05/28/10 2:03 AM ET
Bucs brace for high-scoring Braves
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
"I think [manager] Bobby [Cox] wants to put his best hitters at the top of the lineup," said Jones, "and get them as many at-bats as possible during the course of the game. Obviously, Jason and Prado up to this point have been our best hitters."
Prado hasn't just been one of Atlanta's best hitters. In fact, he's managed to craft a compelling case for the All-Star Game by ranking among the league leaders in hits (62) and multihit games (17). Heyward, one of two Atlanta rookies in the last 30 years to make his big league debut in the Opening Day starting lineup, has turned himself into a serious favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Heyward went into Thursday's game leading Major League rookies in home runs (nine), RBIs (35), slugging (.565) and on-base percentage (.440), giving opponents an imposing hitter in front of Jones. Jones has yet to find his power stroke this season, but he ranks among the league leaders in walks and said that he sees better pitches due to his company.
And the proof is in the numbers. Atlanta ranked 14th in the league in scoring in April and exited Thursday's game as the league's highest-scoring team in May. The Braves are rolling, and Jones has his own theories on what's working.
"I think Bobby was hoping that getting those guys on base would have a trickle-down effect on the middle of the lineup," he said. "We've scored more runs since the lineup changed. Troy [Glaus] has taken off. My RBI opportunities and [Brian McCann's] RBI opportunities have gone up since the lineup changed. We're scoring quite a bit more runs this month than we were last month."
The Braves will hand the ball to veteran Derek Lowe in the opener, and he'll be matched up against Pittsburgh's Zach Duke. Lowe has gone 8-0 with a 2.96 career ERA against the Pirates, and he beat them as recently as last week. Duke, meanwhile, has allowed one earned run in his last 13 innings and has a 2-3 record and a 3.83 career ERA against the Braves.
Pirates: Walker switches to second
The Pirates may be well-stocked at third base, but they showed Thursday that they don't mind getting creative. Pittburgh slotted starter Andy LaRoche at third against Cincinnati and moved former first-round draftee Neil Walker to second base in place of Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh may have this problem again later when super-prospect Pedro Alvarez is ready for the Majors.
"We want to continue Neil's progress at second base," said Pittsburgh manager John Russell. "His first day back, I told him just to concentrate on third, but [on Wednesday] he took ground balls at first, second and third."
Braves: McCann heating up at plate
McCann has proven to be productive in his two seasons as Atlanta's full-time cleanup hitter, and he's managed to heat up with Prado and Heyward ahead of him. Atlanta's catcher has started 32 of his 37 games as the No. 4 hitter, and he's batted .320 (16-for-50) with six extra-base hits in his last 12 games. McCann, in fact, has six multihit games over the last two weeks.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar has had back-to-back multihit games and may be on his way to making a full recovery from a strained left adductor muscle. Escobar spent two weeks on the disabled list to deal with that ailment, and he's hitting just .171 (7-for-41) since his return. Escobar has been a huge part of his team's offensive efforts in each of the last two seasons.
Pittsburgh's Octavio Dotel is seven-for-seven in save opportunities this month and has held opponents to an .097 average (3-for-31) in May. Pittsburgh's bullpen has the best winning percentage (.830) in the Majors. ... The Braves are 14-8 when they score first and 11-14 when opponents draw first blood. ... Atlanta has won or tied each of its last six series. ... LaRoche returned from a five-game absence due to a sore back. ... Pittsburgh has the best record in the Majors (15-7) in games decided by two runs or less. Despite a one-sided loss Thursday, seven of its last 10 games fit that billing. ... The Pirates are 15-3 when they outhit their opponents and 3-21 when they get outhit.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.