ATLANTA -- With three more outstanding defensive plays in center field Wednesday night, Andruw Jones is solidifying a reputation as one of the game's best outfielders.
In the opinion of his teammates, he's a Gold Glove winner, hands down.
"There's no doubt in anybody's mind that he has the potential to be the best center fielder ever to play the game," John Smoltz said. "He's one of those rare four- or five-tool players. If his work ethic remains the same, he'll be the best center fielder in the game defensively. He's as good as it gets."
Said general manager John Schuerholz, "He's probably already the best center fielder we've ever had here. We've seen him for, what, three weeks? Just imagine three or four years from now."
That's high praise for a youngster who celebrated his 21st birthday Thursday and has less than two seasons in the major leagues under his belt. But it also is fair to point out that Jones' defense is ahead of his offense right now. He headed into Thursday night's game with a .182 average, though he has 10 RBI in 66 at-bats, one less than Ryan Klesko's total.
"All the time I go out there and try to get better," Jones said. "I try to go a step forward and improve my game. I can't say where I rank (among center fielders), but I do my best to be the best."
BYRD SENT DOWN:
As expected, the Braves sent reliever Paul Byrd back to Class AAA Richmond Thursday and recalled outfielder Damon Hollins. The right-handed-hitting Hollins is expected to remain with the club until Danny Bautista is ready to come off the disabled list May 2.
"I can't really explain how I feel," said Hollins, who was hitting .260. "Since I was drafted, this has been my dream and now it's finally come true."
Byrd, more comfortable as a starter, will return to Richmond's rotation. He made one appearance with the Braves, allowing three runs in two innings against the Rockies on Sunday.
"It's frustrating to see teams without a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, then come here and the Braves have five good ones," Byrd said. "I know I can start and help a team out."
WEISS OFF TO GOOD START:
Walt Weiss may not be a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he's doing an excellent impersonation of one. He's hitting .463, has scored 11 runs and has an on-base percentage of .532. The only thing missing is a stolen base.
"I run better than people think," he said. "I'm not a guy who's going to lead the league in stolen bases, but I'm a good runner, contrary to popular belief. I think I can get some stolen bases now and then."
Having a speedy leadoff hitter is not important to the Braves, who don't run a lot anyway. After years as an eighth-place hitter, Weiss brings a patient approach and an uncanny knack of getting on base to leadoff.
"I came to the conclusion after about five years in the league that if I'm going to contribute offensively, I was going to have to get on base," he said. "I think hitting eighth in the National League will make you a better hitter because it's tough. If you go up there with no game plan, it can be really tough."
SMOLTZ STILL HEALING:
John Smoltz wasn't advertising the fact after Wednesday night's start, but he has some cracked skin on his right thumb that prevented him from throwing effective breaking pitches. The right-hander, who will work against the Diamondbacks again next week in Phoenix, abandoned his slider and curve and went with plenty of fastballs and changeups.
"The healing process doesn't always work as quickly as you'd like," Smoltz said. "I just improvised and got some great defense. I just don't want to force it. If certain pitches aren't working, then I'll use something else."
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