Notes: LaRoche displaying his power

Notes: LaRoche displaying his power

PITTSBURGH -- Having waited since 1998 for their club to possess a legitimate power-hitting first baseman, Braves fans didn't have much early patience with Adam LaRoche. But as he heads into the final two months of his third big-league season, it appears he's becoming what the fans have long desired.

With three two-homer performances in his previous 17 games entering Wednesday, LaRoche increased his career high homer total to 22 and put himself on pace to hit 34 of them this season. Not since Andres Galarraga belted 44 in 1998 have the Braves had a first baseman who has hit as many as 28.

In five of the previous seven seasons, Atlanta's many platoon combinations at first base could not combine for at least 20 homers. LaRoche (20) and Julio Franco (seven) combined for 27 last year. The only greater output since 1998 came in 2000, when Galarraga accounted for 28 of the 32 homers hit by the team's first basemen.

"I think two years ago, in my rookie year, a lot of these balls are doubles," LaRoche said. "I wasn't quite as strong and didn't have as much power. Now they just happen to be leaving the ballpark. I've got to give a lot of it to just working at the ranch. Whether it's cutting trees, putting up fences or deer stands, every day we're out there working."

LaRoche's torrid pace was slowed when he was forced to leave Wednesday's game in the sixth inning with a strained right hamstring. But early indications are that he won't miss more than a couple of games.

Entering Wednesday, LaRoche's nine home runs since the All-Star break matched the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez for the Major League lead for first basemen. LaRoche's 22 homers ranked fifth among all National League first basemen, trailing only Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, St. Louis' Albert Pujols, New York's Carlos Delgado and Houston's Lance Berkman.

Much of LaRoche's recent success, which includes a .355 batting average in his past 15 games, has come since late June, when Brian Jordan was lost with a broken right clavicle. The injury forced manager Bobby Cox to give LaRoche the opportunity to hit left-handed pitchers, and the 26-year-old has taken full advantage.

Since the beginning of June, LaRoche has batted .289 with three homers in 48 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. In the 68 career at-bats he had against lefties coming into this season, he'd hit .206 with two homers.

"I'm feeling good because I'm getting to see [left-handers]," LaRoche said. "That's what it takes for me to stay on them. And in turn, it's helping me against the righties, to stay in there tracking the ball."

Still, with all of his recent success, LaRoche finds himself looking at the starting lineup whenever he enters the clubhouse. It's a habit that developed during the first 2 1/2 seasons of his career, when was platooning with Franco and Jordan.

"I want to get to the point to where I don't even have to look at the lineup when I come in here," he said. "I want to get where I know where I'm hitting and I know that I'm playing every single day. I want to be surprised if I'm not in there."

Aybar acquisition helps Giles: When the Braves acquired Willy Aybar from the Dodgers on Friday night, they obtained a player who could potentially unseat Marcus Giles as the club's starting second baseman. But for now, Aybar is simply serving as an asset to Giles.

With Aybar batting in the leadoff spot the past two games, Giles has had the opportunity to move back into the second spot, where he found so much success the previous two years. With four doubles in those two games, he's looked much more like the offensive threat he'd been before moving into the leadoff role at the beginning of this season.

"It is what it is," Giles said. "I still have to hit the ball, and they still have to throw it over the plate. It's more of a mental thing. But with that being said, I am more comfortable in the two-hole."

Giles entered this season with a .292 career batting average, but as the club's leadoff hitter this year, he hit just .251 and produced a .346 on-base percentage. While batting second in his career, he has hit .305.

Braves bits: Kyle Davies' first Minor League rehab start was a successful one. The 22-year-old right-hander, who is recovering from surgery on his right groin, tossed two perfect innings and recorded three strikeouts for Double-A Mississippi on Tuesday night. ... Right-handed reliever Ken Ray left the team on Wednesday to attend his grandmother's funeral. He told Cox that he would be back in time for Thursday afternoon's game.

Coming up: The Braves will conclude their three-game series with the Pirates on Thursday afternoon. Tim Hudson (8-9, 5.25 ERA) will oppose Shawn Chacon (5-3, 7.00 ERA).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.