Results tagged ‘ Chipper Jones ’

Does Chipper still have something left in the tank?

Based on what we’ve seen over what has amounted to nearly a full calendar year, it’s hard to imagine that Chipper Jones is just two years removed from his first career batting title. 

Dating back to June 9 of last year, Jones has hit .229 with 12 homers, a .363 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage.

Among every other Major League player who has compiled at least 450 plate appearances during this span, Lyle Overbay (.228), Clint Barmes (.221), Carlos Pena (.216) and Brandon Inge (.208) are the only who have posted a lower batting average.  Barmes, Inge and Pena have done so while totaling at least 20 home runs. 

Jones’ .357 slugging percentage ranks as the 13th-worst mark posted during this span.  To provide some clarity, he has produced less power than Michael Bourn (.365) and just slightly more than David Eckstein and Ronny Cedeno, who have both posted .354 marks. 

But as Marlins right-handed reliever Brian Sanches showed while issuing Jones the go-ahead, four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in last night’s victory, the Braves 38-year-old third baseman is still being pitched to in a cautious manner. 

The 100 walks that Jones has drawn dating back to June 9 have been trumped only by the totals that have been issued to Albert Pujols (104), Adrian Gonzalez (103) and Chone Figgins (102).  His 33 walks this season rank fourth in the Majors and equal the total drawn by the great Pujols.

It’s almost as if pitchers feel like they’re still facing the same guy that hit .352 with a .448 on-base percentage and .618 slugging percentage during a 358-game stretch that extended from June 26, 2006 through June 8 of last year.

Within this stretch that extended through four seasons, nobody compiled a better batting average or on-base percentage than Jones. His .618 slugging percentage was bettered only by the .620 mark posted by Pujols.

Then seemingly overnight everything changed for Jones. Through the first 47 games he played last year, he hit .331 with a .451 on-base percentage and .567 slugging percentage.  While the power was off slightly, the numbers were at least somewhat comparable to the ones he’d produced over the course of the previous few years. 

At 38 years-old, it’s understandable that Jones is no longer producing the same kind of numbers that punched his ticket to Cooperstown. But along with age, maybe his struggles are a product of the fact that he no longer is protected by the same kind of threat that Mark Teixeira provided while he was hitting cleanup in Atlanta. 

There seems to be a popular opinion that it is time for Jones to move out of the third spot in the lineup to make room for Jason Heyward.  While I see this as a logical option, maybe there’s reason to keep Jones where he is and give him the protection Heyward would provide while manning the  cleanup spot, a position that would give the 20-year-old phenom more RBI opportunities than he has had since moving into the two hole.

Like I said last week, attempting to find the best makeup of this Braves lineup is like attempting to piece together a large jigsaw puzzle that has no corners or ends.   But Martin Prado has proven to be the best option in the leadoff role and with the belief that he will start to hit consistently, I think Yunel Escobar might be best served to bat second. 

There might be some late-inning matchup problems if Heyward and Brian McCann (who would bat fifth vs. RHP) were positioned together in the lineup.  But to give Jones one last attempt to prove he still can be a productive threat in the middle of the lineup, I think it’s at least worth seeing what he could do with Heyward sitting behind him for at least a week or two. 

If this wouldn’t work, then Jones certainly needs to move down to the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup.  But before completely giving up on him with the assumption that age has been the primary factor in his decline, it’s seemingly worth giving him a shot to see more hittable pitches.

Tonight’s matchup:  Looking to conclude this road trip with a 4-2 record, the Braves will conclude this three-game series against the Marlins by sending Tim Hudson to the mound to oppose Ricky Nolasco.  As many of you likely remember, Nolasco notched 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings when he last faced the Braves on Sept. 30.  

Nolasco had totaled 16 strikeouts in his three previous starts against the Braves last year.  The right-hander posted a 1.82 ERA in the five appearances (four starts) he made against Atlanta during the 2006 season.

But in his past seven starts against the Braves Nolasco is just 2-3 with a 6.02 ERA.

Hudson is 8-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 career starts against the Marlins.  In the eight career road starts he has made against them while pitching for the Braves, he is 6-1 with a 2.44 mark. 

