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Posted: 7:06 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Braves shortstop focused on hits, not avoiding whiffs

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By David O'Brien

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

PHILADELPHIA – When Andrelton Simmons tripled and homered for the second consecutive game Monday, the Braves shortstop also did something he’d done in every previous game this season.

Not strike out.

Simmons has no strikeouts in 49 plate appearances, even after Wednesday when the Braves faced a big-time strikeout pitcher, left-hander Cliff Lee. He went 1-for-4 and wasn’t among Lee’s 13 strikeouts. Simmons is the only major league with as many as 35 plate appearances without a strikeout.

“I don’t focus on (not striking out),” Simmons said before Wednesday’s game. “I don’t care if I strike out. I’d rather strike out than hit into a ground ball double-play. It’s not that I’m trying not to strike out. “

It’s not as if he was going up looking for walks. He hit .341 with only two walks in 11 games before Wednesday, and was 11-for-29 (.379) with five extra-base hits and five RBIs in his past seven games. That included a homer and triple in Sunday’s win against the Nationals, and a homer and triple among three hits in Monday’s win against the Phillies.

Simmons was the second player in franchise history (since at least 190o) to have a triple and homer in consecutive games, joining Wilber Marshall of the 1951 Boston Braves.

“Whenever I’m going up there I’m trying to hit,” Simmons said. “I don’t think about it. Just go up there and try to get on base.”

A year ago in his first full season, Simmons struck out 55 times in 606 at-bats, including twice in 108 at-bats in July. He won Gold and Platinum Glove awards as the best-fielding shortstop and best overall defensive player in the National League. But he also hit 17 home runs to rank fifth among major league shortstops, including six homers from the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

“Simba’s strong, man,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said, referring to Simmons by his nickname. “People probably overlook him because he plays shortstop and he’s kind of slender. But he’s thick underneath those clothes, and he’s very wiry-strong. So yeah, he’s got some juice. If you leave it over the plate, he’ll get you.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “He’s sneaky big.”

Part of Simmons’ early success has been his penchant for hitting when behind in counts. It’s an admittedly tiny sample size, with less than one-tenth of the season completed, but before Wednesday he was batting higher after getting behind in counts 0-1 (.579, 11-for-19) than after 1-0 counts (3-for-15). And Simmons led the NL with a .467 average (7-for-15) on two-strike counts.

“Just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “Sometimes I get it with two strikes; maybe now more often than before. I’m just trying to be more selective, swing at better pitches. I’m learning how they’ve been pitching to me since last year, where I’ve been getting out. I’m trying not to chase those pitches as often. Hopefully I can keep it up.”

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