Chipper Jones fielded ground balls yesterday for the first time since undergoing season-ending knee surgery in August and also took 40 swings in the batting cage, telling David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that it was “a good first day.”
I’m not going to go out here and try to make the club on the first day. But I didn’t see any problems. Obviously fielding a ground ball is only half of it. Getting your footwork down, getting set and making a throw, is something else, something that puts pressure on the knee. We’ll probably start that in a day or two. It’s just like riding a bike.
Jones noted that he’s “focused on Opening Day” and won’t try to rush things along, likely sitting out the first few exhibition games. He’s shooting for “about 40 at-bats” to be ready at the plate, but how his surgically repaired knee fares in the field will likely be a bigger test, particularly since he suffered the injury while making a play at third base.
New manager Fredi Gonzalez has said that Jones will continue to bat third in the lineup, where 80 percent of his career plate appearances have come. That’s drawn some criticism from Braves fans because of Jones’ declining production, but he hit .307 with a .929 OPS in the second half prior to the injury and even his .806 OPS overall was right around average for No. 3 hitters.
The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.