Andruw on pace for unflattering record
Braves center fielder could break club, MLB strikeout marks
ATLANTA -- When Andruw Jones powered his way to an MVP-caliber season two years ago, he gave reason to believe there might come a day in which he would establish a new single-season Major League record.
And after his career-worst five-strikeout catastrophe at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, that still seems to be a definite possibility. But instead of breaking one of Barry Bonds' records, it now seems more likely that he'd unseat Adam Dunn on the infamous side of the record books.
With 51 strikeouts through the first 44 games that the Braves have played this season, Jones seems destined to shatter the all-time franchise record of 147 strikeouts that he set in 2004. His current pace points toward 188 strikeouts for the season, which would leave him just seven shy of the Major League record that Dunn set during that same 2004 season.
This isn't exactly the sort of record that agent Scott Boras was looking to add to the portfolio that he'll display while shopping Jones on the free-agent market this year. But at the same time, it doesn't appear his client feels the sense of urgency to make the adjustments that would enhance his ability to maximize his potential profits this offseason.
"I swing the bat the way I want to swing, the way I swing it all the time," Jones said. "So some days, you're going to have bad days and some days, you're going to have good days."
Though his words might express otherwise, it's hard to imagine Jones isn't feeling anything but embarrassment concerning the .212 batting average that he'll carry into Tuesday night's game against the Mets at Turner Field.
But while regularly not accepting advice from Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, he hasn't shown the initiative necessary to make the adjustments that might have prevented him from recording just five hits in the 36 at-bats that he registered on the forgettable 10-game road trip that the Braves just experienced.
"I would just like for us to get on the same page, and hopefully we can help him do what he needs to do to be successful," said Pendleton, who has spent countless hours watching videos of Jones' swings of the past and present.
Two years ago, when he belted 51 homers and finished second in the National League MVP voting to Albert Pujols, Jones went back to using the wider batting stance that he's currently using. There's no doubt that it gave him improved plate coverage and the ability to produce a quieter swing, which consequently allowed him to track pitches longer.
But this year, the benefits of the wider stance haven't exactly been existent. Countless times, a lack of balance has caused his back knee to fall to the ground during his swing. When asked why that has happened, he simply responded, "I slip more than anybody, I guess. I don't know."
And after at least showing some progress two weeks ago, when he delivered game-winning hits on consecutive nights to the opposite field, Jones made a point to say, "I'm not a right-field-ball hitter. I'm a pull hitter. That's the way it is."
|"There are some who are just .260 hitters. But there are others who are doing that and possibly are much better than they have shown. [Andruw Jones is] definitely better than a .260 hitter."|
|-- Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton|
But if the 30-year-old Jones continues to maintain this pace, Pendleton believes the final career totals won't accurately reflect the tremendous offensive talents that this often-stubborn center fielder possesses.
"There are some who are just .260 hitters," Pendleton said. "But there are others who are doing that and possibly are much better than they have shown. He's definitely better than a .260 hitter."
Right now, the Braves would settle for Jones to be something more than a .230 hitter. Since getting his batting average up to a season-best .264 mark on May 1, Jones has hit .138 (9-for-65) and found himself removed from the cleanup spot in the batting order.
"I can go 0-for-24," Jones said. "I don't care. People can make a big deal about it. I don't. I just go out there and play and help my team any way that I can."
Braves manager Bobby Cox, who took Jones out of the cleanup role this past weekend, has been rather patient with his veteran center fielder. Countless times, he's seen his streakiness produce some rather torrid streaks and, for now, he can only hope that another one is right around the corner.
"We haven't given up on him," Cox said. "We never have and never will."
While Pendleton believes it would only be natural to do so, Cox isn't publicly buying into the theory that Jones could be pressing because he's in a free-agent season. The nine-time Gold Glove winner says his contractual future hasn't been an issue.
"It's not the first time that I've struggled in my life," Jones said. "It ain't no big deal. Free agent or no free agent, I just go out there and play the same way that I always play."
There's no doubt that Jones has gone through some abysmal stretches during every season of his career. But this is the first time that, on May 21, he finds himself with a batting average this low. His worst mark on this date came in 1998, when he was hitting .233.
In fact, this marks just the fourth time in his 11 Major League seasons that he'll enter May 22, batting lower than his .265 career batting average. The other two occasions came in 2002 (.261) and 2004 (.262).
"Normally, I hit good in May," said Jones who is a .285 career hitter in the season's second month. "But this is the first time I'm not hitting good in May. So, hopefully, when it's past, I'll get in a groove and put some good numbers up."
When Jones was hitting .192 on April 26, 2005, there wasn't much reason to think he'd finish second in that year's MVP balloting. But by the time June had arrived, he'd worked that mark up to .262. Then, of course, he hit 31 of his franchise-record 51 homers from the start of June through the end of August, and the rest was history.
"Sometimes, it just takes the smallest thing to turn it around," said John Smoltz, who has developed a good relationship with Jones while playing with him for 11 seasons.
While guarding their words because of the tremendous respect and love that they have for Jones, the Braves aren't coming out and directly saying that their outfielder's stubbornness has prevented him from making the necessary adjustments.
But that pretty much can be assumed or, at least, evidenced most every time Jones walks to the plate.
"Right now, there are just too many different things that [pitchers] can do to him," Smoltz said. "Until he makes some adjustments, then the pitchers aren't going to have to make any adjustments."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.