(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien.)
It’s a little less than six weeks from when Braves pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Feb. 19, and I haven’t bugged Chipper Jones all offseason. What’s up with that?
Well let’s say that’s remedied here in a wide-ranging conversation with the veteran third baseman, who just got back from a hunting trip to New Mexico and plans to start into his usual routine of hitting at Turner Field next week.
Candid as ever, Jones shared his thoughts on everything from when he might make a decision on retirement and how the game is more difficult for him now, to the state of the team, how he’ll feel if the Braves go into spring training with this roster largely as is and his impressions of new hitting coach Greg Walker.
Without further adieu, excerpts from that interview:
Q. How are your knees?
A. Everything is pretty good. I’ve been working out for a month, month and a half. I played in (Brian McCann) Mac’s charity softball game about six weeks ago. I was really worried coming out of that because my right knee was killing me. I had been away from playing for a month and really had seen no improvement. But now I’ve been taking – not live swings, but swings with aggression – here at the house. Six weeks ago I couldn’t put any weight on my right knee at all, as far as swinging right-handed. Now I’m swinging basically as hard as I can. I’m able to sit back on my backside, which is something I couldn’t do at the end of the year last year. I feel strong. I’ve lost some weight, which hopefully will relieve some pressure.
Q. How much did you lose?
A. I’m 8-10 pounds lighter than normal. Usually I’m coming into spring training in low 230s. The last time I weighted myself I was 223, 224. I’ve tried to eat a little better this offseason, and I think it’s paying off.
Q. All things considered, were you pretty happy with your season individually last year?
A. I was pretty pleased, not satisfied. I felt like I could have put together a pretty good season at 39 years of age, had I not missed 24 games (following surgery). After I came back from surgery, the last two months of the season, doing it when I needed to made me feel good.
Q. And then there was the last month from a team standpoint.
A. What happened at end of the season still burns. But I still walk away from it thinking that we played as hard as we could. Nobody was dogging it, I made sure of that, and we showed up to play every day. For whatever reason, it just didn’t happen for us. But when I look at last year’s team and the players on it, everybody worries about our offense and rightly so. They should have after the year that we had last year. The questions are warranted. But I sit back and I say to myself well, is Jason Heyward going to hit .220 this year? And I think, “Most certainly not.” Is Dan Uggla going to hit .230? And I think to myself, “No he’s not.” Is BMac going to hit under. 200 the last two months of the season? That’s a “most certainly not.” Is Martin Prado going to hit .260? Never in a million years will he hit .260 two years in a row. The saying around a major league batting cage is when you’re in a slump, the hitting coach always tells you “At some point, somebody is going to pay,” and I think that we’ve got a lot of guys in that clubhouse offensively that are thinking to themselves “Somebody’s got to pay.” So I’m hoping everybody has that attitude coming into spring training because there have been a lot of teams that have upgraded their ball clubs in our division. And we’re going to have to play well all year.
Q. Are you disappointed you guys haven’t made trades to upgrade?
A. Well, you’d always like to see your ball club get better, but looking at our ballclub coming into this offseason, I think each and every guy would tell you that there’s not a whole lot of places to make any adjustments. Certainly Martin Prado is one of our better players. He’s been rumored to be going somewhere in a trade. I think we all don’t want that to happen. The guy is a good player, and he’s awesome in the clubhouse, and we all love him to death. I really thought coming in if we made any moves, it would be with the pitching staff. Obviously everybody knew they were going to try to do something with D(erek) Lowe; they did that. That opens up a spot for one of the young kids. You always have to have an eye on the future, and if you can get an outfield piece for the future with giving up one of your starters, and having our depth in the minor leagues at starting pitching, that would have been maybe the one move that I could have seen being made. But in this day and age, some of these GMS are used car salesmen, and they’re just trying to absolutely rape your farm system. To Frank (Wren’s) credit, he has stood fast. I guess really the only deal I’ve heard of all offseason was Adam Jones (whom the Orioles reportedly wanted to package for Prado, Jair Jurrjens and two premium prospects), and that was just flat out ridiculous, what they were asking for him.
