ST. LOUIS - Barry Bonds telephoned Gary Sheffield on Friday, and the two sluggers spent an hour discussing Sheffield's slump.
OK, that's not quite right. Bonds did most of the talking, and Sheffield listened.
"He always does most of the talking," laughed Sheffield, whose 0 for 28 streak is the worst stretch of his career. "It's big brother, little brother type of stuff. It helps, definitely."
Bonds offered some straight-forward advice. He told Sheffield to stop swinging for the fences, and accept some singles until he gets his swing straightened out and feels comfortable at the plate again.
"It's hard to tell yourself to try for base hits, instead of driving the ball out of the park," Sheffield said. "That's what I do. That's what I'm paid to do. It's hard because I'm a stubborn hitter. Stubbornness will kill you sometimes."
Sheffield has experienced slumps before, but this is the granddaddy of all slumps. He hasn't homered since April 4, and his last hit is a distant memory. In the 17 games since he last knocked in a run, Chipper Jones has driven in 14 runs.
But no one can accuse Sheffield of a passive approach to battling through this slump. He is spending more time in the batting cages working on his swing than any other player, and is spending hours hitting soft tosses and working with hitting coach Terry Pendleton.
"It's something I have to work through, just like every other player," Sheffield said.
MINOR INJURY: Second baseman Marcus Giles was in Friday night's lineup, until he arrived at Busch Stadium with his right thumb wrapped in blood-soaked tissues.
Attempting to open his hotel window, Giles cut his thumb, and though the laceration wasn't serious, it was enough to knock him out of the lineup.
"I think with a Band-Aid, I'll be fine," said Giles, who was available to play in an emergency.
Mark DeRosa, who had two hits while giving third baseman Vinny Castilla a day off Thursday, replaced Giles.
BAD TENDENCIES: Tim Spooneybarger is not spending a lot of time pitching from his windup. Two times in his last three games, and four times in 16 appearances, he's walked the first batter he's faced, a cardinal sin that tends to make pitching coach Leo Mazzone rock a little faster in the dugout.
The rookie reliever has a unique problem. His pitches move so much that they often stray out of the strike zone, which explains his eight walks in 15 innings.
The answer? Throw the ball down the middle, and let the action on his pitches fool the hitter.
"I don't feel right throwing it down the middle," Spooneybarger said. "I haven't been trusting myself and that's something I have to do."
It's a mental block he must overcome. If it's any consolation to him, the only way opposing hitters have been reaching base is by walk. The league is batting .232 against him, and he has nine strikeouts.
MARQUIS UPDATE: Jason Marquis, on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, will make a rehab start with Class AAA Richmond tonight against Scranton Wilkes-Barre, then rejoin the team when it returns to Atlanta on Tuesday. Manager Bobby Cox is uncertain when Marquis will return to the rotation.
"Whenever we need another pitcher, we'll make a decision," Cox said.
If Damian Moss remains in the rotation, and Albie Lopez shifts to the bullpen as expected, then Marquis will probably start Saturday against the Padres.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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