ATLANTA - With most hitters slumping badly, manager Bobby Cox shuffled the lineup Wednesday night, shifting Ryan Klesko to No. 3, Chipper Jones into the cleanup spot, Javier Lopez No. 5 and Fred McGriff No. 6.
The lineup raised a few eyebrows in the clubhouse, which was Cox's intention.
"It's just something different," he said. "Get the guys talking."
Never mind talking, how about getting the guys hitting?
The list of slumping hitters goes on and on: Jeff Blauser 11-for-60, .183), Tony Graffanino (3-for-28, .107), Andruw Jones (0-for-18 and 10-for-76, .132), Klesko (4-for-46, .087), Lopez (8-for-44, .182), McGriff (10-for-59, .169), Eddie Perez (13-for-71, .183) and Michael Tucker (17-for-95, .179).
"It's a prolonged hitting malaise," general manager John Schuerholz said. "Go back an examine our games from the last three weeks or more and mix in a key hit or a home run and we win a lot of close games. If we start hitting it will be long forgotten."
"I've hit so much I've got blisters on my hands," Klesko said. "There's nothing more I can do except study tapes."
Right now it's painful to watch. The Braves are hitting .207 in their last 13 games and the last time they scored more than four runs was a 6-0 victory over the Pirates Aug. 4. It's the only time they have accomplished the feat this month. The club's batting average, .284 on July 13, is down to .272 and the Braves are averaging 4.3 runs per game since the All-Star break.
More ominously, a team that usually thrives in the second half is only 18-16 since the All-Star.
"Sure there's a reason to be concerned," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "No. 1, we're not playing well so we're in a dogfight for our division. If you're going to look down the road and we get to the playoffs and continue playing like this we won't last long. But there's enough time in the season to get things straightened out."
Both Schuerholz and Glavine pointed at the large number of injuries that have hampered the Braves as keys to the club's struggles. McGriff has been bothered by a sore left shoulder and knee, Lopez has a sore thumb and knee, Blauser is banged up and Klesko has been nagged by injuries all season.
"We're aware of what's going on and everybody tries to do more," Glavine said. "We're trying to make up for everything happening in the last two weeks in one or two games. It doesn't work that way."
Cox is pleased with how well rookies relievers Chad Fox (0-0, 3.86 ERA) and Mike Cather (0-2, 1.40 ERA) have pitched. He was also impressed with Kerry Ligtenberg's debut Tuesday night, even though he allowed a two-run single to Al Martin.
Asked if he would have a problem including two or three rookies on the postseason staff and Cox responded, "Whoever says a veteran guy is the only one who can do it? If your stuff is good, it's good. If not you're going to be hit a little bit."
Keith Lockhart's pulled right oblique muscle is recovering slowly. Trainers have banned him from swinging a bat for the last two days and he probably won't begin again until Friday.
Lockhart is receiving treatment on the muscle and exercising it in an attempt to strengthen it.
"I just don't want to do anything too early," he said.
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