Chipper Jones will miss the start of his last season due to arthroscopic surgery on the left knee he injured shortly before he announced his impending retirement.
Jones slipped during stretching a little while before his press conference March 2, the Braves said, and will undergo his sixth knee surgery March 26.
He is hoping to return for the team’s home opener on April 13, manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters.
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“Just a strange coincidence,” Braves general manager Frank Wren told reporters of the timing of Jones getting hurt before his press conference.
The surgery will repair a torn meniscus in Jones’ left knee, an injury similar to the one he had in his right knee last season, when he missed 2 1/2 weeks.
But manager Fredi Gonzalez said the circumstances are not the same, so Jones could be out a little longer.
“When he had it last year, it was only 17 days, and talking to Chipper, he feels like he can make it back for our home opener,” Gonzalez told reporters. “The difference between this year and last year, last year, he was in midseason form when he did it. Now he’s in conditioning mode, so it’s possible it could be another week.”
The Braves are expected to move Martin Prado from left field to third base, where he would have already filled in for Jones on occasion.
Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz can rotate in left field, but Wren said he was already looking to add an outfielder before the injury to help out with Prado sometimes playing infield, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
-The perception is that not much has changed with the Braves’ roster since they coughed up that 10-game lead last September. Especially since they’ve been offensively challenged in spring training games.
General manager Frank Wren saw no need to blow up the team because the collapse could be traced to injuries to right-handers Jair Jurrjens (knee) and Tommy Hanson (shoulder), and to catcher Brian McCann (oblique), and to the heavy use of the bullpen’s back-end pitchers, left-hander Jonny Venters and right-hander Craig Kimbrel.
The assumption over the winter and into spring has been that everything the team needs to make the postseason this time around is already in-house.
And yet …
The Braves are looking a little wobbly as the 2012 campaign approaches, particularly in the pitching department.
The staff ace, right-hander Tim Hudson, was at first projected to be ready for the season, following late November back surgery. But he was cleared to throw full out only in mid-March, meaning he can’t be expected to join the rotation until May.
Right-hander Tommy Hanson is a week behind the rest of the rotation, thanks to sustaining a concussion when his car blew a tire as he was driving to camp the first day. He’s also refining a new delivery, but seems to be happy with his progress.
And right-hander Jair Jurrjens, whose pitching schedule has him lined up to be the opening day starter, has not had command of his fastball.
That’s three significant question marks beyond what were supposed to be the only two issues: would right fielder Jason Heyward regain his hitting stroke and would rookie Tyler Pastornicky pass muster at shortstop?
Heyward is looking good so far. He’s healthy and responding well to new hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher.
Pastornicky, however, is looking tentative on defense, which was supposed to be his strong suit. Manager Fredi Gonzalez told him not to be concerned with his offense, but shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was at Class A last season, has been hitting as well as being sharper in the field.
There is a precedent for a young shortstop to jump to the Braves directly from A-ball: Rafael Furcal. It seems likely that the Braves will give Pastornicky the first shot at the job. At least in April.
-LHP Mike Minor theoretically had the inside track for the fifth starting slot because he was a left-hander. But so far this spring he is out-pitching his rookie rivals, RHP Randall Delgado and RHP Julio Teheran, and to this point in the spring, presumed opening day starter RHP Jair Jurrjens as well.
-RHP Tommy Hanson is a turn behind the other Atlanta starters because of the concussion symptoms he suffered at the beginning of spring training, courtesy of an accident caused by a blown tire as he drove to the first day of camp. So it’s likely that he will be plugged into the end of the rotation once the season starts.
-RHP Arodys Vizcaino will miss this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on March 20. Vizcaino, Baseball America’s top rated relief pitcher, was expected to be in the Braves’ bullpen this season. He sustained a partial tear of the ligament in his right elbow in 2010, but that healed without surgery.
-Retired Braves manager Bobby Cox will manage a team of Braves minor-leaguers, billed as the Future Stars, against the Braves in their final exhibition game before the regular season starts. The Braves traditionally played two exhibition games at Turner Field against an American League team as their season lead-in, but the organization’s Triple-A Gwinnett affiliate in suburban Atlanta is struggling at the box office. That’s the reason for the change. Cox is throwing himself into the assignment, asking to hold a workout.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“You guys got lucky.” — 3B Chipper Jones, to his sons, who got to skip school to attend dad’s March 22 announcement that the 2012 season will be his last.