ATLANTA -- Call it what you will, sophomore jinx or just two month's worth of bad hacks, but Rafael Furcal is still trying to findhis left-handed swing.
The switch-hitting shortstop, batting .395 right-handed, but apaltry .184 from the left side, says he's getting better, but the numbers suggest otherwise.
Last year's Rookie of the Year headed into Saturday night's gamewith four hits in his last 23 at-bats (.174), he hasn't had a two-hit game since May 15 and he doesn't have a stolen base since May 18, astretch of five games.
Hitting coach Merv Rettenmund says Furcal's problem is he's goingto the plate without a game plan. Instead of going with one approach and sticking with it, Furcal is uncertain what to do, whether it'sfaking a bunt and slapping it by an infielder or exercising some patience and hitting a pitch up the middle.
"He's trying to do too many things up there," Rettenmund said."He gives away too many pitches and gets in a bind."
Still, Rettenmund says he sees some improvement from the left side,where Furcal gets most of his at-bats. Perhaps he's right. In his finalat-bat Friday night, Furcal drove a run-scoring double to the centerfield wall.
PERFECTION: The Braves entered Saturday's game riding a 77-inning errorlessstreak by their position players, a stretch of perfection that didn'timpress third baseman Chipper Jones.
"We still haven't done the little things that have cost us a gamehere and there, like turning a double play and hitting the cutoffman," he said. "The way I look at it is, it's nice we haven't committed more errors that cost us even more."
READY TO PITCH: John Smoltz threw an abbreviated bullpen session Friday inpreparation for Monday night's start against the Expos, but he's frustrated each session is about half as long as he's like.
"I throw to a catcher and try to exercise my arm, that's aboutit," he said. "Right now it's good enough, but down the road it's notwhere I want to be."
Smoltz would normally throw 50-60 pitches during a side session. Hemakes only 20-30 pitches now, hardly enough to work on the consistency of his breaking stuff. But he says he corrected a couple of minor mechanical flaws Friday, which is about all he can expect at this point.
"The only way to get better is throw a little bit to work on things," he said. "Hopefully that will come in another month or two."
HOPING FOR THE BEST: Damian Moss played catch again Saturday and hopes within a couple of weeks he can head out on a minor league rehab assignment.
The left-hander, placed on the disabled list May 7 because of circulatory problems in his forearm and hand, has been given a clean bill of health. But doctors still don't want him to push himself yet.
"Doctors told me to take it easy because they don't know what to expect," he said. "But it feels fine, it feels normal. I think it was just a freak thing."
MADDUX'S GEMS: Greg Maddux's 1-0 gem Friday night made him the first pitcher tonotch a pair of 1-0 shutouts in a month since the Padres' Greg Harris beat the Reds and Braves in August 1991. Maddux also became the first Brave to perform the feat since Boston's Dick Rudolph did it in August 1916.
The Braves' seven shutouts leads the majors; last year's staff had nine shutouts.
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