Though he’s almost certainly not going to be in the starting lineup, Jones is virtually assured of clinching his first National League batting title as the Braves close out the season against the Houston Astros on Sunday.
Jones was batting .400 as late as June 18, but hasn’t started since Sept. 21 due to right shoulder inflammation. He enters the season finale hitting .364 for an eight-point lead over St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols—who would need to go 7-for-7 in his last game of the season to overtake Jones.
“If Albert pulls one out of the hat, I can’t complain,” Jones told the Braves’ official Web site. “I’ve hit all year as well as I possibly could.”
Atlanta has not had a batting champion since 1991, when Terry Pendleton hit .319. Last year, Jones hit .337, but finished second in the NL batting race to Colorado’s Matt Holliday (.340).
Should Jones’ fail to increase his average on Sunday, he would finish .0005 shy of the best single-season average by a switch-hitter. Mickey Mantle hit .3649 for the New York Yankees in 1957.
With that scenario in place, Jones may want to be the starting lineup for this game. He’s 4-for-7 (.571) with two homers in his career against Wandy Rodriguez (8-7, 3.73 ERA), who will try to match his win total in each of the last two seasons for Houston (85-75).
The left-hander lasted one inning on Sept. 7 at Colorado before leaving with a strained right oblique that sidelined him for 16 days. He came back on Tuesday against Cincinnati, and allowed two unearned runs over five innings of a 2-1 setback.
Rodriguez didn’t get a decision in his only outing against the Braves this season, and is 1-1 with an 8.44 ERA in four career starts against them.
The oft-injured Hampton, who won 22 games with Houston in 1999, returned this season after missing nearly three years due to two elbow surgeries.
He didn’t make his 2008 debut, though, until late July because of a strained chest muscle. When he has been healthy, he’s been a serviceable member of the rotation, making 12 straight starts and going at least six innings in nine of them.
The left-hander is in the last season of an eight-year, $121 million deal, and probably will be using this start to showcase himself for next season.
“It gives me another chance to prove what I can do, so I’m happy,” Hampton said. “I’m happy with the way things have been going so far. I don’t know who, but I’m going to help some team next year.”
Hampton is 3-0 with a 4.28 ERA in six career starts against Houston.
The Braves led 9-0 after two innings on Saturday, and cruised to an 11-5 win. Rookie outfielder Josh Anderson had two homers among three hits, and drove in three.
Anderson played 21 games for Houston at the end of last season, and hit .358 before being traded for reliever Oscar Villarreal in the offseason.
“I like hitting here,” Anderson said of Minute Maid Park. “It’s a good place to hit. You can see the ball well.”