ATLANTA -- If Julio Franco can still hit, Chipper Jones said, hewill solve the club's most glaring weakness.
If not, well, the offense is no worse off than it was before Francosigned with the Braves Friday.
The well-traveled Franco, who has hit .301 in a 16-year career inthe major leagues, led the Mexican League with a .437 average, 18 homeruns and 90 RBI this season. He also led the league with 178 hits, a.497 on-base percentage, and a .678 slugging percentage.
True, the Mexican League is not the major leagues. It's not evenconsidered a high Triple-A league. But the Braves, who were desperateto find a hitter before Friday's deadline, hope Franco, who has playedin one game in the major leagues since 1997, can duplicate his successin Mexico for two more months.
"Our interest in him was entirely motivated that he can hit,"general manager John Schuerholz said. "If we win, (the fans) will feelbetter and so will we. If he doesn't help us win, everybody in theworld will remind me about it."
Now, the question of Franco's age. The Braves insist he is 40. Butothers claim he older. His biography in the Player's Register andvarious team media guides state he was born in 1961. But the BaseballEncyclopedia says he was born in 1958.
"He's older than Danny Almonte, although maybe not by much,"Schuerholz joked.
"If you keep yourself in shape and stay injury free, who can saywhat's old?" first baseman Ken Caminiti said.
Franco's age matters less to the team than whether he still has aswing that earned him All-Star Game MVP honors in 1990 and produced amajor league-leading .341 average in 1991.
"It's a good pickup for us if he hits," Jones said. "He'sdefinitely a guy to be reckoned with. He's been a good hitter for along time."
"When he was in Texas, and I was in Oakland, he probably hit theball harder per at-bat than anyone in the game," hitting coach MervRettenmund said.
Franco, signed by the Phillies out of his native Dominican Republicin 1978, has played with the Phillies, Indians, Rangers, White Sox,Brewers and Devil Rays, then played two years in Japan, and spent the2000 season in Korea. He was playing with the Mexico City Tigres, andhitting .477 in the playoffs, when he was acquired by the Braves. Bench coach Pat Corrales has known Franco since he was 19. He hadhim in Philadelphia, then again in Cleveland.
"He's a very good hitter, he always has been," Corrales said. Whether Franco is still a good hitter is a question he'll beginanswering when he joins the team today. Though he was a second basemanand shortstop early in his career, in recent years he's been playingfirst base. Scouts who saw him in Mexico say he's an above-averagefirst baseman, and manager Bobby Cox said Friday that's where he plansto play him.
In addition to adding Franco, the Braves also strengthened theirbullpen Friday, bringing back an old friend, reliever Rudy Seanez. Hewas acquired on a waiver claim from the Padres for a player to be namedlater and will join the team today.
"He's healthy and appears to be exactly what he was before he gothurt," Cox said. "He was huge in our bullpen before he got hurt." Seanez, 32, whose three-year stay in Atlanta included last year'sTommy John surgery on his right elbow, was 0-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 26games with the Padres. He did not allow a run in 22 of his appearanceswith San Diego, held opposing batters to a .176 average, and had 24strikeouts and 15 walks in 24 innings.
Also, the Braves called up pitchers Odalis Perez and Damian Moss,and infielder Jesse Garcia from Class AAA Richmond, and catcher EddiePerez from Class AA Greenville Friday.
Odalis Perez, on the disabled list since July 22 with a cut on hisleft hand, was 1-0 with a 2.74 ERA in five games with the R-Braves.Moss, who was with the Brave earlier this season, was 5-4 with a 3.15ERA, and 94 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings for Richmond.
Garcia, who was also up with the Braves for 10 games in July,batted .264 with 18 stolen bases for Richmond. Eddie Perez has missedall of this season following shoulder surgery. He batted .342 in atwo-week rehab assignment with Greenville.
To create room on the 40-man roster for Eddie Perez, the teamshifted pitcher Joe Nelson to the 60-day DL.
All four players will report today. ...
Heading into Friday's game, Jones was hitless in his last nineat-bats, and had just two hits in his last 19 at-bats. Though hisbatting average over his last 68 games is .336, he says he's falleninto some bad habits at the plate because of a barrage of insidepitches he's seen lately.
"Teams have been killing me inside and I can't cover the outsidepart of the plate with any authority," he said.
The answer, Jones said, is to slow himself at the plate and notjump out at pitches.
"It's been coming on for a while," he said. "I've had two goodswings the last week and both were caught at the wall in left field.I've got to get back to thinking that way."
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