Washington – After five games of watching Nate McLouth continue to scuffle, the Braves optioned the center fielder to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hoping time away from the pressures of a pennant race will help him get straight.
The Braves activated outfielder Brent Clevlen from a rehabilitation assignment, and he was scheduled to arrive in Washington during Tuesday night’s game.
McLouth had managed only one hit in 15 at-bats in his return from the disabled list, and that hit was a broken bat single. He grounded into an inning-ending bases-loaded double play in the 11th inning Sunday in Florida in one of his few hard hit balls.
“We hoped during the DL stint it would be long enough for him to get consistent at-bats and get in a groove,” said Braves general manager Frank Wren, who met with McLouth along with manager Bobby Cox about 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“At the time it did appear he was making good progress,” Wren continued. “But it kind of felt like he reverted back when he got back up here to some of the other habits. We felt it was a good idea to get him down there and get relaxed at-bats and be able to start getting back into his old groove.”
McLouth has been off at the plate since the first days of spring training, hitting .168 total in 62 games this season.
Just four days from the trading deadline, the Braves don’t have any imminent options out on the market, but they felt they’d ran out of them with McLouth.
“The expectation is that he can come back and help us,” Wren said. “There are no parameters set on it but that’s clearly the intent.”
In the meantime, Cox will use Melky Cabrera, Clevlen, Omar Infante and right fielder Jason Heyward there, if necessary. Gregor Blanco was just sent down to Gwinnett a week ago and could not return to the major league roster within 10 days. But Wren said it’s not a given he would when eligible.
“Not necessarily,” Wren said. “We haven’t decided on any further moves.”
Blanco is eligible to return right at Saturday’s trade deadline. Whether the Braves would find someone else by then is yet to be seen. Wren said the Braves are still looking but it’s been tough to find the right fit.
“We’re still looking at a very limited pool of players that really fit what we’re looking to do,” Wren said. “And we’ve got a good ball club, a first-place ball club. So it has to be someone that clearly improves us, not just an add for add’s sake.”
Outside of rehabilitation assignments, McLouth hasn’t been to the minors since he broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005. The former All-Star, who is under contract through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012, said he understood the decision, though.
“Of course nobody wants to get sent down,” McLouth said. “But I’m going to use it what it’s meant to be for and that’s to go down and work and get my swing back to where it needs to be and not feel sorry for myself or be disappointed or mad or anything like that.”
McLouth has a 72-hour window to report but said he planned to get to Gwinnett Wednesday or Thursday.
“It’s something I need to do for an extended period of time,” McLouth said of getting pressure-free at-bats. “My confidence or anybody’s confidence certainly takes a hit when you’ve struggled for as long as I have, but again I’m going to go rebuild that as well and hopefully hit a bunch of balls hard and get back here.”