News - Braves at the break

Injuries, trades leave the team in flux

Hazelnut. It was hazelnut, that delightful scent perfuming the Braves clubhouse last Thursday. Not the aroma that usually comes out of a coated paper Powerade cup, certainly, but that’s the only choice of coffee cups in the clubhouse kitchen, so that’s what Braves General Manager John Schuerholz was holding.

He was also holding court, answering questions about the bargain-basement acquisition of 1996 MVP third-baseman Ken Caminiti.

Once the signing was confirmed, things got a little weird. Was Caminiti going to replace Chipper Jones at third, sending Chipper to left field? (Chipper has taken fly balls during batting practice, but nothing serious.) Was Chipper headed to short and Rafael Furcal to second? Was Caminiti going to be the answer to the weak hitting at first base?

The last prospect actually caused much consternation down the hall in the visitors’ clubhouse. Did this mean that Rico Brogna was in trouble? Several Phillies worried about their former teammate. (If Brogna, a brilliant defensive first baseman, is in trouble, the Braves brass is nuts.)

Until about 10 p.m. that night, these questions were ridiculous. Caminiti had played only 54 games this season, 59 games last season and 78 games the year before. Slowed by numerous injuries (wrist, calf, quad, hamstring, etc.), Caminiti was signed because it costs the Braves next to nothing to see what he can do. For a pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum, the Braves ease Caminiti in as a designated hitter in Boston. They don’t lose anything by putting Bernard Gilkey on the 15-day disabled list to make room on the 25-man roster for Caminiti; Gilkey’s sore quad was going to keep him on the bench through this week’s All-Star break anyway.

And then, just as new call-up Trey Moore was about to take the mound against the Phillies in the top of the ninth, Wes Helms drilled Chipper in the ribs with a ball. Really zinged him. Chipper wasn’t paying attention to the usual infield relay; he was trying to think of something funny to say to Moore to relax him.

But wait! There’s more! Friday, Furcal slid into second base in Fenway Park and dislocated his left shoulder once and for all. He set up the game-winning run but now faces season-ending surgery. Saturday, rookie Mark DeRosa was at short and lo, Caminiti was indeed replacing Chipper at third; Chipper was in the dugout nursing his ribs.

After a rocky April and May, the Braves got happy in June feasting on the Expos, Pirates and Mets. Not coincidentally, the Braves took off once John Rocker was shipped off to Cleveland for the two Steves, Reed and Karsay. Suddenly, the bullpen is deeper and more versatile. But it is also all right-handed, with the exception of Mike Remlinger.

There is no dominant team in the National League this year. But there are more evenly matched teams, and more good teams than there are post-season slots. So the Braves can’t afford to coast into September, a luxury they’ve had in seasons past.

Tom Glavine has struggled, but John Burkett has been superb and Greg Maddux has been Greg Maddux. For the last month, while waiting for John Smoltz’s elbow and Kevin Millwood’s shoulder, Jason Marquis and Odalis Perez have held down the fort. Smoltz may not make it back until September but Millwood should be ready next week. Does Marquis go back to the pen? Perez would give them the left-hander they need there, but he seems unlikely to subordinate his desire to start to the team’s needs.

Barring further catastrophic injury, the Braves already have what they need offensively to make the playoffs, if everyone plays to his capabilities as Brian Jordan and Chipper already are. (But Chipper’s injury looms large.) Even now, with Furcal out, the Braves can mix and match on defense — rookie Mark DeRosa sparkles both offensively and defensively. Quilvio Veras, though, is battling a high ankle sprain, and we haven’t seen the last of it.

Do the Braves suddenly find themselves with more than their little shortstop’s arm in a sling? Maybe. Will Schuerholz consume even more hazelnut coffee chasing deals for a lead-off hitter? Definitely. Can the Braves win in October with only one left-handed reliever in the bullpen? Probably not. Who can they get before the July 31 trading deadline? No one who’s worth giving up DeRosa or Brogna.

TightWaddell -- Thrashers GM Don Waddell does it again, letting Andrew Brunette go without so much as an offer. No, Brunette isn’t Jaromir Jagr. Yes, the Thrashers’ future lies in their young prospects. But it’s a bad deal to tick off both Ray Ferraro and the team’s fans to save a couple thousand bucks.

109-3 -- Greg Maddux’s record when his team scores five or more runs.

The Miller twins got the pub at UGA -- but it’s Tweety Nolan who’s tearing it up in the WNBA. With the Detroit Shock, for those of you who didn’t know. Like, everyone.

For the last time -- Men’s sports are not being cut because of Title IX. They are being cut because college presidents and athletic directors lack either the brains or the guts to trim bloated football budgets.

Fantasy league -- Who would you rather have on your All-Star team: Cliff Floyd or Bobby Valentine?

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