MONTREAL -- Julio Franco's bat weighs 34 ounces, the same asChipper Jones' model, and is a half-inch longer at 35 1/2 inches.
But to compare the two bats side-by-side, Franco's is a redwood;Jones' a sapling. The barrel of Franco's bat is noticeably bigger,which gives it a heavier feel than most other bats.
Then, demonstrating his strength, Franco curls two fingers underthe knob, in effect swinging one of the biggest bats in the majorsusing just eight of 10 fingers.
"I do it with one finger off the knob," Jones said. "I don'tknow about two, but it works for him."
Franco explained that when he broke into the majors in 1984 he hadjust one finger under the knob, but after breaking the hamatebone in his left hand, he found it more comfortable to move the knobinto the center of his hand, so he took two fingers off the bat.
"I could never get the whole bat in my hand, so the only way to gowas up, and that's how it started," he said. "It took me a wholewinter and spring training to get used to it."
Hitting coach Merv Rettenmund was astonished the other day whenFranco, during a soft toss drill, swung his bat with first one hand,then the other, generating the same bat speed he does in games.
"That's like asking other players to swing with a (weighted)doughnut on their bats," Rettenmund said. "That's enormousstrength."
Franco' unorthodox stance adds to his degree of difficulty. Hestands knock-kneed at the plate, with his bat held high above his headand sharply angled. For years, pitchers have tried changing speeds onhim, trying to throw off his timing at the plate, with little success.
"That's their mentality, but it's been working for me for 15years, and I'm not changing," he said. "A lot of people ask, how doyou do that? I tell them, I don't know, it just comes natural to me, soI do it."
Adding to an already crowded clubhouse, the Braves will recallpitcher Tim Spooneybarger from Class AAA Richmond, and outfielder CoryAldridge and shortstop Wilson Betemit from Class AA Greenville today.
The trio are expected to arrive in time for tonight's game againstthe Expos.
Betemit and Spooneybarger are two of the team's most intriguingprospects. Betemit, who won't turn 20 until November, is expected topush Rafael Furcal to second base in another year.
Betemit's rapid development has prompted a speedy rise through theminor leagues. The organization is impressed with his defensiveabilities, his hands and range are well above-average, but it's hisoffense that has everyone projecting greatness from the Dominicannative.
Betemit has already been promoted this season, moving up from ClassA Myrtle Beach to Greenville, and proved a quick study, batting .355against Southern League pitching.
Spooneybarger was overlooked in the 1998 draft, then signed withthe Braves as a free agent. Now, he's one of the organization's toppitching prospects. The right-hander, who won't turn 22 until October,has rocketed through the minors, climbing from Class A Macon toRichmond in under three years.
He started this season at Greenville, was promoted to Richmond, andhas been perfect, posting a 3-0 record and eye-popping 0.71 ERA. In 42games, he's allowed just 33 hits, issued 21 walks, and struck out 58.The league batted .185 against him.
Aldridge, who batted .246 with 19 home runs and 56 RBI, will beused primarily as a pinch runner.
Outfielder Dave Martinez, slowed by a sore right knee, which hasreceived two cortisone shots and been drained three times in the lastseveral weeks, says it's improving. He's still not ready to make anoutfield start, particularly on the artificial turf here, but he'shopeful when the team reaches Chicago this weekend he'll be ready toplay.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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