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Braves' McCann back on track for second half

The Associated Press Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann smiles during spring training this past March.

The Associated Press Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann smiles during spring training this past March.

ATLANTA -- Just a couple of weeks ago, Brian McCann was at rock bottom. Now he feels like he's on the top of the world.

The birth of your first child and rediscovery of your swing will do that for you.

Colt Michael McCann was born last Friday. His father's rebirth at the plate had come earlier in July.

"I'm in a place now that I haven't been in three years," the Atlanta Braves catcher said of his swing. "With the eye issues I had and everything, I was just trying to survive the last two seasons.

"I don't just feel that I'm back. I feel like I'll be better than ever."

The Duluth High School graduate and Suwanee resident set some pretty high standards early in his career, so that won't be easy. But there is no question that McCann is happier than ever. His radiating smile every time his son is mentioned proves that.

"It will be hard to be away from him," said McCann, who headed out on a seven-day Braves road trip to Washington and Miami after Thursday's 3-2 victory over San Francisco. "I go into his room and just stare at him. It's awesome."

So has been McCann's recent surge after a frightful first three months of the season that ended his streak of All-Star Game appearances at six.

McCann, who didn't play in the series finale against the Giants, is hitting .345 during a nine-game hitting streak that includes five homers and 13 RBIs. His .240 season average is certainly not where he wants it yet, but at least it is finally heading in the right direction.

"I was at a place where I never been before," the 28-year-old said. "I couldn't get any lower. I felt I was already at rock bottom. I had to hit the reset button."

McCann turned to his father, Howie, and brother, Brad. They know hitting in general and one swing in particular.

"I told them, 'I need your help,'" McCann said. "Everything I tried just hadn't worked."

The turnaround came after the left-handed hitter was dropped to seventh in the order by manager Fredi Gonzalez for the opener of a four-game series at Turner Field against the Cubs on July 2.

"I'll be back," he said at the time. "I'll be back up in the middle of the order shortly."

When McCann went 0-for-3 that night in a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, his average was down to .224. It has been rising ever since.

His hitting streak started modestly. He went 1-for-3 with a walk in a 10-3 victory and then sat out the next night before starting his four-game homer binge.

McCann hit a two-run blast in the first inning off the Cubs' Matt Garza and was 2-for-3 with three RBIs in the 7-3 victory to conclude the series.

"I had been working on some things and after the first pitch I saw I knew I was back," McCann said.

McCann homered in each of the three games in the Braves' weekend sweep at Philadelphia, including a grand slam in the opener and the deciding home run in the finale. He had eight RBIs in the series.

McCann wasn't available for the first game after the All-Star break last Friday against the New York Mets. He was at Northside Hospital.

"Everybody tells you the experience is the best," McCann said. "But it was by far the coolest moment of my life."

The delivery was a quick one for McCann's wife, Ashley. Colt Michael weighed seven pounds and two ounces.

The original due date was this weekend, but labor was induced a week early. A player is allowed three days for paternity leave. The first-time father took just one.

McCann had singles in each of the final two games against the Mets last weekend and another in the series opener against San Francisco on Tuesday as the Braves increased their winning streak to seven games.

The fifth homer of his hitting streak came Wednesday against the Giants and it was the 150th of his career. The two-run blast with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning tied the game, but San Francisco scored six times in the 11th and won 9-4 in a marathon that took four hours and eight minutes.

McCann struggled mightily after likely coming back too quickly from an oblique strain last August, hitting .180 the rest of the season as the Braves let a playoff berth slip away.

Although he still won a fifth Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting catcher in the National League, McCann was disappointed with his offense for a second straight season.

After hitting .333 in 2006 and .301 in 2008, his average was .269 in 2010 and .270 last year. The trend was a downward one and this year began with more of the same. He batted .193 with only seven RBIs in June.

"I knew I was better than the numbers I had been putting on the last couple of years," McCann said. "I had to get back to knowing my swing. I fell away from that."

Gonzalez felt that McCann had been hitting the ball better than the results showed through the first three months, the shifts teams were using taking away many potential hits.

But if the Braves are to make it to the postseason this year, they need McCann producing.

"We need Mac to be Mac," the manager said. "We don't need him to be anything except what he's been his whole career."McCann is up to 14 homers and 48 RBIs in 72 games. That is now on pace to be near his norm. It is the average that is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, McCann is adjusting to fatherhood. "I need to catch up on some sleep," he said.

McCann's son has the same middle name as he does. But what about that first name?

"I always liked Colt McCoy's name," McCann said. "I thought Colt goes great with my name, too. It rings. I love it. I hope he does."

Balls are also starting to ring off McCann's bat again. The old and new make for the happiest of times for the previously downcast Braves catcher.