Offense up significantly in first week

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Tim Hudson laughed off his two rough outings to start the season. Atlanta’s ace knows he’s far from the only one with an extra-high ERA after the first week.

“I think it’s just stumbling out of the box from a pitching standpoint,” Hudson said after watching his ERA balloon to 12.38 with a weekend loss to the San Francisco Giants. “We just have to get some confidence back. It’s just executing, that’s about it.”

Hitters have had little trouble producing so far. The .270 major league batting average in the first week was the highest in an opening week since the expansion era began in 1961, the Elias Sports Bureau said Monday.

Home runs in the first week were up 10.6 percent from last year and scoring increased 5.3 percent.

Teams hit 216 home runs last week and the average of 2.40 per game was the highest in the opening week since 2001’s 2.49. Runs per game (10.51) reached a level that hadn’t been seen since 2000 (10.68).

“It is unusual,” Giants manager Felipe Alou said. “Of course you see no-hitters early and shutouts. I don’t know, maybe something is going on. There have been a lot of wet fields, even in California. That probably has something to do with commanding the baseball. Then, it’s been cold and cold weather helps pitchers and not hitters. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain.”

Baseball toughened drug testing last year, suspending first offenders for 10 days. Home runs dropped 8 percent to their lowest per-game average since 1997, and some thought there was a link. This year, first offenders will be suspended for 50 games.

Barry Zito was on the losing end of Oakland’s 15-2 rout by the New York Yankees on opening day in which the left-hander lasted only 1 1-3 innings – the shortest outing of his career. Zito, tagged for seven runs, was done after 59 pitches, the first time he failed to last two innings.

The 15 runs were the most allowed by the Athletics on opening day, surpassing the 14 the Philadelphia A’s gave up in a 14-8 loss to the Washington Senators on April 17, 1945.

“Zito goes 1 1-3 and gives up seven earnies and four walks – that’s Barry Zito,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Then, on Saturday, Zito bounced back to combine on a one-hitter in a 3-0 win at Seattle.

Pitchers gave up 634 walks compared to 573 last year, according to Elias. Braves leadoff hitter Marcus Giles drew 11 free passes and Barry Bonds had seven – two of those intentional.

“You know, in spring training, you go two, three, four, five innings and you almost forget what it’s like to go seven, eight innings,” Oakland No. 3 starter Dan Haren said. “Some pitchers in April, their arms feel great. They are fresh coming out of spring training. Me, I feel like my command gets a lot better after April.”

The Giants went 4-2 in the first week without an RBI or home run from Bonds, taking three of four from Atlanta by outscoring the Braves 31-29.

“We’ve got a winning record, so it doesn’t matter,” said Bonds, who is 2-for-12 and was looking forward to the Giants’ off day Monday to rest his troublesome right knee.

The 41-year-old slugger remained stalled at 708 home runs, seven shy of passing Babe Ruth’s 714 and 48 from breaking Hank Aaron’s record of 755.

“We know Barry’s going to hit and Barry’s going to come around,” said Giants center fielder Randy Winn, who blooped in the winning single in the ninth inning of San Francisco’s 6-5 victory over the Braves on Sunday. “It’s nice to get some wins when the guy who is your biggest power hitter isn’t going well.”

That’s after the Braves opened the season by taking two of three from the Dodgers in Los Angeles. All three games were one-run affairs – 11-10, 5-4 and 9-8 – with Atlanta edging Los Angeles 24-23 in runs scored.

“It’s just crazy,” Cox said. “Generally when you come to the West Coast, four runs is typically enough.”

Cox said while early season games normally favor pitchers, the wet and cold conditions throughout California last week made it more difficult to handle the ball. He doesn’t think the fact many players spent time away from their clubs for the World Baseball Classic last month has anything to do with it.

Andruw Jones hit two of Atlanta’s 12 home runs in the first week and drove in 12 runs. Even he was surprised by all the scoring.

“I think it’s been good for us,” he said. “We would like to score a lot of runs every day, but it’s been a crazy week – rain wise, weather wise, pitching wise to a lot of walks. It’s been on both sides. Hopefully it doesn’t stay that way.”

The Braves were eager to leave the Golden State and get to Turner Field for their home opener Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s supposed to frost,” Cox said with a smile. “It’ll be perfect.”

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