SAN FRANCISCO – Birthday boy Chipper Jones is back in the Bravos’ lineup today as they try to complete their first series sweep. He rested a sore right knee Saturday, and he didn’t sound entirely convinced that playing today was a wise decision.
As he worked on a crossword puzzle in the clubhouse a couple of hours before the first pitch, I asked him if the knee felt better today.
“Not really. I haven’t moved around at all yet,” he said. “But it felt a little better from a standpoint of the treatment I had on it.
“It’s probably risky out there on that wet track, but I think I need to be in there today.”
Well, alrighty then. Happy birthday and happy Easter.
He’s 39 today, and the Braves hope Chipper can hit today like he has on many previous birthdays. In 11 birthday games, he’s hit .419 (18-for-43) with 10 runs, four HRs and 10 RBIs, including a two-homer game in 2001.
And this might be the best stat of all for Braves fans: The team was 9-2 in those games.
(By the way, while I’m thinking about it, where would this Giants series in San Francisco have rated with you all if we’d asked before the season for you to name the most likely first sweep of the season for Atlanta? It’s their seventh series of the season, and I would’ve put the first six ahead of this one if asked that question before the season.)
Anyway, as for Chipper’s knee, you probably know from what we wrote previously that he said it’s been sore for about 10 days and worsened during the series opener Friday night on a cool, damp night by the bay. (He thought the chilly conditions might’ve contributed, is why we mention the weather.)
As for the “wet track” today, I’m not sure if the field is actually going to be wet by the time this one starts. The sun’s been out a while now, the drizzle stopped late morning, and there’s a breeze.
As manager Fredi Gonzalez said yesterday, he hoped that Chipper would be ready to play today so that he wouldn’t have both the third baseman and catcher Brian McCann out of the lineup at once. McCann has a scheduled day off today, and David Ross is in there catching. And singing.
Have we mentioned that the Braves have had a good-luck song going the past few days? It’s Eddie Money’s “Shakin’,” and Ross is usually the one singing it in the clubhouse (and dancing a bit to it; if only we had video of that).
♣ Gonzo gets a rest: The other lineup news is at shortstop, where rookie Brandon Hicks will make his first major league start and Alex Gonzalez gets his first day off this season.
“He’s played every inning of every game,” Fredi G. said of Alex G. “We need to give him a little breather. He hasn’t missed a game. Doubleheader, day game after night game, he’s played them all.”
Hicks, 25, said he did a double-take when he walked past the lineup card when it was posted on the clubhouse wall, about an hour after he arrived at AT&T Park. Fredi hadn’t told him the night before that he might be starting, perhaps so he wouldn’t have too much time to think about it.
“Probably a good idea,” Hicks said, smiling.
He’s played in five games and has only four plate appearances (0-for-4), all as a pinch-hitter. Hicks, who won a roster spot in large part because of his improved hitting during spring training, is excited about getting a chance to have multiple at-bats in one game.
♣ McLouth’s throws: Braves center fielder Nate McClouth has raised a few eyebrows with his throws this season and last, or in some cases with his decisions not to throw.
Some of have wondered why the one-time Gold Glover (2008 with Pittsburgh) has opted to hang onto some balls rather than attempt throws when it appeared he had at least a chance to cut down a runner at the plate or on the bases.
In Saturday’s game, there was another instance, although in this one there was at least a mitigating factor. With Pat Burrell at second base, Cody Ross’s RBI single to shallow center was one of those balls where outfielders have to make a decision: Do they commit and try a hard-charging catch coming in and risk the ball getting past them and becoming a triple, or take the safer route, hold off and let it land in front of them for a single?
McLouth let it drop. But the problem came – or at least appeared this way on replays – when he didn’t get himself in position to quickly make a strong throw to the plate. Burrell isn’t a fast runner — at all — but he scored from second base when McLouth made a not-very-good throw to the cutoff man.
I asked McLouth about the play.
“It was like a line drive where it was kind of in-between, where I didn’t know if I couldn’t have caught it if I’d gone in. And then by the time I kind of stopped to let it bounce, I couldn’t get as much on the throw as I wanted to. It was just one of those in-between [balls] where I couldn’t charge it hard, because then it might have bounced right there and gotten past me.”
