Patience at plate pays off for Francoeur

ATLANTA- Jeff Francoeur is still highly unlikely to ever be the subject of an instructional hitting video.

Brian McCann maybe, but not his long-time Gwinnett County friend and Atlanta Braves teammate.

"Never. No way," Francoeur said. "Mac's got that beautiful swing. I'm just up there hacking."

It's just more of a controlled hack now.

"He's not anyone I'd ever want kids to try to emulate," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said of the still free-swinging Braves right fielder.

Because of his .304 average, much has been made of the new Francoeur. But in fact, the 23-year-old hasn't really changed mechanically all that much.

"He still has his own way of hitting," Pendleton said. "He's just more patient now and willing to hit the ball to right field. That's really helped him, especially with two strikes."

"Jeff is an aggressive kid and he will always be that way," Cox said. "But he's not swinging at so many bad pitches."

Francoeur, a former Parkview football and baseball star, was an instant success after being called up from the minors by the Braves in July of 2005. But the .300 hitter as a rookie became a .260 hitter last year.

Pitchers had made adjustments. He had to as well.

"I still attack the ball, but I'm not out of control like I was last year," Francoeur said. "There were times last season when I had no chance up there."

Having never really experienced athletic failure, Francoeur had to learn to deal with it. It wasn't easy.

"I was embarrassed," he said. "Mac is great at limiting the damage if he wasn't going well. I'd get into a little slump and pretty soon it was a big slump.

"Now, I'm much more consistent. The pitcher has to get me out. I'm not going to get myself out."

The results are there for all to see.

In his last 35 games, Francoeur has batted .371. For the season, he's hitting .351 with runners in scoring position.

The Braves open a key series with the National League East-leading Mets tonight in New York and Francoeur is ready.

"He's on fire," Cox said after Francoeur was 3-for-5 and scored the winning run in Sunday's 10-inning victory over Colorado.

Francoeur is tied for the Braves lead with 72 RBIs and 29 doubles.

The only statistical category where Francoeur isn't up is homers. He has 12 after hitting 29 last season.

"We want him to drive in runs," Pendleton said.

"It doesn't matter how he does it."

"My homers are down a little, but I know that I'm a much better hitter," Francoeur. "I want to keep my same approach. The homers will come. I'm not worried about that."

Francoeur used to draw attention for his lack of walks. That's not the case anymore. He has drawn 30 already this season. That is seven more than in 2006 and is close to matching his previous career total of 34.

Francoeur's on-base percentage was a dismal .293 last year. It is at .349 this season.

"Even when I get two strikes now, the count usually gets to 2-and-2 or even 3-and-2. It's a lot easier to hit then," Francoeur said.

"He knows the pitchers a lot better now," Cox said.

Francoeur hasn't done it by watching a lot of video.

"That's not me," he said. "I want to keep it simple. I don't want to be up there thinking too much. I just want to react."

Opposing baserunners and coaches apparently still haven't fully grasped just how powerful Francoeur's arm is, however.

The right fielder threw out Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki at the plate Sunday. It was his 15th outfield assist - the best in the National League this season.

"He's got a canon," Cox said.

"That's a fun part of the game for me," said Francoeur, whose 276 consecutive starts is the second longest active streak in the majors.

About everything has been fun this year.

Francoeur will marry fellow Parkview graduate Catie McCoy this fall and wouldn't mind at all if the ceremony was right after the Braves played in the World Series.

"That would be sweet," he said, "and I think we have the team to do it.

"What we were able to do at the trade deadline was huge. I don't think anyone can match our lineup.

"This road trip is big for us. The Mets won't be easy to catch, but I think we can do it."

If Francoeur keeps hitting like he has been, the Braves certainly can't be counted out.