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PHILLIPS' SLUGGISH START SHOULD LEAD TO SLUGGING

Brandon Phillips is 1 for 10 to start the season, but considering he is fine-tuning basic mechanics at the plate, Bisons manager Marty Brown said the shortstop is right where he needs to be.

In time, the changes should allow Phillips to take advantage of his bat speed, and his balance will be enhanced.

"He's working on a lot of stuff," Brown said. "He's working on some adjustments that need to be made, and he's taking it right into the game, which is not something a lot of players will do. He's taking things into the game that have been adjustments over the last three or four days, so it's all going to pay off for him."

It's been a work in progress for Phillips, starting in spring training when he hit just .091 (1 for 11). He got his first hit Saturday in the Bisons' 6-1 loss to the Richmond Braves when he rapped a double to left-center in the sixth inning. He batted .303 with eight home runs and 50 RBIs in 135 games with the Bisons last season.

"He's been through all this," Brown said. "He's been through the slumps, he's been through the boos, he's been through whatever you can throw at him, and he's come out smelling like a rose so I'll never bet against him."

Brown liked what he saw from starter Kyle Denney (0-1) and reliever Andrew Brown. In five innings, Denney allowed four hits, two runs and struck out six while walking just two. Denney got into a jam in the first inning when he issued a two-out walk to Kelly Johnson. James Jurries followed with a single before Andy Marte doubled through the hole at short to score Johnson. Denney slipped out of the inning with only minor damage by striking out Carlos Mendez.

Brown gave up just one hit, but it was costly, a solo shot by Marte. He struck out four in two innings.

"It was a good first outing, and it gave us a chance to win," Marty Brown said of Denney's performance. "The two-out walk is something he'll learn from. Kyle is going to learn from each and every outing and go out there the next time and put an end to that kind of thing."

The Bisons are scheduled to start right-hander Steve Watkins today against Richmond left-hander Andy Van Hekken. Watkins' start, originally scheduled for Friday, was pushed back two games because the Bisons played a doubleheader that night.

Richmond has three of the Atlanta Braves' top 10 prospects as ranked by Baseball America. Third baseman Marte is ranked second, right-hander Kyle Davies fourth and outfielder Johnson eighth. Marte, who saw his first Triple-A action Friday, ranked ninth in Baseball America's overall top 100 list.

After a slump in producing high-level prospects since the mid-1990s, the Braves' farm system appears to be on the rise.

Six prospects who played in Richmond last season made the Braves' roster this spring: Pete Orr, Wilson Betemit, Ryan Langerhans, Roman Colon, Adam LaRoche and Horacio Ramirez.

Ernie Young, who hit two homers in the Bisons' first game Friday night, led the team with 27 homers last season but didn't have a two-homer game. He went deep in three consecutive games, however, from June 16-18. . . . The Bisons, who won an extra-inning game against the Braves on Friday, were 8-6 in extra-inning games last season. . . . Andy Abad's game-winning, pinch-hit single Friday night was a rare sight. The Herd pinch hitters went just 3 of 20 (.150) with a pair of doubles and two RBIs last season. . . . The Braves were 16-23 in one-run games last season, and two of their three losses to the Bisons in the Governors' Cup finals were by a single run.
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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