Phillies and Braves Face Key Series

The New York Mets came to town this past Monday trailing the Phillies by two games. The Atlanta Braves come to town tonight, trailing the Phillies by two games. Notice a trend here? The Phillies wrap up their 14 game homestand with a big three-game series with Atlanta to determine who leads the east heading into the all-star break. For at least one Atlanta Brave, this has been a season of ups and downs.

Thanks to second baseman Nick Green's strained middle back muscle and infielder Jesse Garcia's leg cramps, Mark DeRosa was back in the starting lineup, playing second base Tuesday and Wednesday against the Expos in San Juan.

This has not been the season of DeRosa's dreams.

Assured of the starting third base job this year, he spent the offseason preparing, working out and eating right, taking more batting practice than one would think possible.

But DeRosa often started slowly offensively in the minors, and it happened this time, too. That didn't do a lot for his confidence, but he never was less than gracious and accommodating to teammates, fans and media.

DeRosa was also making an alarming number of errors in the field to go with all of the outs at the plate, but manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz continued to express confidence in him.

Then, Chipper Jones' hamstring got in the way.

Jones just couldn't run down balls in the outfield, and even though an array of injuries has hurt his offensive production, the Braves still needed his bat in the lineup.

So DeRosa lost his starting job to his best friend on the team.

"It's difficult for him," Jones acknowledged. "He's waited his whole life to have an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, and he's got it. And I hate it. All that I've said to him is I hate it that this has happened. But the bottom line is that I don't think I can go back out in the outfield and survive very long playing out there. Because there's going to be plays that I have to go full bore, and I don't know if my hamstring will hold up. If that's the case then we've got to make a logical decision, a logical move. For now, this is it."

BRAVES NOTES:
  • Nick Green missed his third game Wednesday because of a strained middle back muscle. The Braves were off on Thursday, and Green is expected to start in Philadelphia on Friday.
  • Left fielder Charles Thomas hit his first major league homerun Wednesday night against the Expos in San Juan.
  • Right fielder J.D. Drew's 4-4 night Wednesday extended his hitting streak to eight games.
  • Outfielder Dewayne Wise (strained left elbow) was 3-8 with two homeruns and two stolen bases in the first two games of his rehab assignment with Class A Rome.
  • Third baseman Chipper Jones is fighting a flu bug, as are Mark DeRosa, Adam LaRoche and, to a lesser extent, manager Bobby Cox. The bug appears to be making its way through the clubhouse.
  • Center fielder Andruw Jones hit his first homerun in 103 at-bats Tuesday.
  • First baseman Adam LaRoche (separated left shoulder) was activated from the 15-day disabled list on July 2. Infielder Mike Hessman was optioned to AAA Richmond to make room on the roster for LaRoche.
  • Pitcher Horacio Ramirez, on the disabled list since May 26 with tendinitis in his left shoulder, finally got a cortisone shot Friday (July 2) because he is not happy with the way the shoulder feels.
  • Pitcher John Thomson allowed the first grand slam by a Braves pitcher when he threw a fastball right down the middle of the plate to Doug Mirabelli in the Braves' 6-1 loss to the Red Sox on July 3.

THE NUMBERS GAME: 1990 The last time the Braves' record was under .500 after the first 81 games of the season. That year, they were 33-48; this year, they were 40-41.

HE SAID WHAT? "Playing the game is fun. The game is enjoyable. You get some losses, but there's always a game the next day." - Manager Bobby Cox.

ROSTER REPORT

PITCHING TRENDS: The Braves continue to audition relievers, particularly left-handers. The bullpen has become a revolving door, not so much from ineffectiveness as from overuse, which leads to the same thing. The key, of course, would be for the starters to pitch deeper into games. Sound familiar?

PITCHERS TO WATCH:

RHP Tim Drew (yes, that is J.D.'s younger brother) is the latest call-up to the bullpen. This is his third stint in the major leagues. Although he was starting at AAA Richmond, the Braves want him as a fresh arm in relief.

RHP John Thomson, who will start the first game of the series, appears to have come out of his recent mild slump after taking pitching coach Leo Mazzone's advice to "just grab the pitch and throw it, don't worry about it."

LINEUP LOWDOWN: Center fielder Andruw Jones, stuck in the lineup's nether region, continues to swing at pitches far outside the strike zone but has at least, for the moment, cut down on grounding into double plays.

POSITION PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Third baseman Chipper Jones may be in the lineup every day, but that does not mean he has total confidence in the state of his right hamstring. That's why manager Bobby Cox has been taking him out of games in the late innings, especially when it's been raining.

First baseman Adam LaRoche, just off the 15-day disabled list, still has a ways to go to build up strength in his separated left shoulder.

M*A*S*H UNIT

On the 15-day disabled list:
  • Pitcher Horacio Ramirez (left shoulder tendinitis)
  • Outfielder Dewayne Wise (strained left elbow)
  • Second baseman Marcus Giles (broken right collarbone) has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list from the 15-day disabled list. He is eligible to be activated on July 15.

PHILLIES NEWS


  • Phillies starters have pitched more than seven innings just three times this season, fewest in the big leagues.
  • Shortstop Jimmy Rollins went hitless against the Mets on Wednesday, ending his hitting streak at 10 games.
  • Billy Wagner has challenged management to make a move before the July 31 trading deadline that will help the Phillies down the stretch. "You can say you want to win a championship, but what is (the front office) going to do about it?" the closer said. "That doesn't mean you go out and buy a championship, but when you have to make a move, you make a move."
  • Vicente Padilla, who hasn't pitched since May because of elbow tendinitis, has begun to play catch. The Phillies are cautiously optimistic, but he's a week to 10 days away from throwing off a mound and then it will take him at least a month to be ready to pitch in a game.
  • Ryan Madson merits consideration as NL Rookie of the Year, according to Larry Bowa. Madson has a 2.15 earned run average ... 1.09 except for one disastrous emergency start. "If they were voting on it right now, I'd pick him," the manager said.
  • Paul Abbott could be pitching for his spot in the rotation when he faces the Braves on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. RHP Brian Powell has been pitching well in relief. "If we do anything, it won't be until after the All-Star break," manager Larry Bowa said.
  • Center fielder Marlon Byrd, demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 21, worked with special hitting instructor Charlie Manuel for ten days to try to regain his swing. "The ball jumps off his bat," Manuel said. "That's the first time I've seen that kind of pop from him. He has a chance to hit the ball hard. He's not going to be a singles hitter."
  • Roberto Hernandez believes the mechanical change suggested by pitching coach Joe Kerrigan - he's setting his hands lower at the start of his delivery - has already paid dividends. "It was just one minor adjustment and it made all the difference," he said.
  • Tomas Perez has hit five home runs. That matches his career high, done for the third straight year.
  • Jason Michaels is officially day-to-day after straining his hamstring on a play Thursday night. Michaels had earned the bulk of playing time in center field.




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