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Francoeur hopes to finish strong

Francoeur hopes to finish strong

ATLANTA -- If Jeff Francoeur manages to finish this season strong, he can happily live by the adage "better late than never." Over the past couple of months, the struggling outfielder realizes he has literally been late.

While getting a chance to look at video of himself and some other Major Leaguers on Tuesday and again when he was out of the lineup for the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader, Francoeur clearly saw that his swing has simply been too slow.

This fact was solidified during Wednesday's second game, when he went hitless in four at-bats while essentially seeing nothing but fastballs.

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"The pitches I should be hitting, I haven't been getting the bat head to the ball," said Francoeur, who had hit .169 with a .209 slugging percentage in his previous 40 games entering Thursday's series finale against the Cubs.

Looking to regain some of the power he possessed while hitting 29 homers during the 2006 season, Francoeur will now use a toe tap while striding toward pitches. The timing mechanism seemed to work on Thursday night, when he enjoyed a three-hit game that was highlighted by his first home run since July 9.

Francoeur turned on Bob Howry's first-pitch fastball and sent it into the left-field seats for his 10th homer of the season. He had just two homers in his previous 221 at-bats and he entered Thursday with a .345 slugging percentage, which ranked as the fourth-worst mark among all National League outfielders.

"It took a little stress away, knowing that I could hit a pretty good pitch like that again," Francoeur said. "You start to wonder after a while if you'll do something like that again."

This power drought certainly wasn't something Francouer envisioned while he spent this offseason gaining strength via workouts designed for football players. In hindsight, he sees where the added upper-body strength might have hindered him this year from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.

Francoeur says he has dropped nearly 20 pounds off the 235-pound frame that he possessed at the beginning of Spring Training.

"I think it's [because of] stress, more than anything else," said Francoeur, whose .229 batting average ranks as the fourth-worst mark among all qualified NL players.

When Francoeur's early-season struggles continued into May and June, he found himself attempting to switch his batting stance on a daily basis. Along the way, he's never gained the consistency he showed while hitting .294 last year.

"I come to the park upbeat and confident and then after one or two at-bats, you go, 'Here we go again,'" Francoeur said.

After hitting 29 homers in his first full Major League season and then proving he could produce a solid batting average last year, Francoeur felt this would be the season when he put everything together and proved to be a more complete offensive threat. But instead, he's put himself in position where the Braves have had to at least consider trading him.

Always considered a top-notch personality, Francoeur has never allowed his struggles to become a distraction for his teammates this year. Further proving his upstanding character, he was the only active Braves player (John Smoltz is on the disabled list) to attend a tribute for Skip Caray that was held at Turner Field approximately nine hours before the start of Tuesday night's scheduled game against the Cubs.

Still, Francoeur aspires to once again become the productive asset the Braves can proudly employ both on and off the field.

"It would be nice to finish strong and make strides to be where I want to be next year," Francoeur said.

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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