ATLANTA -- Brandon Beachy's desire to be more aggressive in the strike zone has reduced his strikeout ratios and allowed him to achieve his goal to go longer into games than he did during last year's rookie season.
Beachy has reason to be proud of the 1.38 ERA and .193 opponents batting average he has compiled through his first five starts. But more satisfying might be the fact that he has pitched into the seventh inning in four consecutive starts. That equals the number of times he pitched more than six innings in 25 starts last year.
This altered approach has prevented Beach from notching the impressive strikeout totals he produced last year. But he believes his strikeout numbers will improve once he finds more consistency with his curveball.
Beachy's strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio has dropped from 10.7 to 6.1. Opponents swung and missed at 29 percent of his pitches last year. That number is down to 17.1 percent this year.
"My breaking balls just aren't as sharp right now, and that is kind of holding me back from putting away a few of the guys in those [strikeout] situations," Beachy said.
Chipper hopes program helps him play more
ATLANTA -- Braves third baseman Chipper Jones recently started a weight program that is intended to help him regain the leg strength he needs to play more consistently than he has during this season's first month.
Jones began a lifting program that focuses on strengthening his quadriceps and thigh muscles. The hope is that this will help minimize the fluid that has continued to build around his left knee since he returned to action just two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
"Whenever you get fluid around the joint, the muscles around it shut down and atrophy," Jones said. "[Braves trainer Jeff Porter] said I wouldn't make it to the All-Star break if I didn't get on some kind of weight program."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted Jones to rest on Monday so that he would be ready for the first two games of this week's series against the Phillies. But because his knee was feeling fine, Jones played the entirety of Monday's loss to the Pirates.
After playing two consecutive days, Jones was not able to play in Tuesday's series opener against the Phillies. But he returned on Wednesday to face Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay.
Fortunately, Jones' knee cooperated long enough for him to hit a walk-off homer that gave the Braves a dramatic 15-13, 11-inning win over the Phillies on Wednesday night.
"When I woke up today, no joint pain," Jones said. "Yesterday when I woke up, I could barely walk. I don't know why that is, and I don't know what it is that I'm doing that is causing that, probably a lack of meniscus. But it's frustrating nonetheless."
Jones has been in the starting lineup for as many as three consecutive days just once since being activated from the disabled list on April 10. He has primarily needed at least one day of rest after playing on consecutive days. His primary discomfort has centered on the joint line near the bottom inside portion of his left knee.
"It's frustrating," Jones said. "I play two games, maybe three, and I have a bad day. I'm of the mindset to go out there and play every day. It's frustrating when we get something going, a little continuity on the offensive end and I can't stay in there, day in and day out."
Braves consider pulling Pence shift
ATLANTA -- Spray charts show the Braves have reason to continue utilizing a shift against Hunter Pence. But recent history has given manager Fredi Gonzalez reason to at least contemplate calling off the shift in some situations against the Phillies outfielder.
"Maybe with guys like [Jonny] Venters or [Craig] Kimbrel throwing 94 or 97 [mph], we won't shift them as much," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and bench coach Carlos Tosca discussed making a change after Pence altered his swing and sent two hits through the vacated right side of the infield in Tuesday night's Phillies win.
His soft double in a two-run fourth inning came to rest in shallow right field before right fielder Matt Diaz or second baseman Dan Uggla, who was positioned behind the second base bag, could reach it.
"He's one of those guys who sticks his nose in there with two strikes and battles and finds a way to hit balls where you can't even defend," Gonzalez said. "Really, you can't put people where he hits them. He's just got that quality where he battles and battles and doesn't give in."
Pence also provided the decisive blow to last year's playoff hopes when he blooped a two-out, 13th-inning single that landed on the edge of the grass behind first base. Uggla might have had a play had he not been positioned behind the second base.
The difference was that Pence's decisive blow in last year's season finale appeared to be a product of good fortune. He was attempting to pull Scott Linebrink's pitch, but managed to produce an inside-out swing that sent the baseball spinning to the right side of the infield.
While Pence did sneak two singles through the vacated right side on Tuesday, he also hit a sharp grounder directly to Uggla as he stood behind second base to start the second inning.
After being cleared to take a round of regular batting practice on Wednesday, Jason Heyward was hoping to return to action for Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Phillies. Heyward has been sidelined since waking up on Monday with some soreness around his right oblique muscle.
Auburn University head football coach Gene Chizik and his son watched batting practice and stayed for Wednesday night's game against the Phillies.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.