Friday, July 9, 2004

Braves' DeRosa wants 2nd chance

Infielder getting his swing back, faring better with glove

The Associated Press

ATLANTA - Mark DeRosa wants his job back.

After waiting five years to become a starter for the Atlanta Braves, DeRosa needed less than half a season to lose his spot at third base. Poor hitting, defensive miscues and a need to find Chipper Jones a more comfortable position sent DeRosa to the bench.

"It was terrible," DeRosa said. "I had a lot of expectations coming into this year. I really worked hard to put myself into this position to start. It was disappointing to lose my job."

He couldn't complain much. During a game against the Colorado Rockies, DeRosa made four errors in the first four innings to tie a dubious team record.

"It was a humbling experience," he said. "When I made the first and second error, I started to get a little timid and it put me in a funk for about a week to 10 days."

DeRosa wasn't much better at the plate. He batted just .178 in May and has struggled to get his average back into respectable territory, standing at .231 going into a weekend series at Philadelphia.

Jones, the regular third baseman from 1995-01, played left field the last two seasons. An ailing hamstring prompted a move to the infield, and the Braves considered trying him at first. But Julio Franco was one of the team's best hitters - and DeRosa was the logical candidate to go to the bench.

"I've never played an inning at first," Jones said. "It just seemed like the natural thing to do."

Hitting coach Terry Pendleton said DeRosa's woes were simply part of a learning experience.

"I told him to stop thinking," Pendleton said. "You're at the plate and thinking about your hand placement and stance. When you start thinking about that stuff, the pitcher has got you."

DeRosa retooled his game, studied tape of himself, adjusted his stance and became more aggressive at the plate. In June, his average improved to .308 in 52 at-bats.

Against Montreal this week, DeRosa got a chance to start at second base after rookie Nick Green strained his back. DeRosa made a couple of diving stops and drove in two runs in the series finale, a 14-2 rout Wednesday that completed a three-game sweep.

"Sometimes when you have to go sit down and watch, you get a chance to think about a lot things a little more," Pendleton said. "This experience has been good to help him get his stroke together."

The Braves, seeking their 13th straight division title, have won four straight overall and eight of 10 to get back in contention in the NL East. They were off Thursday.

DeRosa bounced up and down between the Braves and minor leagues from 1999-02. In '01, he made a good impression filling in for shortstop Rafael Furcal, providing the Braves with solid defense and a .300 average during a 10-day stint.

DeRosa batted .263 last year, his first full season in the majors. He also had a game-winning, two-run double against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the NL playoffs.

When third baseman Vinny Castilla signed with the Colorado Rockies, the Braves felt DeRosa was ready to take over. The first sign of trouble was spring training, when he batted .231.

Once the regular season started, his struggles became more noticeable.

His mood is more hopeful now. He wants a second chance to be a starter, though it's hard to see where he might fit in once second baseman Marcus Giles returns.

"A lot of people tell you different things that you're doing wrong and it's tough to listen to everyone, even though they have great intentions," DeRosa said. "I'm just trying to find what has worked in the past."

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