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A Closer Look

Small adjustments make Braves' Weiss a big hit

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Posted: Wednesday October 13, 1999 12:57 AM

  Walt Weiss Walt Weiss' bat has been as impressive as his glove during the NL playoffs. Jamie Squire/Allsport

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

ATLANTA -- The first time up Tuesday night was a disaster. After that, Walt Weiss was a slap-hitting terror.

And now, maybe the New York Mets better talk about pitching around Weiss, the Atlanta Braves’ newly dangerous slugging shortstop.

“We usually put him in there for defensive purposes,” said Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones -- who the New Yorkers have been avoiding like a hefty serving of grits -- after the Braves beat the Mets 4-1 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. “To get three hits and [one] run out of him ... it’s great. We need a lot of luck, a lot of unsung heroes, guys who get their opportunities and make the most of them.”

Weiss, who hit only .226 this season and started only 74 games, had been struggling since June when he went on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps. Since July 1, he had hit only .178.

But manager Bobby Cox, looking for some more offense from that position, listened to hitting coach Don Baylor, who suggested Monday that Weiss may be ready for a start.

“We just had to have him stay back a little bit better,” Baylor said. “We talked about it [Monday]. I know [Weiss] wanted to do something, to contribute something. He hasn’t had much of a chance to play.”

After the first at-bat Tuesday, it looked like he may not get many more chances. Weiss went up against Mets starter Masato Yoshii and promptly looked really bad, striking out weakly on a split finger.

But the left-handed hitting Weiss knocked a double down the left-field line to open the fifth, scoring an out later on a hard single by Gerald Williams. Weiss went the other way again in the sixth, singling to left with two outs.

And in the eighth, he slapped another single to left to score Andruw Jones for the final Atlanta run.

“I heard I might play. I’ve spent a lot of time in the batting cage, just trying to stay sharp. To get sharp, really. I never really was sharp,” Weiss said. “You never know when your time may come.”

Baylor and Weiss have been working on the hitter’s “keys,” which for Weiss means not trying to pull the ball and keeping his swing short, so he can hit to all fields. In his first at-bat Tuesday, he struck out trying to pull Yoshii’s split-finger.

“I have to try to use the big part of the field,” he said. “That’s got to be my approach.”

After a quick talk with Baylor after that first at-bat, Weiss choked up a little and made sure he didn’t try to pull any more pitches.

“Those others [Weiss’ other at-bats], that was just professional hitting -- going with the pitches,” Baylor said. “That’s the kind of thing you want to do if you haven’t played in a while.”

Weiss has earned his keep without his bat. It was his diving stop in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 3 of the division series in Houston that kept the Astros from winning that pivotal game.

But, if his bat stays hot, you can bet he’s earned his keep as a starter through the rest of the postseason.

“Offensively, I’m nothing special,” he said sheepishly as reporters crowded around his locker in the Braves’ clubhouse after the win. “I try to be a tough out.”

He did more than try Tuesday. And now there’s one more slugging Braves infielder the Mets have to find a way to get out.


 
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