Braves-Rays Preview


With Tampa Bay the closest major league locale to Florida native Chipper Jones' birthplace, the Atlanta Braves star expects to have 100 or so fans from his hometown in attendance for Saturday's game against the Rays.

Those fans won't get a chance to see him play after he left the series opener with a bruised left calf.

As Jones plays the final season of a probable Hall of Fame career, fans at every ballpark the Braves have visited have honored the seven-time All-Star with standing ovations. Saturday's game figured to be extra special for Jones, as a charter bus of friends is slated to make the 3 1/2-hour trek from his hometown of Pierson, Fla.

However, the 1999 NL MVP was hit in the leg by B.J. Upton's hard one-hopper in the third inning of Friday's 5-3 victory. He initially remained in the game, departing after the seventh and effectively declaring himself out for the rest of the weekend.

"My career in Tampa is over,'' said Jones, who showed reporters a nasty, ball-size bruise just above the ankle while sitting at his locker. "That really hurt. If you're standing 85 feet from home plate and somebody hits a rocket at you, you better get a glove on it. I didn't.''

Jones, batting .307 with 24 RBIs, singled and scored before coming out of Friday's game. Freddie Freeman led Atlanta's offense with two hits and two RBIs and Brian McCann also drove in a run as the NL East-leading Braves won for the 10th time in 14 games.

Atlanta (25-15) has also won 10 of its last 11 interleague games. McCann has feasted on AL pitching, batting .396 with five homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.184 OPS in 14 games against the Junior Circuit since the start of last season.

McCann will get his first look Saturday at the Rays' Alex Cobb, who is slated to make his season debut, taking the rotation spot of Jeff Niemann (fractured right leg).

Cobb had three stints with the Rays (24-16) last year as a rookie, going 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in nine starts. The right-hander was 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA in eight outings this season with Triple-A Durham, yielding two runs or fewer six times. He had 44 strikeouts in 41 1-3 innings.

The Braves counter with Randall Delgado (2-3, 3.79 ERA), who is looking to continue his May turnaround.

After posting a 6.30 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP in four April starts, Delgado has a 1.33 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in three outings this month. The right-hander allowed one unearned run, four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings against Cincinnati on Monday, but didn't get a decision as the Braves lost 3-1.

"I think I've adapted to the big leagues," Delgado, who leads all NL rookies with 35 strikeouts, told the Braves' official website.

Right-handed hitters are batting .162 against Delgado, whereas lefties are batting .316. That could favor the Rays, who have several left-handed batters in their lineup - Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Rich Thompson - as well as switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Elliot Johnson.

Scott had three hits and drove in two runs Friday to bring his season RBI total to 29, while Johnson added a pair of singles and an RBI.

Johnson has hit safely in nine of 10 games, batting .424 in that span.