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07/08/08 1:31 AM ET
Francoeur's return to bigs delayed a day
With three put on DL, outfielder summoned back from Minors
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Jeff Francoeur's stay in the Minor Leagues was a short one. Unfortunately, his cross-country journey back to the Majors took him a lot longer than desired. After learning early Monday morning that the Braves had recalled him to their Major League roster, Francoeur made every attempt to get to Dodger Stadium in time for the start of Monday night's series opener against the Dodgers. But his flight landed approximately one hour after Monday's first pitch and because the game lasted just a little more than two hours, he didn't even come to Dodger Stadium for a potential pinch-hit appearance. Had he arrived in time, Braves manager Bobby Cox was ready to put him in the starting lineup. "He got four hits last night and we need him," Cox said after being asked if Francoeur's three-day stay with Double-A Mississippi was long enough to correct his swing. When the Braves surprised Francoeur by optioning him to Mississippi after Thursday night's loss to the Phillies, they knew he was struggling mightily with his mechanics at the plate. It was also their belief that his mechanical flaws were a product of the fact that he'd lost confidence and was mentally beating himself on a daily basis. Thus, after Francoeur had a four-hit game against Charlotte on Sunday, the Braves decided his three-day stay in the Minors was long enough. "All the reports we got from [Mississippi's staff] said that he was smiling, having fun and being relaxed at the plate," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "That really all we wanted him to do." When the Braves sent Francoeur to Mississippi, their expectation was that he'd return after the All-Star break. Their primary reason for this plan stemmed from rules that stipulate a player optioned to the Minors can't be recalled less than 10 days later, unless he is recalled to replace somebody going on the disabled list. Because he was forced to put three players -- -- utilityman Omar Infante and right-handed relievers Jeff Bennett and Manny Acosta -- on the disabled list Monday, Wren found himself with this opportunity to bring Francoeur back earlier than expected. But he says this latest rash of injuries wasn't the only reason the young outfielder was brought back early. "This move was predicated on the reports we were getting from Mississippi," Wren said. "We were hearing what we wanted to hear." While recording seven hits, including one extra-base hit, in 13 at-bats and three games for Mississippi, Francoeur was seemingly showing something that he'd lacked while hitting .234 with a .287 on-base percentage in 86 games with Atlanta. When the Braves finally pulled the trigger and optioned Francoeur, he had batted .193 with a .257 on-base percentage and .300 slugging percentage in his previous 37 games. Still during Thursday night's 30-minute meeting with Wren, Cox, bench coach Chino Cadahia and hitting coach Terry Pendleton, Francoeur showed that he was saddened and shocked by the decision. Given that he'd just won his first Gold Glove last year and was just two years removed from being part of Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, this was at least a somewhat understandable reaction from somebody who is just 24 years old. Wren said that he's not worried about some of the comments Francoeur made following the transaction. "That doesn't concern me at all," Wren said. "Those comments were made out of frustration." While talking to Francoeur on Monday, Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann got the sense that his close friend was coming back with a clearer mind and a determination to turn things around. Just last year, the outfielder hit .293 and recorded his second consecutive 100-RBI season. "He's going to be back and I think he'll be better for it," McCann said. "He's going to have a great second half." If nothing else, Francoeur is certainly coming back earlier than he expected. When he got word that he was coming to Los Angeles, he called Braves reliever Blaine Boyer to see if he had an extra pair of dress slacks that he could wear. Obviously the attire he'd packed for his Minor League stay must not have met Major League standards. Now he's just looking to prove he has the ability to produce statistics that also meet Major League standards. "Knowing Jeff and the fight that he has, he's going to do it," Boyer said. "I'm glad he's back up here. We need him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.