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Hot-Hitting Prado Regaining All-Star Form


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The dance steps are not spontaneous. Far from it.

As Martin Prado is known for his hard work on the baseball field, the Braves left fielder dedicates just as much to perfect the moves he uses to lift the spirits of his teammates. When David Ross recently suffered a right groin strain for instance, Prado came up with a new dance for the catcher which, of course, included a pronounced limp.

“I practice a lot at home before I come to the field,” Prado said of his dances. “I’m trying to make the guys comfortable before the game. I know this is a game where we have to win the game. We are trying to accomplish something. But at the same time we are just trying to have fun.

"As a kid, you go to the field and play around. I know at this level it’s something different but I feel like a kid. I give a little piece of my childhood to every single guy in this room.”

It’s that mentality -- and hard work -- that helped Prado put the disappointment of last season behind him. He has returned to the form that made him an All-Star in 2010 and has been the team’s best hitter this season. Prado leads the Braves with a .327 average, which ranks seventh in the National League. (Jose Constanza is batting .429 in just seven games since being called up from Triple-A).

The Braves open an important three-game series against the Marlins Tuesday. They are fourth in NL East but just two games back of the tie for the division lead between the Marlins and Nationals.

The Braves will look to Prado, who has moved to third base while Chipper Jones is on the disabled list, to continue his torrid hitting. His .381 average in May was fourth in the NL among players with at least 20 at-bats and his 40 hits were second. During the Braves’ eight-game losing streak in May, the team hit a meager .178 (45-for-253) while Prado hit .345 (10-for-29). Take out Prado and the team average during the spell fell to .156.

One year removed from his All-Star game appearance, Prado hit .260 last season, his lowest average in six seasons with the Braves. He played in just 129 games, missing more than a month with a staph infection in his right calf.

Credit two adjustments for the turnaround. Under the guidance of new hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, Prado is no longer trying to be a power hitter that some considered a necessity from the left field position. He has also dedicated himself to using right field again.

“People always believe I’ve got the strength and power to be a power hitter but I tried it and it didn’t work out well,” the right-handed hitting Prado said. “I understand my role is to move a runner over, go the other way and do little things in a game. Now, I don’t try to do too much.

“One of the things that got me [to the major leagues], I feel gifted to handle the ball the other way. I guess last year, I forgot and I didn’t have that confidence to hit the ball the other way. I’m trying to get back at it and forget about pulling the ball too much. I’m concentrating more on going up the middle and right field.”

Prado is fifth in the NL in doubles (16) and on-base percentage (.401), seventh in hits (65) and 10th in runs (34). He has 21 multi-hit games (fifth in the league) and has hit safely in 20 of the past 24 games.

Early in spring training, Prado was so conscious of using right field that he started to push the ball in that direction, according to Walker. It’s no longer an issue.

“We wanted him to use the same swing that he was lining the ball to right field with to pull the ball,” Walker said. “He is capable of doing it. He’s got a good swing. He works as hard as anyone. We don’t want to turn him into a singles hitter to right field but we don’t want to turn him into a dead-pull power hitter either. He is talented enough to use the whole field and hit for average and power.”

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was leery of moving Prado back and forth between left field and third base with Jones on the disabled list. The team finally decided to leave Prado at third and call up the speedy Constanza to help in the left field.

The move has not affected Prado, nor will he let it. In six games at third base since Jones went down, Prado is hitting .333 (8-for-24).

“To be part of a team like the Braves means a lot to me,” Prado said. “If it means a lot to me, that means I put myself in a spot where, if they need me somewhere to help the team win, I’m there. I feel so blessed that I’m still playing for the Braves and they have confidence in me to put me anywhere in the field to help the team win.”

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