LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Chipper Jones hit his first home run since August knee surgery, but that wasn’t even the best thing about his Saturday at the ballpark.
“Today was the first day that I had absolutely no pain in my knee whatsoever, which I’m most excited about,” said the Braves third baseman, who hit a two-run, two-out homer in the sixth inning of a 6-4 win against the New York Mets at Champion Stadium.
“I felt like today was the first day that the knee was as good as was pre-injury. Now the key is to start stringing some days together where it feels like that…. [The homer] was just a big cherry on top of a great day.”
Jones connected on a 2-0 fastball from right-hander Dillon Gee and drove it to the bullpen beyond right field, increasing the lead to 5-0. It was his first home run since Aug. 6, 2010, four days before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Jones, who’ll be 39 o April 24, hit .302 with five homers and a .907 OPS in his last 28 games before the injury, to finish his truncated season with a .265 average, 10 homers and an .806 OPS in 95 games.
He’s had good days and a couple of bad ones this spring, but Saturday was the best so far for Jones, who played third base for the second time in a three-day span. He served as a designated hitter in his other four Grapefruit League games.
He is 5-for-17 (.294) with one walk, two strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch.
“I’ve just been barreling them into the ground,” said Jones, who went 1-for-3 on Saturday, grounding out in the first inning and grounding into a double play in the third inning. “I can’t really complain about the way I’ve swung it. But, you know, you want to get results. You don’t want to just hit hard ground balls.
“You want to hit some line drives and hit some balls into the gaps and whatnot. It was especially good to get one up in the air and hit it out of the ballpark.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and Jones talk each day about how the Braves veteran feels and the upcoming schedule. Gonzalez plans to start Jones at third base again Sunday in a game against the Nationals in Viera, Fla., then give him Monday off when the Braves travel to face the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.
The objective is to bring Jones along at a pace that is both prudent and will allow him to get enough at-bats to be ready for opening day March 31.
“There’s going to be some good days,” Gonzalez said, “and there’s going to be some days when you’re going to have to get through it or be smart about it — like we talked about from Day 1 — and say, I can’t go today.”
The Braves and their opponents used the designated hitter for the first week of spring games, but the DH will be used in only a few games against American League teams during the final three weeks of spring training.
“We don’t have many DH games left, so I’m going to have to get out there [at third base],” Jones said. “It felt good on [defense], felt good running down to first. I had no pain up until I started running my sprints in the outfield [after he left the game] and it started getting fatigued.
“But from a standpoint of playing, I felt like I had first-step explosion and a I felt like I was running as fast and as hard as I could, for a guy my age. I felt fast today. I felt quick and I felt fast.”
He hasn’t had to make any diving defensive plays or charge in to field any bunts or slow rollers yet, and Jones was asked if he hoped to best tested with such a play soon.
“I like the routine ones,” he said, laughing. “It’s going to happen. I’d certainly like to see what the first step is like on defense where you really have to react, one step and a lay out. But I’ll be careful what I wish for.”
It seemed appropriate that his first post-surgery homer came against the Mets. Jones has hit 44 of his 436 career homers against the Mets, topped only by his 45 against Philadelphia.