LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Chipper Jones declared himself ready now, surgically-repaired left knee and all.
He hit his third home run of spring Thursday on a solo shot to center field, doubled, and made two nice plays in the field – one a bare-handed play on a slow-roller, another on a stab of a line drive.
“I’m not even thinking about the knee because it’s not an issue,” Jones said. “I have no pain in the knee whatsoever…I feel like I turned a corner about 2 ½ weeks ago. I’m just really excited to get this season started right now.”
Jones leads the Braves in homers (three) and RBIs (11) this spring. Freddie Freeman followed his homer four batters later with his first home run of spring on a two-run shot to center as well.
But it was Nate McLouth who drew Jones’ highest praise after the game. McLouth had two more hits Thursday to raise his spring batting average to .367 (11-for-30).
“Nate’s swung the bat outstanding down here so far,” Jones said. “And what everybody was deeming question marks before we got down here – namely myself and Nate – I think we’ve put those to rest.”
Marek, Gearrin among roster cuts
The Braves announced a second round of roster cuts Thursday, optioning pitchers Cory Gearrin, Stephen Marek and Anthony Varvaro to Triple-A Gwinnett.
They reassigned five more to the minor league camp: left-hander Yohan Flande, catcher Wilkin Castillo, infielder Shawn Bowman and outfielders Brent Clevlen and Jose Constanza.
Marek is the most notable because he’d been in the conversation for the final bullpen spot. Marek have given up only one in 6 1/3 innings this spring but walked five.
“Marek is a guy that during the course of the year – this is what I told him – we’re going to need pitching,” Gonzalez said. “I would feel comfortable for him to pitch in a major league game right now. He’s a big part of this organization, and I think we’ll see him in the major leagues.”
Scott Proctor nearly spoiled a 7-0 lead for the Braves in the eighth inning, allowing the first four batters he faced to reach, including a two-run double by former Brave Adam LaRoche. He was ultimately charged with five runs, including two that scored after he’d been relieved by Cristhian Martinez. Martinez gave up two hits and had center fielder Jordan Schafer commit a double-error behind him allowing another run to score, before escaping the inning with a 7-6 lead.
Proctor’s ERA for the spring rose to 9.35 and his candidacy to win the final bullpen spot took a hit.
“He had a tough time getting his breaking ball over today,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He probably could have got out of that inning but he was right at 30 pitches. We didn’t want him to get hurt to get out of that inning.”