Chipper remains hot and Heyward exits in pain-free fashion
Chipper Jones drilled his third homer of the exhibition season and Jason Heyward gave pretty good indication his back is sound when he turned on a Todd Coffey pitch and deposited in the Braves bullpen beyond the right field wall.
With Freddie Freeman adding his first homer, Thursday was a good night for all of the Braves not named Scott Proctor, who is certainly no longer a favorite to win the final spot available in the bullpen.
While allowing five earned runs and three hits in just two-thirds of an inning Thursday, the veteran right-handed reliever struggled to command his breaking ball and gave further reason to believe Cristhian Martinez will end up winning that last available spot in the bullpen.
The Braves signed Proctor to a one-year, $750,000 contract in November. But because he was still arbitration-eligible when he signed, they could release him within the next few days and only pay a portion of his salary.
Before we look at post-game comments made by Jones and Heyward, I figure some of you might want to know why right-handed reliever Stephen Marek was among the eight players cut from Major League camp Thursday.
Marek allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings this exhibition season. He impressed the Braves coaches but also showed some room for improvement while issuing five walks.
” During a Major League season, you will need pitching,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You don’t end with the same 12 (pitchers) you leave Spring Training with. For me, I’d feel comfortable with him pitching in a Major League game right now. He’s a big piece of this organization and I think we’ll see him in the Major Leagues.”
Heyward returned to the lineup Thursday after missing five games because of back discomfort. A Braves doctor looked at an MRI from 2009 and informed the 21-year-old outfielder he needs to stretch more frequently to make up for the fact he has less cartilege between his discs than the normal human being.
He also has more muscles than the average human being. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much.
Anyhow, Heyward didn’t feel any discomfort during Thursday’s game and seemed to be at full strength when he smacked Coffey’s changeup into the Braves pen.
“I know I’m not as loose as I’m used to being,” said Heyward, who had missed the previous five games with back discomfort. “But it didn’t bother me. I know it’s still there. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m heading in the right direction. ”
I know that we’ve all reported that Jones had his left ACL repaired last August. But the way he’s been playing the past couple of weeks, I’m thinking he underwent some kind of surgical procedure that made him feel younger.
Jones highlighted Thursday’s two-hit performance with his third homer of the exhibition season — a fourth-inning leadoff shot to dead center. He has nine hits, including four doubles and two homers, in his past 15 at-bats.
But whether he was playing with a surgically-repaired knee or just one knee, we kind of figured Chipper could come down here and hit the likes of Yunesky Maya.
More impressive Thursday night was the mobility he showed with his defense. He charged Mike Morse’s slow roller, barehanded it and made a strong throw to end the third inning. Later he showed quick reflexes when he pushed off his surgically-repaired left knee and snared Jesus Flores’ seventh-inning liner.
“I’m not even thinking about the knee because it’s not an issue,” Jones said. “I have no pain in the knee whatsoever. I would love to really open up and go from first to home on a double while I’m down here. I feel like I turned a corner about 2 1/2 weeks ago with my knee. I’m just really excited to get this season started, right now…right now.”