Francoeur back in the saddle

Francoeur back in the saddle

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It's almost as if the test was perfectly aligned for Jeff Francoeur.

While coming back from getting hit in the face with a pitch for the second time in four years, all the Braves Gold Glove outfielder has had to do was spend the past two days testing his will against the fastballs of Tigers ace Justin Verlander and defending American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia.

While Verlander and Sabathia have both been throwing their high-velocity fastballs, Francoeur hasn't shown any sign of being tentative or fearful. In fact, he looked quite comfortable while touching Sabathia for a couple of solid singles in Friday's 6-4 loss to the Indians at Disney's Champion Stadium.

"The last two days, I've worked more in the cage than I can ever remember," Francoeur said. "[Friday], it felt like it paid off. It really did."

After getting hit in the lip by Todd Wellemeyer's offspeed pitch in Sunday's game against the Cardinals, Francoeur didn't return until Thursday night, when he went hitless in three at-bats against Verlander and Detroit.

When asked how he'd felt, Francoeur said, "Fine, other than the fact that I stunk out there."

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His confidence returned a few hours later when he bounced a first-inning single off Sabathia's leg. Two innings later, he led off with a single up the middle. In his final plate appearance, the Braves outfielder lined out to shortstop.

During each swing, Francoeur didn't turn his body toward third base, which would be an action one might expect from somebody if they were fearful they were going to get hit again.

"Whey you get in there, you understand it's just part of the game," Francoeur said. "To have those at-bats [against Verlander and Sabathia] gives me a lot of confidence."

Francoeur, who is hitting .317 (13-for-41) this spring, has told Braves manager Bobby Cox that he wants at least three at-bats during each of the team's final six Grapefruit League games. Francoeur believes that would definitely allow him to begin the regular season with a normal sense of comfort.

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