Clutch hits key to home improvement

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ATLANTA - The Braves are gradually climbing out of the National League cellar when it comes to hitting in their home ballpark.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Jeff Francouer reacts after being ejected for arguing a called third strike in the fifth inning of Monday's game vs. the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field. Francouer struck out with the bases loaded.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Atlanta Braves right fielder Jeff Francouer reacts after being ejected for arguing a called third strike in the fifth inning of Monday's game vs. the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field. Francouer struck out with the bases loaded.

Just a month ago, Turner Field was the site of one of Atlanta's worst slumps in club history. The team scored one run during a five-game losing streak.

But entering Monday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta was averaging seven runs per game in six home games since June 24. That's nearly double the 3.6 runs per game the Braves were averaging through June 24.

Atlanta's home batting average of .253 through Sunday still ranked just 13th in the NL. And the schedule has lightened up considerably - the Braves' last two home opponents were the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Still, the Braves will take it.

"There are a couple guys still struggling, but as a group I think we're getting timely hitting," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "The two-out hits always help. And when other teams have made mistakes, we've taken advantage of it."

Some players have said they are more focused on the road, where they are removed from the distractions of their family and personal lives.

The results have been dramatically different. Entering Monday, the Braves led the NL in road batting average with a .287 mark.

SMOLTZ RETURN SET: Braves manager Bobby Cox said John Smoltz is still in line for his scheduled start Wednesday against the Reds. Smoltz, through a team spokesman, reported no problems after throwing a bullpen session Monday afternoon.

Rookie Jo-Jo Reyes will take Smoltz's turn in the rotation for the second time today and could be sent back to the minors to make room for Smoltz. Cox said there would be no announcement until after today's game.

NO WORD ON LEDEZMA: Cox said he has not heard anything more on the status of reliever Wil Ledezma, who is expected to be back with the team this week.

The left-hander got stuck in his home country of Venezuela last week after his passport and visa were damaged in the wash.

Contact Brian Costa at brian.costa@morris.com.

SECOND-WORST: The Philadelphia Phillies hit a milestone with their 10,000th loss in franchise history Sunday night. But any Braves fans snickering at the dubious mark might want to check the record book. The Braves are second on the list of all-time losers with 9,681 defeats.


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