Friday, July 4, 2008
Francoeur sent to minors to work on offensive woes
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves decided their hometown favorite needed to get away from home -- and away from the major leagues -- to work his way through the worst slump of his career.
Outfielder Jeff Francoeur, hitting only .234, was sent to Double-A Mississippi on Friday and told he'd be recalled within three weeks.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox said the move is not a demotion.
"We look at it as stepping back for a few days and decompressing and getting his game going again," Wren said. "It gives him the ability to do that."
Francoeur was told of the decision after he was booed at home Thursday night when he went 0-for-4. He hit .206 in June and is 1-for-12 in three games this month.
"We were very clear with him last night it would be for less than 20 days and that we just want him to get a chance to relax and play well."
The move is designed to be temporary, but it is still a dramatic development for one of the team's top young stars.
Wren said he considered the move for three weeks as Francoeur's average continued to fall. Wren and other team officials concluded a move had to be made after the Braves were swept in a three-game series by the Phillies to fall seven games out of first in the NL East and a season-low six games below .500.
"This is my 32nd year in professional baseball," Wren said, "... and in the last 23 making decisions, this was the toughest."
Cox said Francoeur's high profile -- and long list of friends and relatives -- in Atlanta made it more difficult for him to shake the slump at home.
"We didn't know what to do," Cox said. "He had probably 150 tips the last two weeks on how to hit a baseball. ... It doesn't work. He needs to just get away by himself with a few guys and get it going."
Francoeur has taken hours of extra batting practice but has been unable to match the power he showed in 2006 when he hit 29 homers or the improved discipline at the plate when he hit .292 last season.
"It seems I can't catch a break, or when I feel I start to roll I just can't get things to keep rolling my way," Francoeur said.
The Braves hope a more relaxed Francoeur can find his swing while working with Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman, who previously worked with Francoeur in the minors.
"When he was with Wellman a couple years ago, he's never been as hot as he was," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, Francoeur's longtime friend and former roommate. "I think if he gets back with him for a couple weeks it's gonna be good for Jeff."
The plan is for Francoeur to rejoin the team following the All-Star break.
Pitcher John Smoltz, Francoeur's clubhouse neighbor, predicted the outfielder would be back with the team in 10 days -- the minimum time he must spend in the minors.
"I told him I can't experience what he's experiencing, I can't feel what he's feeling," Smoltz said. "The only thing I could tell him was that I can't wait to see him in 10 days. Because he's going to be so much better for it."
The Braves purchased Jason Perry's contract from Triple-A Richmond and put him in the lineup in right field for Friday night's game against the Houston Astros. Perry hit .314 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs in 137 at-bats at Double-A Mississippi before he moved up to Richmond, where he hit .302 with five homers and 14 RBIs.
Francoeur was expected to join Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and McCann in the middle of the lineup but was dropped to seventh in the batting order. Francoeur hit .293 with 19 homers and drove in 105 runs last season. This year, he has eight homers and 41 RBIs.
The boos are unusual for Francoeur, a local favorite who signed with the Braves from Parkview High School near Atlanta.
"I feel for him," Jones said. "He's never struggled up until this point. Ever. He's always been the chosen one. But this game will humble you. He's got a million hitting coaches right now. What he needs to do is just go back to the basics."
Jones said the slump has affected Francoeur's mental approach.
"I'd like to see a little more of the enthusiasm he showed early on in his career," Jones said. "He's really down on himself right now and I think it will help him come out of it a little faster if he doesn't take the game as seriously."
Francoeur has tinkered with his stance and tried a new contact lens to help his vision at night.
Matt Diaz, who also began the season as a starting outfielder, will join Francoeur at Mississippi. He is recovering from a knee injury and is on a rehab assignment.