   

 

 

Conrad gets his first start of the season

With Chipper Jones getting a chance to rest the left groin muscle that he tweaked Saturday, Brooks Conrad will make his first start of the season during this afternoon’s series finale against Cole Hamels and the Phillies. 

It would have been interesting to see Hamels’ reaction when he looked at the injury-depleted Braves lineup that will serve as his opposition this afternoon.

With Jones and Heyward unavailable, the Braves have Melky Cabrera sitting in the third spot of the order.   Cabrera went hitless in his first 14 at-bats during this road trip before delivering an opposite-field single during Saturday’s three-run sixth inning.

Cabrera does have three hits, including a double, in six at-bats against Hamels.  Brian McCann might be able to halt his struggles against southpaws.  He has hit .367 (11-for-30) with five doubles and a homer in his career against the Phillies left-hander.   

UPDATE:   Heyward is now saying that he thinks he could return to the lineup on Tuesday night in Milwaukee.  He has been limited to pinch-hit duties since his right groin forced him to exit Wednesday’s game against the Nationals in the first inning.

Jones felt some lingering discomfort while taking some swings in the batting cage this morning.  But he said he’s hoping to be back in the lineup for Monday night’s series opener in Milwaukee.

Many of the Braves will be wearing pink wrist bands and using pink bats this afternoon to recognize Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” initiative.  

BRAVES LINEUP 5/9 vs. Phils:

Infante, 6;
Prado, 4
Cabrera, 9
Glaus, 3
McCann, 2
Diaz, 7
Conrad, 5
McLouth 8
Kawakami, 1

Braves attempting to cure no-hitter hangover

After Ubaldo Jimenez completed his masterpiece at Turner Field last night, Chipper Jones walked through the Braves clubhouse and said, “No batting practice, 13 hits, batting practice and we get no hits.”

Jones was playfully referencing the fact that the Braves opted not to take batting practice on the field on Friday and then erupted for 13 hits in the series opener against the Rockies.  Then after going back to their regular pregame routine on Saturday they were saddled with the frustration of Jimenez’s no-hitter. 

As was mentioned in today’s game story, Jones and a handful of other players and coaches have said “a loss is a loss.”   While I think they’re trying to soothe the mood following Jimenez’s gem, Saturday’s loss certainly didn’t prove to be as frustrating as the one the Braves suffered on April 9, when they blew a two-run lead with one out in the ninth. 

Talked to Derek Lowe about the no-hitter that he threw for the Red Sox back in 2002.  He had gone seven years without watching footage of that game before the Braves video coordinator gave him a DVD copy to view on Saturday.

“What are the odds,” Lowe said. 

Well the odds are pretty good that the Braves will tally at least one hit against Greg Smith today.  Here is the lineup that Bobby Cox has assembled for this afternoon’s series finale.

Matt Diaz 7
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Troy Glaus 3
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Melky Cabrera 8
Jair Jurrjens 1
 

Chipper returns to the lineup

When Chipper Jones said that he experienced some back spasms on Sunday afternoon, there was little reason to think he could return to the Braves lineup just 24 hours later.  But after taking some swings and grounders during batting practice on Monday afternoon, the veteran third baseman told manager Bobby Cox that he was ready to resume playing. 

Jones was back in the lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Padres at PETCO Park.  He had been sidelined since he exited Thursday night’s game against the Cubs with a strained right oblique muscle. 

When Jones arrived at the park on Monday morning, he took some pain-free swings in the indoor batting cages.  A couple hours later, he went through his normal batting practice exercises and determined that his back and oblique were strong enough for him to begin playing again. 

Jones, who received a cortisone shot on Thursday night, said after Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Giants that he felt the need to return to the lineup as soon as possible.  The Braves had lost three of four dating back to Thursday.

Quick turnaround brings Braves to San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco, where the Braves are just now awaking and preparing for this afternoon’s game that would have appropriately been presented by Red Bull, Monster or any other  approved energy booster.
 
The last pitch in last night’s 2-0 loss to the Cubs was thrown at approximately 9:55 p.m. ET and about 90 minutes later, the Braves embarked on a five-hour charter flight that got them to their hotel here in San Francisco at about 2:30 a.m. PT, or just shy of  the time that many of you in Atlanta were preparing to go to the office or take the kids to school. 

