Notes: Francoeur finds groove early

Notes: Francoeur finds groove early

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It's still too early to get overly excited about Jeff Francoeur's production. But it's still comforting for the Braves to hear him claim that he's gaining comfort with a plate approach that he hopes will help him be a little more selective this year.

After racking two solid singles in Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium, Francoeur found himself with a .414 batting average. More importantly, during his 29 at-bats in Grapefruit League play, he's shown both the willingness and ability to hit the ball to right field.

"He's hitting nothing but bullets," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's ready to go."

After hitting .260 with 29 homers and 103 RBIs last year, Francoeur was determined to make the adjustments necessary to add more consistency to his game. Like Brian McCann and David Wright, two of the game's other young superstars, the Braves' 23-year-old right fielder wants to produce both power and consistency.

"I feel good and I feel like I'm waiting, being more selective and using the other side of the field," said Francoeur, who has struck out just three times in those 29 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Francoeur's favorite at-bat this spring came during the fourth inning of Tuesday's game, when he was able stay back and direct a Roy Oswalt curveball into right field. During the fifth inning of Wednesday's game, he directed a Miguel Asencio pitch into right field.

"I'm set this year," said Francoeur, who hit .272 after beginning last year in a 2-for-36 slump. "When I hit the ball now, I'm in a good hitting position."

During the offseason, Francoeur developed a new batting stance in which he's slightly a bit more crouched and his bat is straighter. This should allow him to keep his head quieter during his swing and allow him to get his bat to the ball more quickly.

Those who look at Francoeur's stats may notice that he still hasn't drawn a walk. But he still feels that he's forced pitchers to work a little harder, and at the same time learned how to at least control his often valuable aggression.

"There's a difference between getting walks and being selective," Francoeur said. "I'm being selective this spring. I'm not just up there swinging. If they're going to throw me some strikes, then I'm going to try to take advantage."

Gonzo back to form: Left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez, who had been shaky in three of his previous four appearances, certainly gained Cox's postgame praise on Wednesday. While working a scoreless sixth inning, Gonzalez's only miscue was a fastball that drilled Hunter Pence's left leg.

"He was un-hittable today," Cox said. "Completely un-hittable."

Gonzalez's previous outing was Sunday, when he allowed the Cardinals three hits and three earned runs in one inning. Through five Grapefruit League innings, he has a 9.00 ERA. But the most important thing is that his left elbow, which forced him to miss all of September with the Pirates last season, still appears to be completely healthy.

Wickman touched: Entering Wednesday, Bob Wickman had provided four scoreless appearances. But his 0.00 ERA was erased in the fifth inning, when Lance Berkman drilled a down-and-in fastball deep over the right-field wall for a solo shot.

When reporters approached Wickman, he was agitated by the belief that they were only talking to him because he'd finally allowed a run. Just two weeks ago, he'd said that he wasn't one of those pitchers who doesn't care about the results he garners in Spring Training games.

Thus, there was seemingly a reason to get his reaction to finally giving up a run. And as soon as he opened his mouth, the tone confirmed that he doesn't like giving up runs during Spring Training.

"I made a mistake, and he jacked it on me," Wickman said. "I definitely care every time that I pitch. What if I wake up sore tomorrow and can't pitch again? That's what I hope to tell every young kid: 'Every game you go out there could be your last game.'"

Bruised and still comical Andruw: Andruw Jones may have a little trouble sleeping on his left side on Wednesday night. During Tuesday night's game against the Astros, he was hit on the top of his left hand with a pitch. Then, during the third inning of Wednesday afternoon's game, a Jason Jennings delivery drilled him squarely on his elbow.

"It was sore to hold the bat a little bit today," Jones said as he sat with both his hand and elbow wrapped in ice. "But you can't hurt steel."

Jones didn't leave either game after getting hit, and he's planning to play in Thursday night's game against the Yankees, who will start left-hander Kei Igawa.

"They're starting a lefty?" Jones asked. "Good, he'll probably just hit me down here in the leg or something."

James survives: After allowing the Astros three earned runs and five hits in four innings, Chuck James made it known once again that his sleep habits make him more susceptible to afternoon struggles.

"Obviously, I don't have the adrenaline that I would during a [night] game," said James, who had allowed just one earned run in his previous five Grapefruit League innings -- all of which came in the afternoon. "I'm more of a night owl."

Fortunately, James was alert enough to get out of the way of a Morgan Ensberg third-inning line drive that was heading right toward the southpaw's head.

When told James said he didn't even see the liner, Cox replied, "I didn't either, until I saw him on the ground."

Open house: The Braves will hold an open house at Turner Field on Saturday from 12-4 p.m. ET. Fans will be able to watch that day's Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals and enjoy many of the stadium's other entertainment amenities. In addition, they'll have a chance to choose their seats for different available season-ticket packages.

Coming up: Lance Cormier will face Igawa when the Braves travel to Tampa to face the Yankees at Legends Field on Thursday night. The Yankees claimed a 5-3, 10-inning victory against the Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports last week.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.