ATLANTA - There's pitching help on the way, but it's inexperienced help.
The Braves are making plans to recall right-hander Kevin Millwood from Class AAA Richmond (Va.) to start one game in the July 22 doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Since being promoted from Class AA Greenville (S.C.), Millwood, 22, is 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts at Richmond. If the 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander makes an impression, he could stay and become the fifth starter or move into the bullpen.
"He's for real," manager Bobby Cox said of Millwood.
In his most recent start against Toledo Thursday night, Millwood worked seven shutout innings, allowing a pair of hits and two walks, in a 6-0 victory.
The youngster was 3-5 with a 4.11 ERA at Greenville, hardly numbers that would normally warrant a promotion, but the Braves felt a challenge would bring out the best in him. Millwood, whose fastball has been clocked at 96 m.p.h., is said to have a bulldog personality and Richmond pitching coach Bill Fischer has a reputation for working well with young pitchers.
Certainly the Braves need to upgrade their bullpen. With the exception of Mark Wohlers, who blew only his second save in 22 opportunities Thursday night, there has been a marked lack of consistency from the relievers the past few weeks.
"I'd like to see somebody get a little more consistent," Cox said. "If you throw the ball over the plate you have a better chance of getting an out."
General manager John Schuerholz said Friday he feels no sense of urgency to make changes in the bullpen. He has several options. He could make a trade before the July 31 deadline or he could wait until late August to make a deal, though players have to clear waivers before they can be traded.
"My actions will speak louder than my words, as they always have," Schuerholz said. "We don't normally sit around and pontificate about what's wrong with the team. We try to fix it."
Until June 24, Chipper Jones was a career .233 hitter with 21 RBI with the bases loaded. He's nudged that average up slightly by hitting .800 (4-for-5) with 15 RBI and a 1.500 slugging percentage in that situation since then, with three grand slams and a double. He barely missed a fourth grand slam when he doubled high off the left field wall in Montreal July 3.
"It's kind of weird how things happen," Jones said. "The only other grand slam I had in my life was at Triple-A in '93. That's high, Little League ... so to have three in a span of two weeks is amazing."
Jones hit his third in Thursday's loss, a fly ball that right fielder Carl Everett got a glove on by leaping at the wall, but couldn't hold it.
"I didn't put a good swing on it, but I hit it right on the screws," Jones said. "I started out of the box and the ball just kept going up and up and up. Then, as it started coming down I saw (Everett) camped under it. I said, `Oh, no, he's going to rob me.' It was luck. That's all it was."
The three grand slams set an Atlanta record and are three shy of Don Mattingly's single-season major league mark. It's the most by a Brave in a season since Hank Aaron hit three in 1962; Sid Gordon holds the franchise record with four for the Boston Braves in 1950.
Backup catcher Eddie Perez's batting average bottomed out at .091 May 21. Since then, he's hit .328 with four homers and three doubles to raise his average to .250.
Explaining his rejuvenation as a hitter, Perez said, "Can we cut out April? Since then my season has started. I'm being more aggressive at the plate. The first month I was thinking too much about my mechanics." ...
Pedro Borbon hopes to get back on the mound again in a couple of weeks. The reliever, who underwent elbow surgery last Aug. 30, had a setback in his rehabilitation last month in Colorado, but has recovered nicely since then.
"All I know is my arm feels the best it's felt since I had the surgery," Borbon said. "The way it feels right now, I'll be pitching by September."
Borbon has been playing catch to strengthen his arm and shoulder and if he continues to make progress he'll increase his velocity from a mound, then begin a rehabilitation assignment with a minor league team.