It’s difficult to hit any worse than .176, but Nate McLouth has done the deed. That skinny number is what he was batting when he went on the disabled list after his noggin clashed with Jason Heyward’s knee. Since returning last week, McLouth is 1-for-15, which represents a Twiggy-like .067.
(And the hit, we should note, was a flare that dropped into right field McLouth’s first game back. That gift should offset the live drive that became a double play Sunday.)
We have seen Braves struggle over the years — Andruw Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Yunel Escobar, the legendary Greg Norton — but we have never seen an everyday Brave perform worse than this. Nate McLouth is hitting .168 on the season. He has three home runs, 14 RBIs, four stolen bases. The highest his average has climbed since April 8 is .208.
He wasn’t very good in his half-season as a Brave in 2009 — a .257 average, 11 homers, 36 RBIs — but today the Braves would take that tepid yield and be ecstatic. McLouth has been so bad for so long, starting in spring training and continuing apace, that there’s no cause to believe he is a big-league starter, or even a big-leaguer, any longer.
There were whispers around baseball that the Pirates had noted a decline in McLouth’s skills and were thrilled to unload him before the rest of the sport caught on. If so, that marks the first time in two decades the Bucs have outsmarted somebody. (Not that losing Charlie Morton was any setback.)
The hope when he returned from the DL was that McLouth might get going enough to satisfy the team’s modest requirements in center field. (The Braves don’t need Willie Mays; they just need a guy who’ll hit a little bit and play D, but McLouth, who astonishingly won a Gold Glove in 2008, isn’t A. Jones with the leather. Or the arm.) Either that, or he’d catch the eye of another team in need of an outfielder. But now the Braves are stuck.
They can’t keep running McLouth out there because he drags down the team, and they can’t trade him because nobody would want him. (Remember when having a former All-Star under contract through 2011 — and with a club option for 2012 — seemed a capital idea?) They can’t promote Jordan Schafer because he just got demoted again, and their most viable trade targets seem to be left fielders.
Unless Frank Wren can swing a trade this week for a real center fielder — B.J. Upton or Matt Kemp — the Braves’ options at the position can be boiled down to two: They can promote Gregor Blanco, who’s back yet again at Gwinnett, or make a deal for a corner outfielder and bump Heyward, who’s a classic right fielder, over to center. Neither is the optimum, but both beat the status quo.
Put simply, Gregor Blanco is a better center fielder right now than Nate McLouth. Heck, Henry Blanco might be a better center fielder than Nate McLouth. And Henry Blanco is a catcher.