LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Four times a week this winter, catcher Javy Lopez and hitting coach Terry Pendleton got together at Hardball Warehouse, Pendleton's indoor hitting facility, and worked on Lopez's swing.
The results are evident. Lopez is swinging better than he has in three years and Pendleton is anxious to see him in games that count.
"He's swinging the bat much better," Pendleton said. "I don't know if that has anything to do with his weight loss or not. He worked hard this winter to get better."
Lopez, who has had two disappointing seasons after a 24-home run, 89-RBI performance in 2000, is down 30 pounds since the start of spring training last year. The weight loss has improved his quickness, but it hasn't diminished his strength.
"I feel good at the plate and that's a combination of everything," he said. "The weight loss has given me more flexibility in my hips and working with Terry helped. All that combined will get you a better swing."
Lopez needs a solid season to resurrect his career and earn another contract. He can become a free agent next winter and with two catchers - Henry Blanco and Johnny Estrada - waiting in the wings, his future with the Braves is not assured.
: Pendleton draws high praise from manager Bobby Cox for his work ethic.
"The toughest job in coaching is the hitting coach," Cox said. "Everybody has got their own styles, and Terry knows that. It's a thinking man's game and Terry imparts that too. He's always upbeat and ready. That's part of it, keeping the hitters upbeat."
Pendleton, who ended his 15-year career with a .270 batting average, emphasized putting the ball in play with two strikes and cutting down on strikeouts last year. Much of the time his message went unheeded. The team struck out 1,028 times, just 11 fewer than in 2001, and duplicated its .260 batting average.
Pendleton is making the same points again this spring.
"Like every club, we want to swing at better pitches," Cox said. "But, you go into every camp and you hear the same thing."
Cox says he wouldn't mind the strikeouts as long as his hitters produce with runners in scoring position. Last year the club hit just .257 with runners on base.
"Clutch hitting can off-set strikeouts," he said. "It's not so much the strikeouts, it's giving away at-bats. But not swinging at bad pitches is easier said than done. You can go look at old film and see that a lot of bad pitches were being swung at."
MARQUIS DE START: Jason Marquis threw under the watchful eyes of Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone in the bullpen Monday and was pronounced ready to face hitters.
"Control, velocity, and movement, he had it all going pretty good," Cox said.
Marquis will throw batting practice for the first time Wednesday and pitch two innings in Monday's game against the Astros.
SIGN HERE: The Braves came to terms with five players Monday, pitchers Joe Dawley, Brett Evert, Kevin Gryboski and Billy Sylvester, and outfielder Ryan Langerhans. The team has eight unsigned players remaining.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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