Chipper OK with dropping in batting order for McLouth

p>Chipper Jones has always said he prefers his third spot in the batting order, so reporters went straight to his locker Thursday for reaction after seeing the lineup with new center fielder Nate McLouth hitting third and Jones fourth.

No worries, Jones said.

"I told [manager Bobby Cox] I was open to whatever he thought was best for the club," said Jones, who spoke with Cox after the Braves finalized their trade Wednesday for the All-Star center fielder from the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I don't know if this is permanent, but we'll see."

The Braves' scheduled game against the Cubs was rained out Thursday, but Cox's batting order had second baseman Kelly Johnson in the leadoff role, followed by shortstop Yunel Escobar, McLouth and Jones, with catcher Brian McCann dropping to the fifth spot.

"I've hit third since Little League, but it's not that big a deal," said Jones, who actually hit fourth during the 2002-04 seasons, behind Gary Sheffield in 2002-03 and behind J.D. Drew in 2004.

He also split time in the third and fourth spots with Brian Jordan in 2001. Jones has a .316 career average with 318 homers and a .412 on-base percentage in 5,726 at-bats in the No. 3 position, and a .297 average with 92 homers and a .400 on-base percentage in 1,643 at-bats in the cleanup position.

McLouth hit almost exclusively in the No. 3 spot this season with Pittsburgh, after getting more than half of his at-bats in the leadoff role during his career-best 2008 season, when he hit .276 overall with a National League-leading 46 doubles, 26 homers and 94 RBIs.

He had nine homers, 34 RBIs and seven stolen bases with the Pirates this season, surpassing the Braves' leaders in each of those categories.

"If I get more RBI opportunities [batting fourth], I'm happy with it," Jones said. "I prefer to hit third, but I'm open to whatever's best for the club. If McLouth gets more pitches to hit batting third, I'm open to it. ... If I can come up in the first inning with two guys on base, it might be worth it."

McLouth hit .273 with a .362 on-base percentage in 326 at-bats in the leadoff role last season, along with an eye-opening 17 homers. One indication of Cox's thinking on the matter was revealed when a reporter mentioned to Cox the high number of homers that McLouth had as a leadoff man.

"It'd be nice to have 26 homers with a guy on base," he said. "And we've got to get those guys on."

The Braves were 12th in the NL in home runs before Thursday. Their outfield ranked last in the majors with 10 homers, after also finishing last with 27 homers in 2008. McLouth had only one fewer homer than all the Braves' outfielders last season, and one fewer so far this season.

"We'll see what it looks like," Cox said of the order. "What's the difference? If you play nine innings, you're still going to get four at-bats."

Etc.

• Outfielder Brian Barton was optioned back to the Gwinnett Braves on Thursday to open a spot for McLouth, one day after Barton had been called up from the Class AAA affiliate.

Barton was brought up Wednesday to temporarily fill a roster spot vacated by reliever Jorge Campillo, who was placed on the disabled list Wednesday for shoulder tendinitis. Barton pinch-ran in the ninth inning Wednesday and was thrown out attempting to steal second base.