ATLANTA - Gary Sheffield struck out twice in four plate appearances Friday night, the first time he had whiffed twice since Aug. 29, spanning 17 games since Salomon Torres and Julian Tavarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, did the trick.
The Atlanta Braves right fielder came into Saturday night's game against Florida with 32 fewer strikeouts (54) than walks (86) this season. His strikeout total, unlike most power hitters, has never topped 79 in 14 years in the big leagues.
Sheffield is a patient slugger. His walks are four fewer than team leader Chipper Jones, and he has walked 100 times or more four times since 1996.
So, when he strikes out twice in the same game, it suggests he is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.
"It's lack of concentration," Sheffield said. "I went to the batting cage (Friday) and felt good, had the best BP I've had in a long time, then went in the game and struck out twice. Sometimes I get so impatient. If I don't get some hits, I start going crazy."
The hits have been few and far between for Sheffield lately. He has three hits in his past 22 at-bats, yet remains fifth in the league with a .329 average. But, after hitting 34 home runs in his first 467 at-bats, he has hit two since Aug. 26, a span of 77 at-bats.
With the start of the playoffs nine days away, Sheffield wants to get his swing back and not experience a repeat of last October's 1-for-16 performance in the Division Series.
"If I look at my swing, there's nothing wrong," he said. "I feel it's not there when I'm not hitting the ball hard. But I have been, so I'm not worried."
READY TO PLAY: As expected, the Braves activated relievers John Smoltz and Kevin Gryboski from the disabled list before Saturday's game.
Smoltz retired the only Florida Marlins batter he faced in the ninth inning.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox planned to talk with Smoltz this morning and decide on a pitching schedule leading into the postseason.
"We've come this far, I'm not going to push it," Cox said.
Smoltz indicated his elbow felt fine Saturday after Friday's 15-minute bullpen session. He might pitch an inning in today game, regardless of the situation.
Gryboski, who has a partial tear of the labrum in his throwing shoulder, must convince Cox he can pitch effectively before the team takes a chance by adding him to the postseason roster.
"There's a level of pain, but it's something you have to deal with," said the right-hander, who has not appeared in a game since Aug. 27. "It's come around pretty good."
Gryboski said that if he can't pitch, surgery is an option. But recovery from labrum surgery is normally nine to 11 months, meaning he would likely miss next season.Gryboski hopes rest and rehabilitation will allow him to continue pitching.
"Obviously, surgery is a last resort," he said. "That's on the back burner."