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Notes: McCann seeing ball well

Notes: McCann seeing ball well

PHILADELPHIA -- As he lamented the blown save opportunity he was charged with in Wednesday night's 11-inning loss, Phllies closer Tom Gordon felt he'd thrown a good pitch to Brian McCann. As for McCann, he simply believed it was a pitch that he couldn't miss.

Fortunately for the Braves, McCann didn't miss and consequently delivered the ninth-inning, game-tying homer that helped them gain their second consecutive extra-inning victory over the Phillies.

"I don't guess," McCann said. "I'm more of a see fastball and react type of hitter. I don't see Gordon real well, so I wasn't going to rush into anything. He hung a slider and I knew if I missed that, I wasn't going to get another one. I took my chances with the first pitch that I saw and it paid off for me."

During his nine at-bats in the first two games, McCann had collected five hits, including a pair of two-run homers. In other words, he hasn't lost the stroke that enabled him to win his first Silver Slugger Award and All-Star appearance last year.

While compiling 186 at-bats during the final two months of last season, McCann hit .328 with 12 homers. His ability to hit for power and average is further proof that he has certainly matured into an accomplished and dangerous hitter.

"You can tell when guys just get it," Chipper Jones said. "He's grasped the art of what a good hitter is supposed to be."

When McCann made his Major League debut for the Braves in June 2005, he showed a tendency to be too aggressive early in the count. In addition, he dropped his hands to the point where he often found it difficult to catch up with fastballs.

With help from Jones and hitting coach Terry Pendleton, McCann gained some patience and at the same time altered his stance at the plate. Now with his hands a little higher, he's had little trouble reacting fast enough to fastballs thrown anywhere in the hitting zone.

"He's got great hands," Braves manager Bobby Cox said while commending McCann's bat control.

At an early age, McCann's father taught him the importance of hitting the ball to the opposite field, and the All-Star catcher has carried that art to the Majors. Including his first-inning, two-run single on Thursday afternoon, three of his first six hits were hit to the opposite field.

"The way I look at it is, we've been pulling the ball all of our lives," McCann said. "Pulling the ball is the hardest thing to do. The more reps you take hitting the ball the other way, the better you are hitting for average."

Normal soreness: After exerting himself during a simulated inning on Sunday afternoon, Mike Hampton awoke on Monday with some inflammation and soreness in his left elbow. Although he was somewhat alarmed, he's since been told that this is just part of the process that he'll undergo while coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Hampton, who underwent the procedure 18 months ago, had been experiencing similar occasional discomfort before a left oblique strain sidelined him on March 7. While throwing over the past two weeks, the veteran left-hander hasn't had any problems with the side muscle, and until Monday, he'd gone nearly a month without having to use maximum effort with his elbow.

"Until I pitch in front of fans in a big-league park, I'll always be concerned," said Hampton, who hasn't appeared in a Major League game since Aug. 19, 2005.

Hampton hopes to throw a bullpen session on Saturday. If all goes well, the Braves will then determine when he'll make the first of what will likely be five Minor League rehab starts.

Extra, extra: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Braves hadn't opened the season with consecutive extra-inning games since 1961. That club split those two games against the Cardinals.

Early arrival requested: The Braves are asking all fans attending Friday's home opener against the Mets to be in their seats by 7 p.m. ET. Pregame festivities will include a military flyover. Country music star Tracy Byrd will sing the national anthem and provide a live performance of some of his hits at home plate before the game. Collective Soul frontman Ed Roland will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.

Coming up: Mark Redman will oppose fellow lefty Oliver Perez in Friday night's 7:35 p.m. home opener against the Mets. This will be Redman's first career start for Atlanta.

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

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