DENVER – Chipper Jones was in the Braves lineup Friday for the first time this season on the day after an airplane flight, his surgically repaired left knee not as swollen or uncomfortable as it had been after each of the team’s flights in April.
But the thing he was most excited about – nearly tearful, he joked — was getting to bat again in the first inning. Jones, a longtime No. 3 hitter who has unofficially ceded that spot to Freddie Freeman, was in the lineup in the 2-hole for Friday’s series opener against Colorado, after batting mostly sixth this season.
“I got kind of misty – get to hit in the first inning,” Jones said of seeing his name in the second spot in the lineup. “Forgot what that feels like.”
As he said that, he looked over and smiled at Freeman, 22, seated a few locker stalls away. Freeman smiled sheepishly. He and Jones, 40, have a great relationship and there are no hard feelings from the 40-year-old third baseman about being moved from the spot where he hit for most of his 18 seasons.
“Don’t worry, I won’t be stealing,” Jones said to Freeman. “So you’ve got that hole [up the middle of the field] open.”
Jones batted second Friday in place of Martin Prado, who didn’t feel well and was likely to get a rest for much of the night.
The Braves were glad to have Jones in the lineup after the long flight from Atlanta. Before Friday they had an 11-2 record in games he started, and a 4-9 record when he was out of the lineup.
He said there was only minimal swelling Friday morning in his knee, which has reacted a little better after each recent flight as he’s had more time to rehab and strengthen it since March 26 arthroscopic surgery for torn meniscus. Jones began a new weight-training program for his legs just over a week ago, after Braves head trainer Jeff Porter told him the muscles would atrophy from fluid in the joint if he didn’t do any specific exercises to strengthen them.
Despite starting the season on the disabled list and needing a rest every few games, Jones had a .273 average with four homers and 14 RBIs in 16 games, including pinch-hit appearances. He led Braves regulars with a .509 slugging percentage and .837 OPS.
While he hadn’t previously batted second this season, Jones hit in that spot in seven games during a nine-game stretch in September, batting .267 with three doubles and a homer in 30 at-bats. For his career, Jones had a .302 average, .361 on-base percentage and seven extra-base hits in 53 at-bats in the 2-hole before Friday.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he considered a few lineup combinations Friday including Jason Heyward in the 2-hole. “But then you’ve got Bourn, Heyward, Freeman, [Brian] McCann – four left-handers right there,” Gonzalez said.
He didn’t want to bat Heyward second and Jones third because Gonzalez wanted to keep Freeman in the third spot, where he hit for the 19th time Friday.
“Yeah, Freeman’s done a nice job there,” Gonzalez said. “I think, hopefully, that spot is going to be a great spot for him.”