ATLANTA - How well the rookies in the Atlanta Braves' lineup react to the pressure of the playoffs will go a long way in determining whether the team advances past the National League Division Series for the first time in three years.
Left fielder Charles Thomas and first baseman Adam LaRoche both admitted to feeling some butterflies during Tuesday afternoon's workout at Turner Field, but said they were looking forward to facing Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens in Game 1 this afternoon.
"It's been the longest two days of my life and I've still got to wait another day," said Thomas, who batted .288 in 83 games. "It's killing me. It will be kind of like stepping onto a major league field for the first time. I felt different for sure, but I didn't have any overwhelming sense of anxiousness."
LaRoche, who batted .347 in September-October to finish with a .278 average, hung around major and minor league clubhouses with his dad, former pitcher Dave LaRoche, growing up, so he didn't expect to be fazed by the bright lights of postseason competition.
LaRoche remembers facing Clemens in spring training and getting a couple of hits against him.
"He was floating it in there and I said, 'hey, I'm going to hit .500 this season,' " LaRoche said. "Then I faced him in the regular season and he was throwing 10 miles an hour faster and throwing all his pitches. It was a wake-up call."
BATTER UP: Hitting coach Terry Pendleton doesn't plan on calling any strategy sessions to discuss how to approach Clemens, but he will talk to his hitters and relate his own experiences against the future Hall of Famer.
"I faced him in an All-Star game and singled to left," Pendleton said. "Then in a game in '98, he struck me out three times. He's a pitcher, he's proven that. I'll tell them to be patient and get a strike to hit."
PLAN B: John Thomson's injury and Mike Hampton's sore left knee has prompted manager Bobby Cox to revisit his pitching plans. He indicated Tuesday that it's likely he'll go with four starters in the division series, rather than the trio he announced last week. He said Russ Ortiz would likely be the Game 4 starter.
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