While it might not sound good, the Braves players would have still been able to get around six or seven hours of sleep before heading to the ballpark.  Of course, knowing Bobby Cox, he probably went to the stadium around 7 a.m. to continue preparing for this weekend’s series that could seemingly be played without the services of Chipper Jones, who strained his right oblique muscle during last night’s game.

Shortly after arriving in San Francisco around 5 p.m. PT yesterday, I started to get texts and emails that alerted me that Jones had exited with what was originally termed a “sore right side”.    Initially it seemed like it might be something that sidelines him for just a couple of days and that still might be the case.

But having been down this road a couple of times, I’d have to say that Jones’ postgame comments at least provided reason to believe that he could miss the entirety of this six-game West Coast swing that pits the Braves against the Giants and Padres. 

In the past when Jones has been dealing with oblique issues, he has occasionally removed himself because he felt one more swing could severely aggravate the region.  But last night when he said something like “it bit me pretty good”,  I immediately gained the sense that we could be seeing Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad playing third base at least through Thursday’s series finale in San Diego.

Check back later this afternoon for an update on Jones’ condition and today’s lineup.   Tim Hudson was on my flight out here to the Bay Area and thus had the opportunity to get plenty of rest before making his season debut today. 
My guess it that Jason Heyward will fill in for Jones  in the third spot of the batting order.  Or Cox may choose to bat Heyward second and move Martin Prado into the third spot.

Looking at the small sample sizes provided, Nate McLouth, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar enter today’s game looking forward to prolonging their success against Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

Escobar has three hits, including a double, in six career at-bats against Sanchez.  McLouth has homered in the process of matching the 3-for-7 career performance that McCann has posted against the southpaw. 

However the lineup is now situated, the Braves seem to be better equipped to survive for a few days without Jones.  They went 16-12 without him in the starting lineup last year.    This was a definite improvement in comparison to the previous two seasons — 2008 (17-27) 2007 (12-18).  

Heyward returns and Chipper sits

Jason Heyward has returned to the Braves lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Astros.  OK, now that I’ve informed you that the phenom’s shin splints are no longer keeping him sidelined, is there really anything else below this that will prove to be any more interesting?

Well, I guess you might want to know that Chipper Jones was scratched from today’s lineup with because of an ingrown nail on his left big toe.  Or maybe, you’d like to know that Kenshin Kawakami’s blister on his right index finger won’t prevent him from making his final preseason tuneup during a Minor League game that will be held here at Disney on Sunday.

“No problem,” Kawakami said without needing the assistance of his Japanese interpreter.

Likewise, Jones said that his ingrown toenail wouldn’t be a problem if this was the regular season.  The veteran third baseman has batted .343 in the 35 at-bats he’s compiled during this exhibition season and like everybody else, I think he’s ready to take this show north. 

This morning, I had two players and one coach approach me and say something like, “are you guys getting as sick of this Spring Training stuff as us?”  While it’s always nice to come down here to Florida, I think it’s safe to say all of are looking forward to packing our bags tonight and heading back to Atlanta this weekend. 

Speaking of this weekend, it will be interesting to see the slimmed down-version of Andruw Jones, who will be coming to town with the White Sox for a two-game series.  Entering today, Jones was hitting .326 (15-for-46) with two homers. 

Mark Kotsay, who assumed Jones’ role as the Braves center fielder during the 2008 season, has hit .426 in the 47 at-bats he has compiled with the White Sox this year.   While Kotsay was in Atlanta for just about five months, I’d still have to say that he ranks as one of the best human beings that I have encountered in this business.

Speaking of good guys,  I had conversations this morning with Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner about the value of having the kind of cohesive clubhouse that the Braves believe that they possess this year.  Check braves.com later this afternoon for a story on this subject. 

“From a personality standpoint, this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,”  Hudson said. “There’s a really, really good mix of guys and personalities in here. I don’t want to make it sound like we didn’t have a good group of guys before us, but I think with this group everybody is really going to like each other.”

BRAVES LINEUP
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Prado 4
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Hinske DH
 

  

It sure looks like an Opening Day lineup

When a couple of national scribes look at tonight’s Braves lineup, they essentially said something that amounted to “tonight’s game must be televised because that certainly looks like an Opening Day lineup.” 

