Chipper encouraged by early return to action

Chipper encouraged by early return to action

Chipper encouraged by early return to action
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As he tossed his jersey into the laundry cart and unwound from playing in his first game in nearly seven months, Chipper Jones answered a reporter's query by smirking and said, "You can't expect too much."

When Jones arrived at Braves camp a little more than two weeks ago, he didn't expect his surgically repaired left knee to allow him to play in games until at least a few days in March elapsed.

So as the veteran third baseman explained how he felt during Sunday afternoon's 5-4 loss to the Mets, he spoke with excitement that had been absent just 48 hours earlier, when he was frustrated by the discomfort he had felt in his left knee during Thursday's workout.

"I didn't expect to be playing right now," Jones said. "That shows you how far I've come just since I got down here. I didn't think I could play the first or second game. It feels fine and the bottom line is, I need to see some pitches."

In going 1-for-3 vs. the Mets, Jones looked at one too many pitches and struck out in the first inning against right-hander Chris Young. Jones drilled the first pitch he saw from Oliver Perez to left field for a fourth-inning single, and then shattered his bat as he hit a harmless fly ball to right field in the fifth.

"I got to do everything I wanted to do, with the exception of maybe going first to third or scoring from second or something," Jones said. "I got at-bats from both sides of the plate, and I felt like I was on some pitches."

Playing for the first time since tearing his left ACL on Aug. 10, Jones was spared the stress he would have put on the knee if he manned third base. But he didn't simply go through the motions while sliding to break up a double-play attempt in the fourth inning.

Jones admitted he didn't slide as aggressively as he might have with a healthy knee in a meaningful game. But it's these opportunities that will help him build confidence to do so once the regular season begins.

"You're not concentrating as much on the fielder as you are just trying to do everything by the book," Jones said. "Once you do it a few times, you don't have to worry about it."

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was further encouraged when he saw Jones hit the ground to break up the double play.

"It surprised me," Gonzalez said. "But in the heat of the battle and the competition, it's good to be able to do that."

When Jones arrives at the park Monday, he'll inform Gonzalez whether he's ready to play a few hours later against the Astros. He'll likely do the same on Tuesday and then skip the club's trip to Ft. Myers, Fla., to play the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Gonzalez indicated Jones could continue to serve as the designated hitter until at least the March 6 game against the Nationals in Viera, Fla. Jones said he would like to start playing defense within a week or so. But before taking this step, he wants more confidence in his knee.

"Right now, at the beginning of Spring Training, I only have a bad day every four or five days," Jones said. "Hopefully that gets to every seven or eight days."

As he aims to play in the neighborhood of 130 games this year, Jones would like to reach a point where his knee isn't a concern. But all things considered, Jones must feel fortunate about where he stands seven months removed from having his left ACL repaired for a second time. When fluid built around the knee during Thursday's workout, he wondered how many days he might miss.

By the time Friday's workout concluded, he was running the bases and speaking with the enthusiasm that was present again after Sunday's game.

"All of my bad days have been followed by good days," Jones said.

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