Notes: Jones to sit in finale vs. Giants
Hot-hitting third baseman tweaked groin in Wednesday's loss
SAN FRANCISCO -- When Chipper Jones was experiencing minor right groin discomfort a month ago, he suddenly found himself in a verbal spat with John Smoltz. The reappearance of this ailment won't create another war of words and, fortunately for the Braves, it won't keep the hot-hitting third baseman out of the lineup for long.
While attempting to beat out a double-play grounder in the sixth inning of Wednesday night's loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, Jones felt a slight tweak in the groin region. He played the remainder of the game, but as a precaution chose not to start Thursday afternoon's series finale.
"It's not serious," Jones said. "I just don't want it to get any worse."
Jones, who entered Thursday with a National League-best .346 batting average, believes there's a chance he could return to the lineup for Friday's series opener in Arizona. When he tweaked the groin on June 20, he needed just two days of rest before feeling healthy enough to return.
The only game he missed during that span came on June 22, when Smoltz's postgame comments drew the ire of Jones, who believed his longtime teammate was questioning his heart. Smoltz adamantly denied any attempt to call out the veteran third baseman, who has been injury-plagued since the start of the 2004 season.
Dating back to that minor verbal spat, this marked the first time Jones has been out of the lineup. Since June 13, when he ended a three-week disabled list stint that was necessitated by a pair of sore hands, he's hit .397 (56-for-141) with five homers a .488 on-base percentage and .574 slugging percentage.
Jones wasn't the only productive force Braves manager Bobby Cox chose to keep out of Thursday's lineup. Wanting to give Edgar Renteria a chance to rest, he utilized Yunel Escobar as his starting shortstop.
Since the All-Star break, Renteria has hit .419 (26-for-62). His .335 batting average ranks fourth in the NL, trailing Jones, Florida's Hanley Ramirez and Chicago's Derrek Lee.
Both Jones and Renteria were available to pinch-hit.
Trade winds: While Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira has created most of this week's excitement, he's far from being the only player on the Braves radar. Braves general manager John Schuerholz has said pitching is a priority and his scouts are attempting to find some on a thin market.
The Pirates have let teams know right-handed relievers Shawn Chacon and Salomon Torres along with left-handed reliever Damaso Marte are available. In addition, they've made it known the price for any of them would be a player immediately ready to contribute at the Major League level. Unless the asking price for Marte decreases, count the Braves as one of the many teams who won't be dealing with Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield over the course of the next few days.
With the Phillies (Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) and Mets (Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado) both possessing a pair of dangerous left-handed sluggers, Jones believes winning the National League East might hinge on the Braves ability to find a left-handed reliever.
"It's going to be imperative for us to get those guys out," Jones said.
If Marte's asking price decreases, he might prove to be the best option. In 41 appearances, he's posted a 1.41 ERA and limited opponents to a .170 batting average. Left-handed hitters are batting .085 against him.
Franco sits: Since signing with the Braves last week, Julio Franco has been a mainstay in the lineup. Thursday marked just the second time in eight games that the 48 year-old first baseman was used as a bench player. He was replaced in the lineup with Scott Thorman.
Franco has recorded just four hits in 23 at-bats with the Braves, but Cox has been happy with his swings and even more impressed with the defense he's provided at first base. The nifty double play that he began and completed on Tuesday night drew rave reviews.
"We haven't had great defense over there all year long," Cox said. "It's been good, but not great like Julio."
Tough luck: When his offense deserted him again in Wednesday night's loss, Chuck James had reason to feel frustrated. He hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his past five starts, but still has just two wins to show for his efforts during that span.
But James isn't alone in the tough-luck department.
Among those Major Leaguers who have made at least five starts since June 25, James' 1.47 ERA during that span ranks third. Leading that category is San Diego's Chris Young, whose 0.96 ERA has also equated to just two wins.
Coming Up: The Braves will begin a three-game series in Arizona against the Diamondbacks at 9:40 p.m. ET on Friday. They'll send Jo-Jo Reyes (0-1, 6.14 ERA) to the mound to oppose Yusmeiro Petit (2-2, 2.54 ERA).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.