ATLANTA -- It's no longer a slump. Now it's THE SLUMP.
Andruw Jones' spiral has an enormous impact on a lineup struggling to score runs. The good news is, it's not getting any worse. The bad news, it's also not getting any better.
Jones, who hit .200 in July, is batting .205 this month. He'sbatted .193 (22 for 114) since the All-Star break. In his last 140at-bats, 30 percent of his season's total, he's batted .193.
"I'm not trying to hit .260," he said. "I'm trying hard. I canbe disappointed and mad at myself, but I'm trying."
When Jones batted a career-best .303 last year, he never went morethan three games without a hit. His longest stretch without one thisseason is five games.
Last season, he went hitless 38 times in 161 games; he's alreadysurpassed that total this year in 45 fewer games.
"Basically, last year I didn't slump at all," he said. "If I wasgoing bad, I was still getting a hit. Now when I'm going bad, I strikeout three times, maybe four. The only good streak I've had this seasonis five home runs in five days. This year is a slump year."
Hitting coach Merv Rettenmund says the origins of Jones'disappointing season date back to spring training. Whether it was hisapproach, his mindset, or a combination of several factors, Jones neverdeveloped the consistency in his swing that he had last season.
"Sometimes when guys think they've got it, they fail to realizethey have to maintain it," Rettenmund said. "I did it too. I hit .320very easily my first couple of years, but when it slipped, I didn'tknow how to get it back. Now I know the only way to do it is prepareevery year."
RELIEF FOR SMOLTZ:John Smoltz still considers himself a starter, but it's hard toargue with the results he's produced as a reliever. In 10 games, he'sallowed five hits and just one earned run (0.87 ERA), and has eightstrikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
Working from the bullpen has also given him a greater appreciation for the unappreciated relievers.
"You don't have that appreciation until you go in and do it," hesaid. "I'll never convince anyone else how hard it is. It's not somuch the number of games, it's the lack of room for error."
Smoltz, who underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in March 2000 and started this season on the disabled list, won't be fully recovered until next season. The team is closely monitoring his work load and limiting his appearances in consecutive games.
"I'm at the point now where I can't go that many days in a row,"he said. "As much as I want to pitch, it doesn't make sense for me toexhaust every option until the playoffs."
But 10 games into his new career, it's easy to envision Smoltz inthe closer's role, either this season or next.
Smoltz, who can be a free agent following the season and has madeit clear he wants to remain with the Braves, says he will entertainoffers to return to the rotation or work as a closer.
"I don't know the economic changes that are going on here," hesaid. "But I had the surgery to pitch more than one year. I'd like topitch beyond next year. I'd hope whatever scenario I'm in, (a contract)is for more than one year."
CABRERA'S WOES:Jose Cabrera's roll is over. A perfect reliever for a month -- 13 straight scoreless appearances from June 17-July 16 -- he's been a mere mortal over his last 10 games, allowing 14 hits and nine runs.
That's a ghastly stretch, but the bigger problem is, Cabrera has noexplanation for the sudden departure of his effectiveness.
"I have no excuse," he said. "My body is OK, my arm is OK, mymentality is OK. It's unbelievable. I haven't changed anything. I'mdoing the same routine I did the first three months here."
But he's coming away with drastically different results. In a21-game stretch from May 20-July 16, he allowed just one earned run.But since July 23, his ERA has jumped from 1.14 to 2.51.
"The way I'm pitching now is the same way I was pitching two weeks ago," Cabrera said. "Right now, everything they're hitting are base hits. I can't explain it."