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Notes: Offense remains mired in slump

Notes: Offense remains mired in slump

ATLANTA -- About the only good thing about last week for the Braves was the fact that it's over. Now they can only hope that the offensive struggles that they realized were simply part of a rough stretch and not a sign of future futility.

Entering Monday night's series opener against the Nationals at Turner Field, the Braves had scored one run over their previous 46 innings. Their five-game losing streak included four of the eight shutout losses that they've realized this season.

"I've never been on a team that has struggled like this to score runs," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "I've never coached on a team that has struggled to score runs. Hopefully, it's a lesson for all of us. We can all check ourselves to see if we're doing what we need to do as a hitting coach and as hitters. It's also a character builder hopefully for all of us. It's a gut check to see what we're made of."

While Pendleton has never experienced something like this, first-base coach Glenn Hubbard did. It was his game-winning RBI single that gave the Braves the only run they scored in a five-game stretch that covered May 8-13, 1985. Before Sunday, that had been the most recent five-game stretch that the Braves had been limited to one run over the course of five consecutive games.

Simply stating that the Braves scored once in a span of five games paints an undesirable picture. But the abysmal statistics related to this five-game span obviously aren't just constricted to the run total.

"You'd like to say it's all the pitching we've been facing, which has been outstanding," manager Bobby Cox said. "But you'd think with the percentages, you'd score more than one run in five games."

Over the course of the past 10 games, the Braves' lineup has been challenged by five hurlers who rank among the top American Leaguers in ERA -- Justin Verlander (third), Johan Santana (fifth), Josh Beckett (eighth), Fausto Carmona (10th) and C.C. Sabathia (13th). But Verlander and Beckett were the only members of that bunch that played a part in this forgettable five-game stretch.

During the futile span, the Braves hit .150 (23-for-153) and recorded just three extra-base hits -- one being Chipper Jones' homer on Saturday. They drew 11 walks, struck out 35 times and recorded a .212 on-base percentage.

The most alarming stat might have been the fact that they went hitless, drawing one walk, in 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Nearly 65 percent of their at-bats (98 of 153) came with the bases empty.

Lineup switch: Looking to spark his offense, Cox opted to alter his lineup again on Monday, giving Willie Harris another start in the leadoff spot and moving primary leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson to the seventh spot in the order.

Harris, who has now batted leadoff in two of the past three games, has batted .365 with a .400 on-base percentage in June. At the end of April, Johnson was hitting .326 with a .473 on-base percentage. In the 48 games that have followed, he's hit just .250 and gotten on base at a .325 clip.

"I didn't want to move Kelly," Cox said. "Willie is hitting almost .380 or whatever he's hitting. Maybe Kelly can get into some RBI situations. He doesn't deserve to be moved, period. I couldn't have asked for [him to do] a better job."

In addition, Cox opted to put Edgar Renteria back in the second spot and give Andruw Jones a chance to improve his .199 batting average back in the cleanup spot. Despite knowing that Jones had just one hit in his previous 33 at-bats, the veteran skipper thinks his veteran outfielder has shown some recent progress with his swings.

"Andruw is starting to really swing good," Cox said. "He's hitting some balls hard."

Draft signings: Before Monday's game, the Braves announced they have signed 17 of the 52 players they selected in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Of their top 10 picks, only three remain unsigned: their top selection, outfielder Jason Heyward, along with righty Josh Fields (third selection) and righty Colby Shreve (10th selection).

Those who have signed included sandwich pick John Gilmore, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Hicks, Cory Gearin, Dennis Dixon, Michael Fisher, Travis Jones, Timothy Ladd, Thomas Palica, Nicholas Freeman, Chadwick Maddox, Caleb Brewer, Randy Gress, Brett Butts, Carlos Lee, Kuyaunnis Miles and Terrence Wohlever.

Butts, the nephew of Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts, signed after throwing in front of Braves director of scouting Roy Clark on Sunday. He had been thinking about returning to Auburn University to complete his senior season.

Coming up: The Braves host the Nationals again on Tuesday at 7:35 p.m. ET. They'll send Buddy Carlyle (1-2, 6.11 ERA) to the mound to face Mike Bacsik (1-4, 4.70 ERA).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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