KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones took grounders and got in some swings on the first day of spring training, a significant step in his recovery from major knee surgery.
Until Tuesday, Jones had only taken swings in the batting cage beneath Turner Field. But he went out on the field with pitchers and catchers at the Disney World complex, reporting no major problems after fielding about 40 grounders and taking around the same number of swings.
"It's important to be seen, to let everybody watch, to see the ball coming off my bat, to see me moving around out there at third," he said. "The knee is not 100 percent. There's no way around that. I don't know when it's going to be. But if I'm 80 to 90 percent, I still think I can go out there and play good third base and still be a factor at the plate."
While hitting, the 38-year-old Jones struggled a bit with his timing. Still, he showed good power on several pitches from coach Larry Parrish, ripping balls to center field and into the gap.
After trading his bat for a glove, Jones fielded grounders effortlessly at third base. Again, there were no apparent signs of discomfort.
"I'm not trying to make the club on the first day," he quipped. "I didn't see any problems. Obviously, fielding ground balls is only half of it. Getting the footwork set and making a throw is something else. That's something that puts pressure on the knee. I'll probably start that in the next day or two."
The Braves are counting on Jones being ready for the start of the regular season, holding down his familiar third spot in the batting order. If he can't play regularly, there will be a huge hole in the middle of the offense.
"It falls back on whatever my body allows me to do," he said. "I'm going to have good days, I'm going to have bad days. The bad days, I'm not going to be much help. It hurts getting out of bed sometimes. But I'll try to limit those days as much as possible."
General manager Frank Wren sees no need to come up with a backup plan, at least for now. He said the doctors and trainers have provided nothing but encouraging reports on Jones' recovery from the second major knee injury of his career.
"At this point, there's no reason to think that way. There's no reason to even consider it. He's doing so well," Wren said. "If it gets to that point and we have to make those adjustments, we will. But that's not even in the front of our minds right now."
The former MVP and NL batting champion struggled early last season and was even considering retirement. He turned things around and was one of Atlanta's most effective hitters when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament after fielding a grounder and making a throw during an August game at Houston.
Not wanting to go out that way, Jones decided to go through a grueling rehab program and come back for another season.
"My mindset is to come our here and contribute to us winning again, to getting back to the playoffs, being a factor in the lineup day in and day out — or at least when my body allows me to," he said. "I'm not going to be able to play every day, but I expect to play five or six days a week.
"I've just got to stay away from the extended periods of time where I don't play," he added. "If that's the case, I still think I can be productive."
NOTES: Two pitchers did not arrive for the first day of spring training, both because of visa issues. RHP Kenshin Kawakami is still trying to get clearance to leave his native Japan. Wren said Kawakami's absence had nothing to do with the team's attempts to trade the former starter during the offseason. Also missing was LHP Yohan Flande, who was delayed leaving the Dominican Republic.