As usual, Braves trying to keep up with Jones

BY foxsports • April 12, 2012

The Chipper Jones legend grows. Not that those who've been watching him for 19 years were surprised that he stroked a single up the middle in his first at-bat and a two-run homer in his second.

Actually, the best sight was his barehanded grab and throw across the diamond on the very first play of the game, when former teammate Jordan Schafer did what he was supposed to do and laid down a bunt. It was a perfect bunt, too, the little whippersnapper.

The storybook aspect of Jones' return from the disabled list aside, though, manager Fredi Gonzalez's task is to deploy Jones in the lineup where his presence will have the most effect on who's batting around him.

Batting sixth in his return, Jones provided protection to second baseman Dan Uggla, hitting .077 (1 for 13) to that point. With Jones behind him, he was 2-for-5 with an RBI. Catcher Brian McCann, back in the cleanup spot with the return of Jones, was 1-for-4. But first baseman Freddie Freeman, who moved into Jones' usual third spot in the order, from sixth, was 0-for-5, including three swinging strikeouts.

With Gonzalez giving McCann the start off in Wednesday's 6-3 win over the Astros, Jones moved into the cleanup position; Freeman stayed in the third spot. Jones was 2-for-5, but Freeman adapted to his new hitting position by slugging two doubles. Uggla, this time batting behind Jones, went 1-for-5. Backup catcher David Ross got the scoring going from the seventh spot in the order, but he is not a regular in the lineup.

A small sample of the differences, obviously, but that's what Gonzalez has to work with. With Thursday's off day, he'll have some time to ponder combinations. Jones' presence, though, remains the key to any of them.

Jones has said repeatedly that he came back last season and this one because his teammates asked him to. He is less concerned with revving them up by being on the field than in calming them down. He talks nonstop during a game, to all of them. And it's all solid advice and perspective, which is valuable whether he drives in a run or not.

But he isn't going to be playing in every game, and he won't be on the team or in the dugout at all next season. So the task for Gonzalez remains constructing this lineup so it works without him. That never happened a year ago, and it hasn't happened this first week.


NOTES, QUOTES

-3B Chipper Jones batted cleanup Wednesday; manager Fredi Gonzalez gave C Brian McCann the night off and moved Jones up. Jones was 2-for-5 and drove in a run.

-C Brian McCann got the start off after starting the first five games of the season. The Braves are off Thursday, so he gets s two-day rest. Backup C David Ross, in addition to getting rookie RHP Randall Delgado to use his changeup on both sides of the plate, doubled in two runs to put the Braves ahead and picked off a runner in a key situation early in the game.

-SS Jack Wilson got the start Wednesday, as manager Fredi Gonzalez planned before rookie SS Tyler Pastornicky hit a home run Tuesday. Wilson was 0-for-3 with an RBI. Wilson is showing no ill effects from the right calf strain that kept him out most of spring training.

-SS Tyler Pastornicky didn't get the day off just because he didn't start. Manager Fredi Gonzalez is going to be giving backup SS Jack Wilson regular starts to keep him as sharp as he can, but it also helps Pastornicky to watch how the veteran positions himself and the in-game decisions he makes. That and a heavy dose of video work.

-RF Jason Heyward stole a base, showing his speed for the first time this season. After he did that, he appeared to relax at the plate, producing with had a three-hit game, including his first home run. He had four three-hit games all of last season. Of the homer, Heyward said, "That's what happens when you tell yourself to hit the ball to left field."


QUOTE TO NOTE

"He's got 10,000 major league at-bats. I'll take his word for it." -- Manager Fredi Gonzalez, on why he agreed to let 3B Chipper Jones decide that he would come off the disabled list without playing in any minor league rehab games.


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