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Fan’s view: Braves banking on Chipper Jones’ return to health to best Phillies in the East
Chipper Jones(notes) has hit his first home run of spring training already, and announced that he has felt his first pain-free day. That is good news for Atlanta Braves fans like me, who will be counting on the always-effective but oft-injured Jones to anchor a Braves batting lineup that is starting to look every bit as solid as their starting pitching.
With the Philadelphia Phillies sporting an aging and suddenly injury-filled batting lineup (in contrast to their admittedly out-of-this-world pitching rotation) the key to the Braves catching them in the National League East might be having the better balance between pitching and scoring. But a lot of that will depend on Chipper, who anchors a lineup that includes youngsters Jason Heyward(notes) and Freddie Freeman(notes) and newcomer Dan Uggla(notes) at clean-up.
With the production from center fielder Nat McLouth still in doubt at the two spot and the Braves needing a solid three hitter to sport in front of Uggla and catcher Brian McCann(notes), Chipper is as invaluable as he is every year. Which, of course, leads to questions about his health.
"Today was the first day that I had absolutely no pain in my knee whatsoever, which I'm most excited about," said the Braves third baseman, after his recent two-run, two-out homer in the sixth inning of a 6-4 win against the New York Mets on March 5 at Champion Stadium.
"I felt like today was the first day that the knee was as good as was pre-injury. Now the key is to start stringing some days together where it feels like that…. The homer was just a big cherry on top of a great day."
The Braves will need more great days from Chipper as the regular season goes on. Although Heyward is the obvious heir-apparent at the third spot in the batting order, he himself is working back from an injured thumb that sapped his strength during his rookie campaign. And, of course, he is still very young to be the centerpiece of the lineup.
Chipper was down in his batting average last year and even talking retirement last season before he cranked it up a notch and was back to his old hitting ways—right about the time he blew out his knee and needed surgery.
Now the future Hall of Famer, who turns 39 this year, will be asked to once again anchor a Braves lineup that will be chasing the Phillies and need all the run production they can get.
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