Notes: Jones goes back to the future
Center fielder ready to step up production, drive in runs
ATLANTA -- A few hours before the Braves cancelled Friday night's exhibition game against the Indians, Andruw Jones was at Turner Field to take a few extra swings and make some last-second preparations for what could be a great season for him.
When the Braves host the Indians in an exhibition-season finale on Saturday afternoon, Atlanta fans will get the chance to see why Jones was creating such a buzz in Florida the past couple of weeks.
Adopting a wider stance during the Grapefruit League season, Jones hit .405 with 10 homers and 20 RBIs. In other words, he was adding consistency to the occasional dominance he's shown since breaking into the Majors at age 19 in 1996.
"Everybody is excited about the way he looks," Braves catcher Johnny Estrada said.
Jones, who has won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards, looks slimmer than he has in recent years. But just as important, he looks more comfortable and confident than he has in the past.
While the Braves proved to be a resilient success story last year, Jones looked at the 2004 season as one of the most disappointing in his career. Thus, by September he had begun using the wider stance that had brought him success in the minor leagues and early in his career.
When the 2004 season ended, Jones had hit .261 with 29 homers and 91 RBIs. His RBI total was his lowest since 1999. But considering that 360 of his 577 at-bats came in the sixth and seventh spots of the batting order, it was rather respectable.
"When you've got men on base, you want to drive them in," Jones said. "That's what you want to do. You want to be consistent when there are men on base."
Entering this final weekend of exhibition games, Jones' 20 RBIs ranked fifth in the Majors. This is important because he's finally getting a chance to hit in the cleanup position. But to be successful, he'll have to increase his production in clutch situations.
Last year, 18 of Jones' 29 homers were solo shots. He managed to hit .296 with the bases empty and just .228 with runners on base. With runners in scoring position and two outs, he batted .176.
"I don't know about my average. I don't know what I'm hitting average-wise, but production-wise, that's what you want to do," Jones said. "You keep your team in the game. I don't watch my average, but I don't worry much about average, just to be consistent."
Bullpen battle: Despite his recent struggles, Adam Bernero seems to have secured a spot in the Braves' bullpen. If the Braves decide Kevin Gryboski's right shoulder hasn't progressed enough, Buddy Hernandez probably will begin the season with the team.
Based on his performances, Hernandez deserves a chance to prove himself at the Major League level. The 26-year-old allowed just one run and five hits in 9 2/3 innings.
Another dark-horse candidate to grab the final available spot in the bullpen could be Kevin Barry, who, like Hernandez, is a non-roster invitee. The 26-year-old right-hander recorded 13 strikeouts and allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings.
Hernandez has never appeared in a big league game, but he's posted a 2.16 ERA in 193 minor league appearances, all in relief. As for Barry, he has registered 260 strikeouts in 198 innings in the minors.
"Every year, both of those guys do it," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Just look at their track record."
Record-setting attendance: The Braves drew 127,542 fans to the 16 games they played at Cracker Jack Stadium this year. The average of 9,110 fans per game is the highest since the team moved into the Walt Disney World facility in 1998.
Coming up: Tim Hudson, John Thomson and Mike Hampton will all throw at least three innings in Saturday afternoon's game against the Indians. The game is scheduled for 11 innings and will go longer if one of these starting pitchers needs more time to increase their pitch count.
This will be Hudson's Turner Field debut; he has allowed six earned runs and nine hits in 13 2/3 innings this spring.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.