PHOENIX – Chipper Jones was saluted as “one of the greatest players of his generation” in a video tribute during Sunday’s series finale at Arizona.
On Monday at Los Angeles, the Braves and their veteran third baseman will face a player some believe could become the greatest of the current generation, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp.
Kemp led the majors in batting average (.466), HRs (nine), RBIs (22), on-base percentage (.515) and slugging percentage (1.000) before Sunday, and his 1.515 OPS was more than 300 points higher than the next-best by Texas’ Josh Hamilton.
“What I like about him is, he works,” Jones said. “He’s working for something. He wants to be the best player in the game, and he’s got a workout routine to help him get there. That’s what you like to see out of young guys. Obviously he’s got an abundance of talent, but to have the heart and desire to get better, that’s rare these days.”
Kemp and Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier (four homers, 21 RBIs) ranked 1-2 in the majors in RBIs before Sunday. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked about the challenge of slowing the duo.
“We’ll see,” Gonzalez said. “I know Kemp’s always given us fits. We’ll get it figured out. Maybe he’ll cool off on the plane ride back from Houston.”
Actually, Kemp has a modest .231 career average against the Braves with five homers, 20 RBIs, 14 walks and 44 strikeouts in 35 games. He went 5-for-23 against them last season with two homers and 12 strikeouts in seven games.
The Dodgers cooled off before the plane ride home – they got hammered 12-0 in the series finale against the Astros on Sunday. It was only their fourth loss in 16 games, but third in their past six.
The Dodgers and East-leading Nationals (12-4) are tied for best record in the National League, but the Dodgers have not played a team with a current winning record. Their first 10 games included seven against San Diego and three against Pittsburgh, and they’ve since gone 3-3 against Milwaukee and Houston.
Jones, who will turn 40 on Tuesday and has announced he’ll retire after the 2012 season, received a standing ovation from the Chase Field crowd during a video montage shown on the scoreboard. He came to the top step of the dugout and waved his cap in appreciation as his signature at-bat song “Crazy Train” played on the stadium P.A.
Gonzalez had said at the beginning of the series that Jones would play Friday and Saturday and get a rest day Sunday. He didn’t play the series opener Thursday after his surgically repaired left knee had some swelling following the long flight from Atlanta to Phoenix.
Jones grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning Sunday and limped noticeably after the game. Asked how he was doing, he replied, “I’m living.”
Pastornicky out of lineup again
Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game Sunday, and not for any injury or ailment
Gonzalez didn’t give any specific reason for playing veteran Jack Wilson over the slumping rookie for both weekend games at Arizona, but did acknowledge that he hoped it might help Pastornicky relax a bit and clear his head.
Pastornicky said after the game he’s spent time “working on some things” with his swing this week.
He has hit .175 (7-for-40) in 11 games with three extra-base hits (one homer), four RBIs, two walks and a .214 on-base percentage in his first stint in the major leagues. Since hitting a homer April 10 at Houston, he’s gone 4-for-28 with no walks and six strikeouts in his past seven games.
“He’ll probably play the next couple of days, maybe all three in L.A.,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has said he likes Wilson’s ability to do things at the bottom of the lineup such as bunt and hit-and-run.
Heyward gets a rest
After having his 10-game hitting streak snapped Saturday, Jason Heyward was out of the lineup Sunday to get what Gonzalez told him was a deserved rest. Eric Hinske got the start in right field, and Heyward pinch-hit with two out in the ninth inning and flied out to end the 6-4 loss.
Heyward has hit .309 with a .377 OBP and .527 slugging percentage, and ranks among NL leaders with five stolen bases (two fewer than teammate Michael Bourn).
“Fredi told me before he put the lineup up,” said Heyward, who started 14 of 15 games before Sunday, including each of the previous 11. “He wanted to let me know. He said, ‘You’ve gone out there and played hard, and we appreciate the hard work you’ve put in. Just want to give you a day to rest, get ‘Ski in there. You’ll be in there when we get the lead late in the game.’
“That’s that. He shook my hand and said, just wanted to let you know before we put the lineup up.”
Unlike last season, when Heyward was benched several times late in the season in favor of a hot-hitting Jose Constanza, no one has played better for the Braves this season than the big right fielder. Heyward said it would be easier to relax and make the most of a day off under these circumstances, with the team having won 10 of its past 11 before Sunday.
“It’s cool,” he said. “I want to play, but I have been going pretty hard. So anytime you can take a rest like this at time when we’re playing well, when I don’t feel like I’ll be too missed.”
Gonzalez said: “I didn’t post the lineup until after I talked to him. I said, hey, just giving you a little breather. Really appreciate the way you’ve been playing. Just give your body a little rest. But be ready to play because if we get the lead you’re going back out there [in the late innings] to play defense.”