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4-run fifth a product of Braves' new approach

After high strikeout totals past few years, Atlanta has focused on putting ball in play

ATLANTA -- As the Braves constructed their decisive four-run fifth inning during Saturday night's 5-3 win over the Mets at Turner Field, they strengthened the theory that good things can happen when a team consistently puts the ball in play.

"We had a good approach at the plate," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've been doing that for a while now. The season is only five days old, but I think you look back at some point during Spring Training and guys were really buying into that stuff."

While winning each of their first five games this season, the Braves have not resembled the Atlanta offenses that have recorded the franchise's four-highest strikeout totals over each of the past four seasons. Influenced by the more disciplined and cerebral approach taught by new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, the Braves have struck out an average of six times per game during the early portion of this season.

Though the sample size is far too small to warrant much attention, it should be noted that the Braves struck out six times or fewer in just 23 percent (37 of 162) of the games played last year.

Along with putting the ball in play more consistently, the Braves have been much more sound with the art of situational hitting. Such was the case during Saturday's fifth inning when Christian Bethancourt and Andrelton Simmons followed Alberto Callaspo's leadoff double with consecutive opposite-field doubles that snuck past the first-base bag and traveled into right field.

"You could tell they were just trying to hit a ground ball to the right side to get a runner to third so that we could get an easy run right there," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "You don't really hit a ball the other way down the line [too often]. To do that two times in a row, things are on our side."

After Julio Teheran's sacrifice bunt moved Simmons to third base, Eric Young Jr.'s attempt to hit a grounder to the right side resulted in a triple that also proved to be just out of the reach of Mets first baseman Lucas Duda.

Nick Markakis extended Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee's woes when he capped the fifth-inning scoring by hitting a RBI single to right field. Markakis has recorded a hit in three of his first six at-bats with runners in scoring position this season.

"I think the fifth inning was what we're going to try to do this whole season," Freeman said. "People are just trying to get the job done and move the runner to third base. They were getting doubles and triples out of it. So, if we can just keep doing that and play the game of baseball, good things usually happen."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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