NEW YORK — After initially thinking Chipper Jones’ goal of returning from arthroscopic knee surgery for the Braves’ home opener might be too ambitious, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez now thinks he could be back sooner.
Jones is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, when the Braves play the second game of a three-game series at Houston. The home opener is Friday against Milwaukee.
“Definitely the home opener, based on [Friday’s] workout,” Gonzalez said, “and maybe even sooner than that. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days with him.”
Jones took about 15 swings against Braves pitcher Randall Delgado on Friday during an off-day workout at Citi Field, the first time he faced live pitching since April 26 surgery for torn meniscus in his left knee. He also ran the bases during the workout.
“We’re going to ramp him up here in the next couple of days,” said Gonzalez, who will request use of Houston’s Minute Maid Park in the early afternoon Monday. “To get him some extra work. And we’ll see how it goes, how he feels.”
Gonzalez said last week that Jones might benefit from a minor-league rehab assignment before he’s activated, but Saturday he said Jones would do that only if the veteran feels like he needs to.
If he’s not activated before the end of the trip Wednesday, Jones could get some at-bats in a Class-A Rome game Thursday on the Braves’ day off. But on Saturday that sounded less likely.
If Jones isn’t ready to play third base, Gonzalez said, “Maybe we’ll use him off the bench as a pinch-hitter the first couple of days.”
Hanson to start Tuesday
Opening day starter Tommy Hanson will start Tuesday in the fifth game of the season, with Braves No. 5 starter now set to make his season debut Wednesday Houston. The Braves decided to bring back Hanson to start Tuesday after he threw only 83 pitches in the season opener.
The off day in the schedule Friday means Hanson will be on regular (four days) rest Tuesday. Gonzalez said he put off the decision until checking with Hanson two days after his first start.
“We wanted him to go on his normal day [on regular rest], but we were waiting to see how he felt,” Gonzalez said. “Because it’s different than pitching spring training. You’ve got opening day jitters and the whole thing going. He said, ‘No, I’m not even sore. I feel good.’ So we’ll keep him on [schedule].”
Hudson’s first rehab start
In his first injury-rehab start for Class-A Rome, Tim Hudson allowed four hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk with no strikeouts in three innings Saturday at Charleston. Returning from back surgery, Hudson is set to make five or six rehab starts for Rome and Triple-A Gwinnett before he’s activated in the last week of April or first week of May.
His next scheduled start is Thursday in Rome’s home opener, which Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell plan to attend.
Francisco eager for opportunity
Juan Francisco didn’t see it coming when he was traded to the Braves on the last weeked of spring training, but once he understood the particulars he was OK with it.
“I was surprised a little bit when the GM [Reds general manager Walt Jocketty] called me to the office and said, ‘I traded you today,’” Francisco said. “He said, ‘You’ve got a better opportunity [with the Braves]. Work hard and take care.’ I said, thank you.”
He showed big power potential in the Reds organization but was out of minor-league options and wasn’t going to see much time at the infield corners playing behind star first baseman Joey Votto or veteran third baseman Scott Rolen. So the Reds traded Francisco to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitcher J.J. Hoover — a prospect, but not one of the Braves’ top-tier prospects.
“This is my first chance,” said Francisco, 24, made his Braves debut with a start at third baseman Saturday against the Mets, going 0-for-4 and hitting a couple of balls hard with runners on base. “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to play.”
Until now, his career has been most notable for the 502-foot homer he hit at Cincinnati that sailed entirely over the right-field bleachers and out of the ballpark.
In parts of three major league seasons with the Reds, Francisco hit .284 with 11 doubles, one triple, five homers and 29 RBI in 169 at-bats, only 26 of which came against lefties. Gonzalez said he wants to give him a chance to show if he can hit major league lefties.
With the Reds’ Triple-A team last season, Francisco hit .343 (72-for-210) against right-handers with 10 homers, a .370 on-base percentage and a .956 OPS, while against lefties he hit .269 (29-for-108) with six homers, a .298 OBP and .798 OPS.
“I can hit both,” said the stocky Dominican, listed as 6 feet 2 and 245 pounds. “When a lefty started I never played [in Cincinnati]. I don’t know why. In the minor leagues I started against righties and lefties. I played every day.”
Francisco should get plenty of starts as primary backup to Jones, who will be 40 on April 24. The Braves plan to rest the veteran third baseman on a regular basis this year to try to keep him healthy in his final season.
Batting seventh against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on Saturday, Francisco struck out on an eight-pitch at-bat with one on to end the second inning, lined out to center field with two out to end the fourth, and lined out to first with a runner at third to end the sixth. He popped out foul against Mets closer Frank Francisco with a runner at first for the second out of the ninth inning.
“He had a couple of good at-bats and also made a couple of nice plays defensively,” said Gonzalez, who hadn’t decided whether to play Francisco at third Sunday against left-hander Jonathon Niese, or play Matt Diaz in left field and move Martin Prado back to third.
Diaz started in left on opening day because he had a .500 career average against Johan Santana. Diaz is 1-for-8 against Niese.