It's all a matter of confidence, Reggie Sanders says.
In May, he didn't have any. For the last three weeks, he's been brimming with it.
The result? Sanders leads the club with five home runs this month and since Aug. 25, he's upped his average from .183 to .222. During that stretch he has eight multi-hit games, including a trio of three-hit games in the last 12.
"From a hitter's standpoint, I was caught in between," said Sanders, referring to his contact point at the plate. "I didn't know how to get to that middle ground. It was all mental."
With his confidence soaring, Sanders has been one of the club's hottest hitters. In the words of Bobby Bonilla, "Reggie is just catching up."
Sanders, who had three hits and knocked in a pair of runs in Sunday afternoon's 14-5 win over the Expos, is hitting .333 this month. He drove in six runs in Saturday night's win and now has 17 RBI in his last 63 at-bats.
"If he'd hit like this the first month, he'd never have gone into a slump," manager Bobby Cox said. "Nothing fell in for him and then everything went wrong."
Greg Maddux's streak of 36 1/3 consecutive shutout innings is the fourth-longest in the major leagues since 1988.
Former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser is the standard bearer, working a major league-record 59 scoreless innings in '88. Since then, two other pitchers have longer streaks than Maddux: Gregg Olson's 41 innings in 1989-90 and Kenny Rogers' 39 innings in 1995.
Maddux, who upped his streak with seven shutout innings Saturday night, also matched his career-high with 13 strikeouts. He used a two-seam fastball with devastating effect on left-handed hitters, bending it across the inside corner repeatedly.
It's a pitch he learned from a pitching coach named Ralph Medar when he was 15. Maddux credits Medar, who died while he was a high school junior in Las Vegas, with teaching him "about 80 percent of what I know about pitching."
"He knew movement was more important than velocity and he taught that," Maddux said. "He taught that to his pitchers when they were young.
"The most important thing he taught me was it's OK to give up a ground ball. He taught me a ground ball is usually going to be caught. And, he taught me a changeup, instead of a curveball."
Maddux's development was also boosted by playing against his older brother, Mike, who pitched for many years in the majors, future Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett and current Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Morgan.
"I was facing Marty Barrett when I was 15 and he was in Triple-A," Maddux said. "He hit (line drives) all over the place."
TBS broadcaster Joe Simpson took a look at the reliever warming up for the Braves Saturday night and blurted, "Is that a milk carton on the bullpen mound or is that (Kevin) McGlinchy?"
Fair question. McGlinchy, who last pitched on May 23, got three outs in the ninth and displayed good velocity. It's not enough to earn him a spot on the postseason roster, but it gives the Braves hope that he can return fully healthy next season.
"It was good to get the kinks out," said McGlinchy, who has pitched in only eight games this season because of shoulder tendinitis. "For the first time out in awhile, I can pick apart everything I did. But, I got three outs in the ninth and that's what I'm going to go with right now."
McGlinchy had a fastball in the low 90s and threw "one good slider," according to Cox. It was a step in the right direction and Cox indicated he'd try to get him into another game before the season ends.
"I thought he did real good for hardly pitching all year," Cox said. "I thought on a few pitches, he had real good velocity. It was important for both of us."
McGlinchy says he'll approach this winter differently than last. He plans to play winter ball and he'll continue trying to strengthen his shoulder with regular exercise.
FURCAL MORE PATIENT:
As Rafael Furcal has become more familiar with pitchers, his patience at the plate has increased. That's led to more walks and more runs. He's accepted 26 walks in the last 25 games, his 72 walks are second to Chipper Jones' 90 and his 83 runs are third behind Andruw Jones (116) and Chipper Jones (111).
"Every time I go to the plate, I'm looking to get on base," Furcal said. "The more pitchers I see, the better. Right now I'm more selective. I know the pitchers, I've seen everybody. When the season started, I didn't know anybody."
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