Originally created 05/28/03

Braves reliever cool under fire



ATLANTA - For a pitcher with less than one year in the major leagues, the idea of facing a hitter like Ken Griffey Jr. with runners in scoring position doesn't bother Atlanta Braves reliever Trey Hodges as much as one might think.

He's been in pressure situations before, thanks to his three years at Louisiana State.

"I can't begin to tell you how much playing there helped me adjust to what I'm doing now," said Hodges, who played for the Tigers in 1998-2000. "Talk about pressure. My junior year we were one game away from going to Omaha, and the papers the next day were saying we were the worse team in LSU history.

"That's a lot of pressure for 18- and 19-year olds to play under, where if you don't go to Omaha, it's like you did something wrong. Fans there make their reservations for Omaha the year before. That's a lot to live up to."

Not that pitching to major league hitters is easy, although one look at Hodges' early numbers would seem to indicate otherwise.

Entering Tuesday night's game against Cincinnati, Hodges was 1-0, an earned run average of 2.22, with 19 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters are batting .200 against him - right-handers are batting .167.

"There's no doubt I've been given a lot of opportunities, and that's great," Hodges said. "I'm just glad that Bobby (Cox) and Leo (Mazzone) have the confidence in me and they feel like I can go out there and make a difference."

Hodges might be making more of a difference very soon.

With former USC Aiken pitcher Roberto Hernandez surrendering nine earned runs in his past 8 2/3 innings as the setup man to closer John Smoltz, Hodges could find himself taking on some of those late-inning responsibilities.

"Trey shows a lot of poise, that's what I like about him," Mazzone said. "He's a very polished young man."

Whichever role Hodges finds himself in, he's just happy to playing ball. He's also happy that he found a roommate, former University of Georgia pitcher Chris Clark (1997-2000), to help make his life away from Turner Field more interesting.

"Chris and I played ball at Jamestown my rookie year. He's a good guy. He knows his way around Atlanta," Hodges said. "We're all the time joking around about college sports, especially anything involving LSU and Georgia."

Major league hitters are learning that Hodges is no joke.

The Houston, Texas native has gone six games without giving up a run, a streak that includes seven innings of shutout ball with zero walks and seven strikeouts.

"I feel like I'm in a pretty good grove right now," Hodges said. "I just hope I can keep doing well."

SMOLTZ STREAK OVER: Although no fault of his own, Smoltz saw his major-league record streak of appearing in 73 consecutive team victories end during Monday's 7-6 loss to Cincinnati.

With the game tied 3-3, Smoltz pitched a scoreless ninth before Adam Dunn's grand slam off Hernandez in the 11th proved the difference in the game.

"I guess it had to end sometime," Smoltz said. "That's not something I went into games thinking about, but now that's over I've had several people mention it to me. Hopefully, I can start a new one (tonight)."

Smoltz's streak dated back to June 3 of last year. According to Elias Sports Bureau, which tracks major league statistics, Oakland's Dennis Eckersley held the previous mark of appearing in 53 consecutive winning games (Oct. 1, 1991-Aug. 23, 1992).

Sunday's save was also the 84th of Smoltz's career, passing John Rocker into third place in franchise history.

FICK TALKING AGAIN: First baseman Robert Fick was back talking with the media after refusing comment after Monday's loss when he struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th.

"I was just ticked, but mostly with myself," said Fick. "That was a situation I expect to come through in."

Fick has done just that for the Braves. The former Detroit Tiger entered Tuesday night's contest batting .287 with five homers and 27 RBI.

AROUND THE HORN: Reliever Jung Bong is OK after he was hit on the left leg with a line drive during Monday's game. ... Rafael Furcal has reached base in 34 consecutive games, the best in the majors this season. He also leads the majors with 50 runs and 72 hits. ... Javy Lopez leads all National League catchers with 12 homers.