Originally created 04/28/01

Braves notebook



PHOENIX - B.J. Surhoff isn't trying to fix his swing.

His timing at the plate, now that's another matter. The left fielder, hitting .208 (5-for-24) on the trip and .171 overall, was out early Friday afternoon at Bank One Ballpark for extra hitting. The session with hitting coach Merv Rettenmund gave him an opportunity to work on his timing in a relaxed setting, and he came away feeling confident.

"I'm very much a feel hitter," Surhoff said. "There's not a whole lot wrong with my swing. My swing doesn't change for the most part. Something like this is more mental than physical, whether you allow it to get to you. It's been trying for a long time, and it's had some success."

Surhoff has had slow Aprils before, but not recently. He hit .299 last April and is a career .257 hitter in April, numbers that look positively Ruthian at this point. In the past few days he's begun to emerge from his slump, showing more patience at the plate and driving in three runs Wednesday and Thursday, though the hits are still missing.

He knocked in a pair of runs in Thursday's loss by walking with the bases loaded and with a sacrifice fly.

"That's what this game is all about, finding a way," he said. "It's not always going to be pretty. It's not about style points."

Manager Bobby Cox shifted Surhoff into the cleanup spot four games ago, showing remarkable confidence in a hitter who's produced a .167 average with runners in scoring position. Surhoff expressed appreciation for Cox's support, acknowledging many managers would have buried him deep in the lineup.

"A lot of people wouldn't (hit me cleanup), and I wouldn't blame them," he said. "From my standpoint, proving the manager right when he shows confidence in you is rewarding. Fortunately, Bobby has been a manager for a long time, and he sees the big picture."

In 14 seasons, Surhoff has produced a career .281 average. He knows he'll hit. The Braves know he'll hit. It's just a matter of timing.

"It's magnified when the team is struggling to score runs and you're not producing," he said. "But sometimes one little thing will click it in."

ROAD TO RECOVERY: John Smoltz threw in the bullpen Friday and plans to face hitters during a batting practice session when the team returns home Tuesday.

If everything goes well, he could start a rehab assignment with a minor-league team by the end of the week.

"This will be a more aggressive side session," he said Friday. "Almost like a game-type situation, exercising my arm that way."

Smoltz, who underwent "Tommy John surgery" on his right elbow 13 months ago, hopes to return to the rotation by the third week of May.

ELIGIBLE ABBOTT: Kurt Abbott is eligible to be activated from the disabled list Sunday, and he might get some at-bats in a minor-league game before he returns. Because of his service time, he has to agree to a minor-league assignment, and he indicated Friday that he'd be willing to go for a game or two.

Abbott tested his strained abdominal muscle Friday and indicated he's nearly ready.

"Today is the first day I can really say there's a difference," he said. "I was able to make a nice stride."

The Braves are likely to wait until Tuesday to make a decision on Abbott.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com