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03/26/08 7:39 PM ET

Chico's new delivery a kick

Braves hitters notice increased velocity on lefty's pitches

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Despite having a rough outing against the Braves on Wednesday, Nationals lefty Matt Chico did turn some heads.

Chico, who made the team out of Spring Training and will pitch his first regular-season game against the Phillies on March 31, cruised through the first three innings because he was mixing his pitches. But in the next three frames, he threw almost nothing but fastballs because he couldn't throw his slider for strikes.

"I felt good," said Chico, who gave up five runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Braves. "The fastball was good, but I threw too many. That was the problem. I kind of got away from the slider the last three innings. If I had to guess, I threw 80 percent fastballs."

But the silver lining to Chico's day came from his new high-leg delivery which impressed the Braves. They noticed that the new maneuver helped Chico add more miles to his fastball. In the past, the Braves knew Chico as a guy who threw in the low-to-mid 80s. But, on Wednesday, they were surprised to see that Chico was throwing in the 90s.

"Now he is getting up to 90," said Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson, who went 0-for-2 against Chico. "Somebody said it was up to 94. I don't know if that was accurate. Regardless, he has more velocity. He looks good. He was moving the ball around. He is someone you have to battle with a little. Whatever he has done, it has worked."

In other news, both first baseman Dmitri Young and reliever Luis Ayala have back problems, but they both played in Minor and Major League games, respectively, on Wednesday.

Manager Manny Acta said outfielder Elijah Dukes will not play in a Spring Training game until Saturday, when they play the Orioles at the new Nationals Park. He has not played in the last two games because he is still bothered by a right hamstring strain, which he hurt against the Indians on March 14.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.