The Atlanta Braves’ current slump may have uncovered some tension in a normally placid locker room.
The Braves will be trying to avoid a three-game sweep—and their longest losing streak of the season—as they wrap up their set with the streaking Detroit Tigers at Turner Field on Sunday.
Atlanta (38-37) lost its fourth straight game on Saturday, falling 2-1 to the Tigers and dropping to one game over .500 for the first time since it won its season opener. However, the Braves did end a string of three straight shutout losses, their longest such slump since 1988.
Star third baseman Chipper Jones returned to the Braves’ lineup after sitting out Friday with a groin injury and homered for Atlanta’s lone run. The drive, which ended a 31-inning scoreless stretch, left him one shy of Dale Murphy’s Atlanta record of 372 home runs.
However, after the game Jones said he felt pressured to rush back because of comments veteran starter John Smoltz made on Friday.
Without singling anyone out, Smoltz said, “You can’t worry about who’s in the lineup and who isn’t. You can’t worry about that stuff anymore.”
“I’d be stupid if I didn’t take it the same way,” Jones said, adding he planned to “play the rest of the games this year and do whatever I can. Somebody I know better not miss a start.”
Smoltz refused to comment on whether or not he was talking about Jones.
Manager Bobby Cox, who matched John McGraw’s record with his 131st career ejection when he was tossed in the ninth, tried to jump-start his team by juggling his lineup. Willie Harris hit leadoff for only the second time this season, Kelly Johnson moved down one spot and slumping Andruw Jones was dropped to seventh.
Andruw Jones went 0-for-2 with two walks, dropping his batting average to .198.
Cox, whose team has already faced Boston, Cleveland and Minnesota in interleague play, said he’ll be glad to see the Tigers (44-29) leave town.
“Of all the teams we’ve faced, those guys might have the best overall team,” Cox said of Detroit. “They’re a really solid team, and I think their starting rotation will prove to be the best in their league.”
The Tigers have won six straight, two shy of their season high established April 29-May 8. Carlos Guillen homered Saturday and extended his hitting streak to 10 games for Detroit, which leads the majors with 26 road wins.
Sunday’s starter Andrew Miller (2-1, 3.63 ERA) grew up in Florida rooting for the Braves, and will be facing them for the first time in his fourth career start.
“I’ve got enough other things to think about than whether it’s neat to be pitching against the Braves,” said the 22-year-old left hander, who was taken sixth overall in the 2006 draft. “I’ve got to make my pitches. Maybe later I will look back on all that other stuff.”
Miller has impressed the Tigers enough to earn more starts in the big leagues. He is coming off his first loss, a 6-3 defeat in Philadelphia in which he allowed four runs in six innings, but manager Jim Leyland thinks he has plenty of potential.
“He’s getting some more starts,” Leyland told the Tigers’ official Web site. “If he makes progress like we think he’s capable, he may never go back to the minor leagues. If he doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with sending Andrew Miller back down to get some more polish. That’s why you have the minor leagues.”
Atlanta will counter with Chuck James (6-6, 4.11), who won for the first time in four starts on Monday, allowing two runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 9-4 victory over Boston. He bounced back nicely after lasting just 4 1-3 innings and giving up six runs in a loss in Minnesota on June 13.
James, who has never faced Detroit, has allowed three or fewer runs in nine of his last 10, but has a 3-4 record over that span. He is 3-1 with a 4.18 ERA in four career interleague starts.