LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Chipper Jones fielded ground balls Tuesday for the first time since August knee surgery, then had a retort for critics of new manager Fredi Gonzalez’s intention to keep Jones in the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Jones said sarcastically. “Bobby [Cox] hit me third, then they bring in a new guy and people say, ‘Now surely Chipper won’t hit third.’ And then new guy comes in and I’m hitting third, and these people are like, ‘Are they crazy or what? Why would they put the old guy in the 3-hole?’”
Jones smiled and said, “I don’t know. Maybe he still has something to offer.”
The 38-year-old third baseman also took about 40 swings in the batting cage at Champion Stadium on the first day of workouts for Braves pitchers and catchers (Jones and Martin Prado can participate because they are returning from season-ending injuries).
Full squad workouts begin Saturday.
Jones drove several balls over the center-field fence and lined others into and over the fences in the gaps. But as he pointed out, he teed off against hitting coach Larry Parrish, not one of the Braves pitchers who threw batting practice on the backfields Tuesday.
Jones will move out to one of those fields at some point this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, to take some cuts against live pitching.
“It’s a good first day,” said Jones, who fielded 30-40 grounders, most of them relatively pedestrian and not requiring much movement to either side. “I’m not going to go out here and try to make the club on the first day. But I didn’t see any problems.
“Obviously fielding a ground ball is only half of it. Getting your footwork down, getting set and making a throw, is something else, something that puts pressure on the knee. We’ll probably start that in a day or two. It’s just like riding a bike.”
Jones, who’ll be 39 in April, had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury that happened when he leapt while making a spectacular defensive play to throw across his body from foul territory to first base in a game at Houston.
“There were a couple [of grounders Tuesday] where I had to move my feet, to my left. There were no problems there. Obviously the backhand, you know, coming off my right side is no big deal. But having to plant and throw against a stiff front leg is something that’s going to put pressure on it, too. We’ll start doing that soon.”
Jones said he plans to be ready for opening day, but needs to avoid pushing things too hard in the first weeks of spring training.
“Yeah, I’m focused on opening day,” he said. “Hopefully the spring plays out and I’m able to do it. I wouldn’t look for me to be in spring training games for the first few days. But we’ll play it by ear. I’m not getting out there till I know I can do everything.
“I need about 40 at-bats [to be ready for the season]…. I would say if I got 30 at-bats left-handed and 12 or 15 at-bats right-handed, I’ll probably be ready to go.”
Jones hopes to play five or six games a week and avoid extended absences from the lineup. He’s played as many as 135 games only once in the past six seasons due to injuries, and last season hit .265 with career lows of 10 homers, 46 RBIs and 95 games.
The Braves plan to move Prado from left field to third base when Jones is out of the lineup. Joe Mather and Eric Hinske are among options for backup left fielder.
Braves general manager Frank Wren says he’s not spending much time worried about backup plans if Jones isn’t ready or misses long stretches of the season.
“At this point there’s no reason to even think that way, no reason to consider it,” Wren said. “He’s doing so well. If we get to that point and we have to make those adjustments, we will. But that’s not even in the front of our mind right now, thinking that’s a possibility.”
Single-game tickets on sale
Single-game tickets for the Braves 2011 season go on sale Monday, Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available at Braves.com/tickets, the Braves Ticket Office at Turner Field, the Braves Clubhouse Store at CNN Center, Publix Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 800-745-3000. Tickets range in price from $8 to $90.
The Braves will hold a two-day presale Feb. 24 and 25 for fans who have registered on Braves.com/presale by 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 21. Those who pre-register will receive an e-mail with information about how to access the presale.