Q. If Jurrjens ends up being traded, is it a scary proposition with such a young crop behind him?
A. This is where I think the injuries to JJ and (Tommy) Hanson - while it may have prevented us from going to the playoffs, them being out six weeks – it may have given us a peek into the future to see which of these we want to keep, which one of these guys, if any, may at one point be on the block. We had an extensive look at (Mike) Minor, who was great. We got an extensive look at (Randall) Delgado, who was I thought outstanding. And we got a good look at (Julio) Teheran, and while he got off to kind of a slow start, his best outings were right there at the end of the year. I thought he threw extremely well. So the future is bright, and if you get a chance to maybe take one of those established guys and say “Let’s go get us a piece for our lineup,” it’s young guys like that (who) can afford you that ability.
Q. If the club stands pat, do you think the team’s mindset will be good going into spring training?
A. Yeah I think so. Pretty much everybody in that clubhouse knew that our starting lineup was going to be exactly the same as the way the year ended. And I don’t think anybody would have had a problem with it. Everybody knows what they’re capable of and if we go out and have our prototypical years, the offense will take care of itself. You can never count on all eight position players having typical years. Somebody is going to struggle during the course of the year. But you just don’t expect four or five guys to really struggle the way they did. I’m hoping that (new hitting coach) Greg Walker has that kind of influence on the guys. He seems like a real positive guy. I love the fact that we have another set of eyes as well with (assistant hitting coach Scott) Fletcher there. The more eyes that you can have on people, the more different points of view you have, the better. I feel like – I do this from time to time, usually on the road – if you can get four or five guys in the cage just watching each other and then have a little pow-wow session about things, you solve more problems that way because you’ve got different guys giving different opinions. When you do that, sometimes something will click for somebody. They’ll try it and they’ll get instant results out of it.
Q. Have you met Walker yet?
A. I’ve gotten a chance to talk to him on the phone a couple times. He’s asked me a lot of questions about guys on the team, how things work here, and he seems very open-minded. He seems like a good communicator even though I haven’t seen him in action yet.
Q. Did you know much about him through White Sox players?
A. Guys like (Paul) Konerko and Adam Dunn - they love him. (They say) he’s very accessible, always one of the first guys at the park, last one to leave. You also want a hitting coach that is not going to turn somebody into his prototypical-style hitter. You’ve got to be able to watch film and recognize what guys are doing when they’re successful and recognize what they’re doing when they’re not. Each guy’s swing is going to be different, so you can’t teach everybody to hit the same way. And it seems like he’s got the philosophy of (treating) every hitter singularly.
Q. Looking ahead, do you worry you’re in for another tough year physically?
A. I know this year is going to be tough physically. But I signed up to play, and my teammates want me out there, and I want to be out there as much as I can. I’m going to be 40 years old, and I know it. I’m reminded of it every time I pick up the paper or turn on my computer, but the fact of the matter is, I can still go out and contribute and be productive and that’s what I’m going to shoot to accomplish this year. Wherever I hit, whenever I play, I want to help this team win. That’s always been my goal, and it doesn’t change just because I’m turning 40 this year.
Q. Have you given much thought to 2013?
A. I’ve given some thought to it, and it’s too early to talk about ‘13. I go through stretches during the season every year where I feel like I don’t want to play anymore. Then I go through stretches where I think I can play five more years (laughs). Obviously when you’re in the middle of a 10 or 15-game hitting streak and you’ve hit a couple homers, and the game is slowing down for you, you feel like you can play forever. Then there’s those 3-for-25s where your team loses five out of seven games, and you’re like “What the heck am I doing?” You lose focus a little bit. I’ve got to not make a decision whenever I’m in one of those streaks. I’ll try to wait until I’m going good to make a decision to make sure I’m in the right frame of mind.
Q. How’s your frame of mind in general?
A. The game is getting harder for me. When you first come to big leagues the game is so fast. It takes a while to adjust to it. When you’re in your prime, the game slows down almost to a slow-pitch softball. As you get older, the game starts to speed up again. I’d be lying if I said the game wasn’t really, really fast for me right now. It seems like everybody is throwing 100 mph. The pitchers’ mound gets closer to home plate whenever you’re hitting, and third base gets farther away from first base. I can remember thinking to myself a couple times running down to first base last year, I’d put my head down and I’d run. When I was 25, when I’d look up the base would be a step and a half away. Now I put my head down and I look up, I’m not even halfway there. And it’s a little deflating and a little depressing. That’s just part of it. You’re playing a game of adjustments, and you better make some adjustments or else the game is going to pass you by.