Originally created 09/17/02

Lopez finding elusive strike zone



MIAMI - It has become the daily mantra to Javy Lopez, one recitedduring batting practice and before games.

"Swing at strikes," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton says - so often he should hand out business cards with the slogan.

When Lopez, who probably frustrates Pendleton more than any other hitter, swings at pitches in the strike zone, he hits three home runs and knocks in 10 runs, as he did in the first three games against the Marlins.

When he ignores the strike zone and hacks at anything close, he's a .230 hitter, which is what's he's been for most of this season.

"When he swings at strikes, he has the opportunity to hit every night," Pendleton said. "I've been telling him that all year. There's nothing wrong with his swing, nothing wrong with his approach, he just needs to swing at strikes."

Lopez often guesses at pitches, and frequently guesses wrong. Pendleton is urging him to stop guessing and simply react, yet Lopez didn't even mention swinging at strikes when he was asked about his most productive series of the season.

"If I knew (what was wrong), I wouldn't have been in this situation," he said. "I keep practicing, looking for the most comfortable position at the plate."

Always a free swinger, Lopez has struck out 56 times and taken just 23 walks in 318 at-bats this year.

TAKE A LOAD OFF: Left fielder Chipper Jones was given Monday off, which gave him a deserved rest, but threatened the dugout atmosphere.

"I pace and talk," Jones said. "I'm not a real good teammate when I'm not playing."

It usually only takes an inning or two for his teammates to suggest Jones retreat to the clubhouse and watch the game on TV.

"I'll drive those guys crazy if I stay in the dugout," he said. "It's very boring when you don't play. That's why I pace so much."

Jones, who has started 140 of 149 games this year, said the break came at a good time. He'll probably get another day or two off before the season ends.

"I could take three or four days off and still be sharp," he said. But much past that and I wouldn't be."

SHORT HOPS: The Braves' 94-53 record entering Monday night's series finale against the Marlins matched the best record in Atlanta history at this point in the season. The team hasn't finished 41 games or more over .500 since ending the 1999 season with a 103-59 record. ... The start of Saturday's game against the Marlins at Turner Field has been changed from 7:05 to 1:15. ... Gary Sheffield has 10 home runs and 35 RBI in 49 games since the All-Star break. ... Darren Bragg, who had just one hit in 11 at-bats in the series, replaced Jones in left field Tuesday.