Cox: Jerry is skipper of year

Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox has an early candidate for NL Manager of the Year -- Jerry Manuel.

“Manuel should be manager of the year,” Cox said before Friday night's Mets-Braves game.

At first Cox said he was joking, but then he praised Manuel's ability to keep the team together during an injury-riddled 2009 season.

"No, he should be. He’s doing a great job," Cox said.

SORE: Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is out of the lineup Friday night against the Mets due to back spasms. Jones first felt his back flare up on Thursday at the Braves' hotel, according to a team official.

Cox expects Jones back in the lineup Saturday. Omar Infante played third base and batted third in place of Jones.

Melky Cabrera shifted from center field to right to replace Infante, and Gregor Blanco played center field.

NO BIG DEAL TO BILLY: The Mets entered the weekend series just three games back of the Braves and the two teams have had plenty of battles for the NL East pennant over the years, but former Met Billy Wagner insists he doesn’t see the significance of this weekend’s Mets-Braves series.

“I haven’t even thought about it as a rivalry,” said Wagner, who pitched for the Mets from 2006-2008. “I’m not looking at it as that.”

Wagner, who has 19 saves with a 1.27 ERA so far in 2010, reiterated his decision to retire after this season.