Andruw Jones was one of the centerpieces of an Atlanta Braves team that achieved unprecedented success. Just 15 games into his first season outside the Braves organization, he’ll find out what it’s like in the visitors dugout at Turner Field.
Jones returns to Atlanta for the first time since signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason as the clubs open a three-game series on Friday night.
The Braves won a major-league record 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, and Jones was a key cog for much of that dynasty. He helped Atlanta reach the World Series when he was a rookie in 1996 and went on to compile 368 home runs and 1,117 RBIs in 12 seasons with the team - ranking fifth in franchise history in both categories. He also won a Gold Glove in each of his last 10 seasons with Atlanta.
After Jones’ worst offensive season in a decade, however, the Braves (6-9) chose not to pursue a contract with the free agent last winter. Jones then signed a two-year, $36.2 million deal with the Dodgers (7-8).
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who was Andruw’s teammate for each of the outfielder’s first 12 major-league seasons, said he never expected to have to welcome Andruw back to Atlanta.
“It’s going to feel weird because we were linked together for so long,” Chipper Jones told the Braves’ official Web site. “There’s some guys you get the feeling are going to come here and play here forever. Andruw was one of them. It goes to show you how quickly things can change.”
Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who played alongside Andruw for three years, added: “I hope the fans give him the respect he deserves and welcome him back. I think he’s definitely earned that.”
Jones hasn’t come close yet to delivering on the Dodgers’ big investment. He’s batting .157 (8-for-51) with no home runs, two RBIs and 16 strikeouts. The 15-game home run drought is his longest to start a season.
Other Dodgers, however, have been picking up the slack, most notably Rafael Furcal—another former Brave.
The shortstop, who started his career with Atlanta in 2000 before signing with Los Angeles before the 2006 season, suffered a badly sprained ankle in spring training last year and never regained his All-Star form. But he’s batting .407 with 11 extra-base hits, seven RBIs and 15 runs scored in 2008.
Furcal had four hits, including a homer, in Los Angeles’ 8-1 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, lifting his on-base percentage to .500.
“Last year I was hurt in spring training and I never could get fine because I played every day on my bad ankle,” Furcal said. “I almost played on one foot, so I couldn’t stay on the pitches at home plate so good and I couldn’t run like I used to. But when you’re 100 percent healthy, you can do anything on the field.”
The Braves hope to ruin the returns of Jones and Furcal as they try to build on their 8-0 victory over Florida on Thursday night, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
“Every win is big for us right now,” said Chipper Jones, who went 4-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs. “Let’s build upon this and start something of a roll.”
Atlanta will try to do that against Los Angeles starter Derek Lowe (1-0, 1.80 ERA), who held San Diego to one run and four hits in eight innings in an 11-1 win Saturday. The right-hander is 2-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 15 career games— eight starts—against the Braves.
He’ll match up against Atlanta’s Jeff Bennett (0-0, 5.52), who returns to the rotation for his second start of the year. The right-hander, who gave up two runs in four innings of his first start April 3, has struggled in his last two relief appearances, yielding five runs in five innings in those games - both Atlanta losses.
The Braves won four of their seven games against the Dodgers last season, including two of three at Turner Field.
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