Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – So I asked Chipper Jones today about possibly hitting cleanup instead of his preferred No. 3 hole, and he didn’t scoff or look at me like I’m an idiot. That was encouraging.
Instead, he kept lacing his cleats and said in that slow drawl: “We’ll make the decision based on personnel. If we get a 3-hitter I’ll hit cleanup. If we get a cleanup hitter, I’ll hit third.”
Well, folks, at this point available cleanup hitters would appear to be in short supply.
If the Braves get Ken Griffey Jr., which it appears they have a strong chance of doing, then he’s not likely to hit fourth. Not at this stage of his career, and particularly not if he’s used in a left-field platoon with Matt Diaz.
Griffey has his second-most career at-bats from the cleanup spot, but it’s a distant second to the 3-hole, where he’s had more than 7,600 of his 9,316 career at-bats. He hit third for 327 of his 490 at-bats last season, and actually had more at-bats hitting sixth (58), seventh (47) and second (21) than cleanup (20).
In other words, the erstwhile “Kid” ain’t a kid anymore, and almost certainly ain’t going to be cleaning up.
And, although Brian McCann hit well in the cleanup spot last season after the Braves traded Mark Teixeira, it’s not ideal having a catcher in the cleanup spot, since he’s probably going to be out of the lineup on a regular basis once every five or six games.
(Yes, I know: Chipper’s going to be out of the lineup more than that, for injuries. But that’s not the point.)
“You want your three and four [hitters] to be set,” Jones said. “I realize you can’t do anything about injuries. But you still want those guys to be hitting there in those spots consistently.”
So, don’t expect Jones to complain if Bobby Cox asks him to hit cleanup. Among the guys the Braves have been considering in trades, Nick Swisher is not a cleanup hitter but, as Chipper pointed out, Xavier Nady could be.
Among free agents, Garret Anderson certainly could hit cleanup. But I don’t get the impression the Braves are too keen on signing the 37-year-old outfielder, who’d have to switch leagues and having him switch leagues and play the outfield if he’s in the lineup (he had 240 at-bats as a DH last season).
Besides, I’ve got feeling they’re going to sign Griffey. And Tom Glavine. Then the money will be about gone, and it’ll be about deciding who hits third if Chipper hits cleanup. Griffey could do it, at least against right-handers, but what about facing lefties?
Maybe Kelly Johnson could hit third?
Or, as Jones suggested a while back, maybe Francoeur has his act together and could hit cleanup. (Hey, I didn’t say I believed that to be at all likely.)
– Jordan Schafer isn’t a punk kid anymore. At least that’s the impression I got today, from observing and talking to him, and to others about him.
A year ago, he fairly strutted around camp. He concedes today that was his way of dealing with feeling out of place, as if everyone was staring at the then-No. 1 prospect whose stock soared after his performance in the low minors in 2007. Dude already had a Nike endorsement last spring, and hadn’t played above A-ball.
A year later, he seems more subdued, mature, and confident — but not the seemingly false bravado he showed last spring. After a difficult Double-A season that included a 50-game suspension for alleged HGH use (Schafer insists he never used HGH, but that he made bad choices in those he associated with), the kid from nearby Polk County just wants to compete for a job this spring, then have a consistent season whether he’s in the majors or at Triple-A Gwinnett.
The way he’s swinging in the cages during early workouts with a handful of other early arriving position players, Schafer looks ready to give Josh Anderson a serious battle for the CF job. Schafer’s put on 15 pounds since last season, and now has the thick, roped forearms that you see on bricklayers and guys who hit thousands and thousands of baseballs.
Oh, and he’s got tattoos covering both arms from elbow to shoulder (and perhaps more; I didn’t see him with his shirt off, but had him pull up his sleeves to show me his ink after I saw the tatts below the bottoms of the sleeves on his polo shirt.
”I feel confident now,” said the 22-year-old, who’s still driving a Hummer that he said cost him a fortune to operate when gas was around $4 and he was home in Florida serving his suspension. “Not like last year. I don’t feel like an outcast anymore. Matt’s helped me a lot.”
That’d be Diaz, a fellow Central Floridian and one of the more popular Braves in the clubhouse in recent years. Diaz is mature, personable, humble — oh, and about 20 pounds lighter than last season, after following an entirely new diet and plyometrics conditioning program all winter. Diaz also has a grip that could break your fingers, and those forearms I mentioned earlier, hitter/bricklayer forearms — Diaz is bigger in the arms this spring, despite his dramatic weight loss
But where were we? Oh, yes, Schafer.
”I’m just trying to come in here and show Bobby [Cox], Frank [Wren] and T.P. [hitting coach Terry Pendleton] that I’m ready, mentally and physically,” he said.
Pendleton’s assessment after several days watching him in the batting cages and clubhouse: “He’s growing up. Last year he came in here like [Pendleton looks around, wide-eyed], ‘I’m here.’ This year I can say this: He looks like he’s on a mission. There’s a different look in his eyes.”
– Aussie-rules racing: Marcos Ambros is the first Australian to race NASCAR, and he invited a couple of his countryman over to Daytona for qualifying Friday. Braves relievers Peter Moylan and Phil Stockman both said it was one of the most exciting, enjoyable days they’d ever had. Ever. In their lives.
”I’m a fan now, man,” said Moylan, who was thrilled with the racing and the courtesy that Ambros and his crew showed them.
”Once you get in those pits, you’re hooked.” — Bobby Cox on Aussie pitchers Peter Moylan and Phil Stockman professing to be NASCAR converts after spending a day at Daytona qualifying in the pit area and trailer of Australian driver Marcos Ambros.
The Aussie pitchers were blown away by the size of the speedway, the crowds, and the sheer number of workers it takes to run a NASCAR team.
Stockman talked like a kid a Christmas about the experience, everything, including the laps they got to take in a pace car, though the 6-foot-8 Stockman asked to stop after two trips around, as he was about to throw up from steep-banked turns. Might have been the Vegemite-on-toast that Ambros shared with Stockman and Moylan (folks Down Under like that salty, bitter condiment a lot more than most other human beings do, and both pitchers loved it when they saw Ambros chowing down on Vegemite).
“He’s just a good bloke,” Stockman said of the driver, who is a major celebrity in Australia.
When Moylan saw noted race fan Chipper Jones enter the clubhouse Saturday, he shouted to the third baseman, “I see how you rednecks do it now,” meaning how so many of them could watch races for hours on end. Jones just gave him a knowing smile.
-- OK, been a long day, and I’ve got to be back out at the ballpark early for the first pitchers-and-catchers workout tomorrow.
“MAN IN BLACK” by Johnny Cash
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
but is there because he’s a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.
Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose.
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes.
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
up front there oughta be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old.
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold.
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been.
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
believing that the Lord was on their side.
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
believing that we all were on their side.
Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
and things need changin’ everywhere you go.
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
you’ll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
and tell the world that everything’s OK.
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.