With Chipper Jones back in the mix to face Roy Halladay and the Phillies tonight, Braves manager Bobby Cox has indeed assembled a lineup that could very easily be identical to the one he constructs before the April 5 Opening Day contest against the Cubs. 

And yes, you will get a chance to see Jason Heyward and Co. on television tonight.  The game will be carried on CSS, MLB Network and online by  MLB.TV.

When asked if tonight’s lineup was an Opening Day lineup, Cox laughed and said, “We might not be able to keep Heyward down that low in the lineup if he keeps hitting like he has been.”

TONIGHT’S LINEUP
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Melky Cabrera 7
Kenshin Kawakami 1

Schafer and Jurrjens updates: The most important health-related news of the day might have been the fact that Jair Jurrjens completed another pain-free live batting practice session and is now ready to start against the Yankees on Thursday night in Tampa.

But given that was expected, the most important health-related development seemingly came courtesy of Jordan Schafer, who took batting practice in the indoor cages this afternoon and returned to the dugout with a smile on his face. 

“That’s the best that I’ve felt in 10 months,” said Schafer, who injured his left hand on during the fourth game of last year’s season and then dealt with frustration and discomfort until the ailment was surgically repaired in September. 

Because he was in a cast for an extended period following the surgery, Schafer found himself feeling weak while attempting to swing the bat during the early days of camp.  But it now appears there’s at least a chance he’ll be ready to begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Tonight’s pitchers:  Kenshin Kawakami is scheduled to pitch three innings and Billy Wagner will attempt to rebound from Friday’s shaky season debut. There will also be reason to keep an eye on Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever who has struggled during his first two appearances of the year. 

 

 

Conrad and Thurston could stage a tight battle

If the battle to earn the last roster spot for a position play ends the way it has started, Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston are going to force the Braves to make a tough decision. 

Conrad has been displaying some power  (two doubles and a homer) while hitting .462 (6-for-13) during his first six games of the Grapefruit League season.  Thurston’s .500 batting average has come courtesy of the four singles he has recorded in his eight at-bats. 

“Conrad has been playing great and Thurston, the same thing,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

From a defensive standpoint, Thurston and Conrad possess similar skills.  Both have seen most of their playing time at second and third base and also shown the ability to play the outfield if necessary.

The starting lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers had Conrad at second base and Thurston positioned at third base.

NOTES:

Javy Lopez has arrived in camp this week to serve as a special assistant, which basically means he’s in town to have some fun, soak up the atmosphere and catch up with some old friends from the organization. 

Lopez made the trip to Lakeland this afternoon and immediately started talking to Miguel Cabrera about using some of the bats his company, Bones, manufactures.  The former Braves catcher also wants Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to test some of his bats. 

Chipper Jones wants to get an early look at Roy Halladay during tomorrow night’s game against the Phillies.  The Braves third baseman was hurt when Halladay faced the Braves last year and he has just two career regular season at-bats (with both coming in 1999) against the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

But Cox indicated that he may opt to show some precaution with Jones, who has been sidelined since jamming his right thumb on Friday.   

“We’ll see,” Cox said. “You know jams don’t go away that quickly.” 

There might be another change in the schedule for Jair Jurrjens.  Cox now says the 24-year-old right-hander will throw his second round of live batting practice tomorrow.   This was the projected schedule until Sunday, when the Braves revealed he would wait until Wednesday to throw again.

Check back after the game to get clarification about Jurrjens’ schedule.

BRAVES LINEUP for Monday’s game
Infante 6
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Glaus 3
Hinske DH
Diaz 7
Ross 2
Conrad 4
Thurston 5
 

 

Jurrjens throws while Chipper and Heyward sit

MLB.com’s Peter Gammons arrived in Braves camp today just in time for Jason Heyward’s first day off since the Grapefruit League season began. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox said he selfishly wanted to put Heyward in the lineup for the sixth straight day, but was persuaded by his bench coach Chino Cadahia a day to rest.

