Originally created 08/07/99

Braves notebook: Leadoff spot still a dilemma for Cox



ATLANTA -- Asked Friday what he looks for in a leadoff hitter, manager Bobby Cox responded, "I like anybody who can get on base."

Unfortunately, he hasn't found a leadoff man who has reached base consistently this season. Walt Weiss has a .288 on-base percentage and the rap against Gerald Williams is he can't hit right-handers.

That leaves Cox with few choices. He's tossed around the idea of inserting Andruw Jones at the top of the lineup, but he likes the young center fielder in the No. 5 or No. 6 hole. Newcomer Jose Hernandez strikes out too frequently to be a leadoff hitter and that about exhausts the list of candidates.

Cox probably will continue writing Weiss' name atop the lineup, but Williams may end up winning the job because of his .350 on-base percentage. The veteran outfielder dismisses the notion that he only hits left-handers, though he entered the season as a career .234 hitter against right-handers and a .292 hitter versus lefties.

"There's a lot of things that happen when you play consistently," Williams said. "It's ludicrous to think a guy can't hit right-handers when you put him in in May against a right-hander, then do it again in August."

If Williams becomes the leadoff hitter, it means Cox must make a choice between keeping Randall Simon at first base and sitting down Ryan Klesko or shifting Klesko back to first base. At this point, Cox isn't saying what he's going to do.

ALL IN THE FAMILY:

With advice from his father, whom he describes as his "lifetime batting coach," Brian Jordan headed for the indoor cage Friday afternoon to figure out a way to compensate for his sore right hand. The cleanup hitter, who's hitting .175 with six RBI in his last 10 games, says the pain is robbing him of top hand strength and the result is he's looping the bat head as he swings.

"I'm not driving the ball, period," he said. "In the last week I'm just popping everything up to right field instead of dropping the bat head on the ball and driving it."

So, with hitting coach Don Baylor in tow, Jordan worked on getting the bat in a position to drive the ball without the pain overwhelming him.

"I've got to let the bat go and forget about the pain," he said. "I've got to figure out a way to get to the outside pitch and attack it."

After taking about 125 swings, Baylor indicated Jordan was feeling better about himself.

"In the subconscious mind, that's where his problem began," Baylor said. "Feeling he didn't want to get jammed or do anything that would cause his hand to hurt. We went back to using his legs, getting a good base, and he felt really good when he left."

LITTLE MIDDLE GROUND:

John Rocker is discovering life as a closer can mean a gusher of activity or none at all. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground of working in a couple of games, taking a day off, then getting ready again.

The result is that Rocker has been exhausted by too much work or rusty from not getting any innings.

Explaining his lack of command when he doesn't work for four or five days, he said, "It's like taking one of those big old fire hoses, turning it on full-blast, then standing back 20 feet and trying to control it."

Rocker has made two appearances since July 25 and the rust is evident: In 2 2/3 innings he's issued four walks. Besides feeling like he can throw his fastball through a brick wall when he's too strong, another result of a lack of work is the lack of an effective slider.

"I feel like the harder I throw it, the more it will break and it ends up just spinning up there," he said. "I have to really concentrate on the mitt and finishing off my pitches."