HOUSTON -- Chipper Jones was half joking when he wandered over to the wall where the lineup was posted and wondered aloud if he was playing.
Considering the way he's swung the bat during the past eight games, he wouldn't have been surprised if manager Bobby Cox had omitted his name.
"I have no clue (at the plate)," Jones said. "I'm just not picking up the ball. I'm not picking up off-speed stuff. It's a mode you go through once or twice a year."
The third baseman was hitting .358 on May 9, but with only six hits in his past 30 at-bats, his average has dropped to .329 and he almost has twice as many strikeouts (5) than RBI (3) in the past eight games.
"You can't get off to the start I got off to and not expect to go through a period like this," he said. "I go up for one or two at-bats and feel good and stick my hits in, then I have a night to think about it and I come back the next day and it's the same old thing."
Hitting in the Astrodome is contributing to his slump. Jones says he doesn't see the ball well here and his 0-for-4 performance in Friday's opener was further evidence of that. He struck out twice, flied out and tapped a pitch back to the pitcher, then was a combined 3-for-8 Saturday and Sunday.
"(A slump) can last anywhere for three or four games to 10 days to two weeks," he said. "I went through one at the beginning of last season when I couldn't hit water if I fell out of a boat."
Still, for all his recent struggles, Jones remains among league leaders in nine offensive categories and is on pace to far surpass his career-best home run and RBI totals.
"Right now is when you want a day off and we don't have it," he said. "When you're going good a day off is the last thing on your mind."
LOCKHART TO GET SHOT: Second baseman Keith Lockhart returned to Atlanta following Sunday's game to receive a cortisone injection from club orthopedist Dr. Joe Chandler in his sore left shoulder. Lockhart, who has a partial thickness tear in his labrum, collided with right fielder Michael Tucker last week and aggravated it.
Cox is taking advantage of left-hander Mike Hampton starting for the Astros today and a day off Tuesday to give Lockhart two days to rest his shoulder.
"It's going to last all year until he gets it taken care of after the season," Cox said. "I think he could play Wednesday and if not, certainly Thursday."
WOHLERS NOT CLOSE: Mark Wohlers is eligible to come off the disabled list today, but he isn't close to pitching again. The right-hander was hopeful of testing his left oblique muscle today, but the club wants him to wait and be examined by doctors in Atlanta on Tuesday.
"There's no pain, but I can feel it," he said. "I really haven't tested it yet. I haven't taken it to another level and I don't know when I will."
Wohlers hopes to get back on a mound and throw hard this week, then pitch in a couple of games with a minor-league team. His timetable is uncertain, however. It probably will be two more weeks before he's activated from the disabled list.
"I don't want to come off and hurt it again and make these two weeks meaningless," he said.
STILL STRONG: The Braves head into this afternoon's series finale with a 5-2 record on the trip, a 16-4 record since April 27 and a 25-7 mark since April 14. More importantly, the club has an 8 1/2 game lead in the NL East, though nobody seems to know by how many games.
"We don't pay attention to that stuff," Tom Glavine said. "We just go out and play our games. I don't think we pay a whole lot of attention to anyone else. We expect to win our division. That's our goal. You pay more attention to the standings when you're struggling because you're looking at other guys to lose too."
Last year the Braves built a nine-game lead over the Marlins in September. Is there a danger of the club relaxing with a big cushion? Not a chance, Cox said.
"You've got to play every game like you're tied," he said. "Look at the Dodgers (in 1991). They had a 10 1/2 game lead and it dissipated in a hurry. Games go quickly if you let down. To be honest, I never look (at the standings). I know what our lead is because guys talk about it."
ANDRUW STILL WORKING: Following his three strikeouts Friday night, Andruw Jones went to the indoor batting cages Saturday afternoon to work with coaches Clarence Jones and Pat Corrales. Before they left their lockers, Cox told the coaches to pass along some advice to Jones.
"Tell him to stop swinging at balls that bounce in the left-handed batters box," he said.
Jones, who has struck out eight times in the past four games, said his problem is proper balance at the plate.
"Last night I was leaning too much and pulling off the ball," he said. "I went 0-for-3 and I know what I did wrong."
Cox gave Jones the day off Sunday, starting Gerald Williamsin center field.
"I should have done it before, get Gerald some playing time," Cox said.
ANOTHER RECORD: Along with setting a record pace for wins to start the season, the Braves are on pace to shatter the 1987 franchise record of 284 doubles. The club's total of 79 doubles through 43 games projects to 305 for the season. Dion James led the '87 team with 37 doubles; Tucker leads the club this season with 13.
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