the 1982 franchise record. That year Gene Garber led the staff with 30 saves, Steve Bedrosian contributed 11, Rick Camp (5) and Al Hrabosky (3) combined for eight more and Carlos Diaz and Donnie Moore had one each.

Six different relievers have saves this season, but the bulk of the opportunities have gone to three pitchers -- Rocker, Kerry Ligtenberg (12) and Mike Remlinger (12).

"That's really going to help us down the stretch," Rocker said. "We've got Kerry and Remlinger with some experience closing games, so not all our eggs are in one basket. If they're needed to close games in the playoffs, they'll feel confident in themselves to get the job done."

STAYING ON BENCH:

Left fielder B.J. Surhoff had hoped to play against the Diamondbacks, but he was limited to a pinch hitting appearance Saturday because of a pulled right quadriceps that's bothered him for 10 days. It's likely manager Bobby Cox will keep him out of the Mets series, feeling he'd rather have a healthy Surhoff for the postseason, than risk aggravating the injury now and setting him back for several weeks.

"I think it will be there all year," Cox said. "Let's hope he can pinch-hit (Sunday) and the next three or four days and we'll see."

Surhoff didn't run hard after grounding out in Saturday's game and said he would take the same approach if he hits a ball in an outfield gap.

"I'll try and show some common sense," he said. "It's a very nagging injury and it's very hard to know what's going on. One minute you think you're fine, the next you're not."

OFF THE MARK:

Catcher Javy Lopez blames his throwing problems on a variety of factors, including last year's knee surgery and a sore arm. He has caught only 18.3 percent of runners this season, the second-worst percentage in the majors, trailing only the Mets' Mike Piazza (13.6 percent). That's quite a drop from his 33.8 percent in 1998, which led all National League catchers.

"It's a combination of pitcher's deliveries, a sore arm, bad throws and bad calls by umpires," he said. "Most important of all, was my knee at the start of the year. There's no way I could delivery anything fast with a sore knee. I was in pain."

Lopez says this has been his worst season defensively and it's hard to argue. He's thrown out only 15 base stealers and been charged with seven passed balls, one more than last season and four shy of his career-high.

"Not throwing out runners only bothers me when a guy steals a base and scores or when I know I had a chance to get him and didn't," Lopez said. "All I can do is keep working at it."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.