Chipper Jones will also miss this afternoon’s game against the Astros because of a jammed right thumb that he incurred when he got jammed with a pitch on Friday.  Not wanting to aggravate this ailment that he has occasionally battled in the past, Jones plans to rest at least one more day before possibly returning to the lineup on Tuesday night against Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

Jair Jurrjens’ 24-pitch live batting practice session was completed in a pain-free manner this morning and the 24-year-old right-hander will likely repeat this exercise on Wednesday.  It now appears that his first Grapefruit League start could come Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Scott Proctor also impressed Braves manager Bobby Cox with the live batting practice session he completed this morning.

“He’s really firing the ball,” Cox said of the right-handed reliever, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Proctor could begin pitching in games within the next week to 10 days.  Once he does, the Braves will gain a better sense about when he could be added to their outfield mix.  While possible, Opening Day still seems to be a rather optimistic projection.     

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Astros

Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Melky Cabrera 9
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Matt Diaz 7
Brooks Conrad 5
Tommy Hanson 1

Lowe draws the short straw

When I approached Tim Hudson this morning to ask him about the club’s plans to provide him an extra day of rest before his first few starts of the regular season, I was prepared for him to tell me that his arm feels great and that he’s fine with this arrangement. 

After providing this confirmation, Huddy asked if the Giants were going to have an offday before he makes his season debut against them in their April 9 home opener.  He was trying to figure out whether he’d get a chance to oppose his buddy Barry Zito, who had risen to prominence with him in Oakland. 

When I informed him that he’d more likely face Jonathan Sanchez, Huddy said, “Well tell their manager not to get any ideas about holding (Tim) Lincecum back for their home opener.”

Instead it looks like Derek Lowe will draw the short straw and match up against the reigning Cy Young Award winner. So within the season’s first five days Lowe will likely be opposed by Carlos Zambrano and Lincecum. 

And then to top things off it appears he won’t pitch during the early season series against the Padres.  Hey, but isn’t it great to have the honor of making yet another Opening Day start?

Grapefruit League opener:
  The Jason Heyward batting practice tales grew stale a few days ago.  It’s time to see what the kid can do against live pitching and MLB Network will provide you a chance to watch him make his Grapefruit League season debut against the Mets tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. 

The weather forecast for the Port St. Lucie area isn’t exactly promising.  But if the rain holds off, you’ll get a chance to see Tommy Hanson start and likely work two innings before handing the ball to the bullpen, which will consist of Kris Medlen, Jesse Chavez, Mike Dunn, Chris Resop, James Parr and Manny Acosta. 

Dunn and Chavez have put themselves in position to battle for the last remaining spots in the bullpen.  For now, I’d still have consider Acosta a long shot, who may draw attention from some pitching-needy clubs over the next couple of weeks. 

Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Matt Diaz are not scheduled to make the trip to Port St. Lucie.  They will likely make their GL season debuts when the Braves host the Mets on Wednesday afternoon.

Hudson is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game.  The relievers will consist of Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Mariano Gomez, Stephen Marek (the remains of the Mark Teixeira trade), Johnny Venters and Jeff Lyman.

Venters seems to be a long shot to begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen.  But the 24-year-old left-hander has caught Bobby Cox’s attention with his sinker.

“He’s got a good chance to do something with that kind of sinker,” Cox said. “He’s got to pitch in the big leagues with that kind of sinker.”

Chipper potential early retirement: I’ll admit that I have never given much thought about the possibility that Chipper Jones would walk away from the game if he struggles again this season.  But while talking to him again this morning for the story currently on MLB.com and braves.com, I will admit that there was definite sincerity in his voice and facial expressions. 

At the same time there was an excitement about the results he could realize after working with his dad to fix the mechanics of his swing.  While watching him last year, I thought he was being victimized by self-induced pressure to supply the club with power. 

But it was interesting to hear him say that he feels his bad habits developed over the previous five years while attempting to compensate for a variety of different injuries.   As the story mentions, he believes he might need to face live pitching for a few weeks before truly gaining comfort with these refined mechanics. 

No interest in Mateo:  One of our more knowledgeable bloggers inquired today about the Braves possibly having interest in Wagner Mateo,  a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican whose $3.1 million agreement with the Cardinals was voided last year because he failed a physical. 

But a Braves source have since informed me that they do not have any interest in Mateo.  

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