My next question was about his throws in general, and whether he thought his arm was as strong as it had been in the past.
“My shoulder still bothers me a little bit from that thing that I had in spring training,” he said, referring to a tumble he took when trying to avoid a collision with Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, which left him with a sore shoulder and out of the lineup for several games.
“But I feel like … I haven’t had a ton of chances to throw, but I made a couple of good throws in L.A., in that first game. I haven’t had a ton of chances to throw, but it feels OK.
“The most important thing for an outfielder, you don’t get a ton of chances to throw guys out, but you just don’t want to let that other guy advance. You want to hit the cutoff man, make sure on that kind of stuff.”
♣Today’s matchup: Braves rookie Brandon Beachy, coming of his first major league win, tries to make it two in a row against Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez.
As Freddie Freeman said this morning, Sanchez is “effectively wild.” So it’ll be important for the Braves to do what they did so well against Tim Lincecum Saturday, when they didn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone and let him get ahead in counts.
Lincecum had a career-high six walks and was charged with six hits and five runs in 6-1/3 innings, and fell to 1-3 with a 5.11 ERA in his past four regular-season starts against the Braves.
“That’s why we were able to get him out of there quicker, we were patient,” Freeman said. “That’s how this team won last year, they were so patient last year. We’ve just got to work on our walks; well, you don’t have to work on walks, you just have to work on being aggressive in the strike zone, not aggressive [on balls out of the strike zone.]”
Sanchez is 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA in seven games against the Braves, including 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA in five starts. He has 29 strikeouts with nine walks in 24-1/3 innings of those five starts against them.
This seasons he’s 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA in four starts, including 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA in his past two. He had 13 strikeouts and six walks in 12-1/3 innings of those past two, wins against the Dodgers and Rockies in which he got a lot of run support.
Check out this stat: Lefty hitters are just 2-for-19 against him with one walk and a .136 on-base percentage.Righties are 18-for-67 (.269) with a .384 OBP.
With runners in scoring position, he’s held hitters to 2-for-17 with one walk.
♣ Heyward’s big vs. Giants: After going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his first game against the Giants last season, Jason Heyward is 10-for-25 (.400) with two homers, six walks, a. 516 OBP and .720 slugging in his past eight games against them.
♦ OK, gotta get this posted before first pitch. Before we head back to the southern end of the Golden State, let’s close with one last San Francisco-flavored tune. We turn to our man Tom Waits again for this one, from his terrific Small Change album back in the day. You can enjoy it by clicking here.
“THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY” by Tom Waits
The jigolo’s jumpin salty
ain’t no trade out on the streets
half past the unlucky
and the hawk’s a front-row seat
dressed in full orquestration
stage door johnnys got to pay
and sent him home
talking bout the one that got away
could a been on easy street
could a been a wheel
with irons in the fire
and all them business deals
But the last of the big-time losers
shouted before he drove away
I’ll be right back as soon as I crack
the one that got away
the ambulance drivers don’t give a shit
they just want to get off work
and the short stop and the victim
have already gone berserk
and the shroud-tailor measures him
for a deep-six holiday
the stiff is froze, the case is closed
on the one that got away
Jim Crow’s directing traffic
with them cemetery blues
with them peculiar looking trousers
them old Italian shoes
the wooden kimona was all ready
to drop in San Francisco Bay
but now he’s mumbling something
all about the one that got away
Costello was the champion
at the St. Moritz Hotel
and the best this side of Fairfax,
reliable sources tell
but his reputation is at large
and he’s at Ben Frank’s every day
waiting for the one that got away
he’s got a snake skin sportshirt,
and he looks like Vincent Price
with a little piece of chicken
and he’s carving off a slice
but someone tipped her off
she’ll be doing a Houdini now any day
she shook his hustle
and a Greyhound bus’ll
take the one that got away
Andre is at the piano
behind the Ivar in the sewers
with a buck a shot for pop tunes,
and a fin for guided tours
He could of been in Casablanca
he stood in line out there all day
but now he’s spilling whiskey
and learning songs about a one that got away
well I’ve lost my equilibrium
my car keys and my pride
tattoo parlor’s warm
and so I huddle there inside
the grinding of the buzz saw
just don’t misspell her name
buddy she’s the one that got away