PHOENIX – Long flights are a special pain for Chipper Jones, who was out of the Braves lineup again Thursday with swelling in his left knee following the flight from Atlanta to Phoenix.
The good news from the veteran third baseman: the swelling wasn’t nearly as serious as a week ago, when he had more than an ounce of fluid drained from the surgically repaired knee after a flight from Houston and missed the first two games of a six-game homestand.
“I don’t have to get it drained this time,” said Jones, who was optimistic about being back in the lineup Friday for the second game of a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was available to pinch-hit Thursday.
The knee tightened overnight and Jones walked gingerly across the clubhouse Thursday afternoon to a meeting with manager Fredi Gonzalez, who assured him it was always better for the veteran third baseman to take a day or two to get better physically. Juan Francisco was in the lineup Thursday after homering in each of the past two games.
Jones, who’ll be 40 on April 24, had a .300 average with two homers, seven RBIs and a .375 on-base percentage in six games before Thursday, including five starts at third base and a pinch-hit appearance – RBI double — in Wednesday’s 14-6 rout of the New York Mets. That was the Braves’ seventh win in eight games.
The future Hall of Famer announced during spring training that he would retire after this, his 19th season.
“We knew we were going to have to manage that, so I’ve got no problems with that,” Gonzalez said of Jones’ health issues, particularly the knees. “That’s why talked to him about it in the office and said just let me know, not try to play through stuff and then we lose you for 10 days. I said I’d rather get you for two on, take two off, and keep you the whole year than try to push you and then all of a sudden we lose you for 15 days.
“He goes, ‘You know the flights are what really takes it out of me.’ I guess the pressurized cabins or whatever get to him. I said, hey, we’ll work around that. I’d rather get him healthy and keep him fresh than try to push him.”
Jones had March 26 arthroscopic surgery for torn meniscus – his sixth knee surgery; three on each side — and began the season on the 15-day disabled list. He was back in the lineup sooner than expected, eschewing a minor-league rehab assignment and instead returning for the fifth game of the season at Houston.
He homered his second time up in that game to spark a 6-4 win that snapped Atlanta’s four-game season-opening losing streak and begin a five-game winning streak and offensive resurgence for the Braves.
When he woke Thursday at the team hotel, the knee was tight.
“My range of motion is not what it should be,” said Jones, who could at least take some comfort knowing the Braves have only a few more flights as long as the Atlanta-to-Phoenix haul, and they’ll have a day off after the flight home from Los Angeles next week.
“Regardless, I hope that it starts to go away,” Jones said of the post-flight discomfort. “It’ll get better as my knee continues to heal.”