Chipper Jones upbeat about 18th season with Braves

CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer Published:

ATLANTA (AP) -- One year has made a big difference in Chipper Jones' outlook.

Jones is feeling optimistic about his health as he moves closer to his 18th season with the Braves. Despite two knee surgeries in the last two years, the last link to the Braves' 1995 World Series championship is not ready to talk about ending his career.

In fact, the third baseman, who turns 40 in April, talked about the possibility of playing two more years. He has an option in his contract for 2013.

"Sitting here three weeks to go before spring training, and I'm not ready to say this is it," said Jones, who came to the Braves' clubhouse for a workout Tuesday. "I still feel I can go out and play a solid third base, which I did last year. I still feel like I can be productive in the middle of the lineup."

It's a big change from a year ago. After a serious left knee injury ended his 2010 season, Jones talked about the possibility of retiring. He began spring training last year uncertain if he would be able to play.

He hit .275 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs last season despite missing most of July following surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.

"I'm coming in relaxed," Jones said when asked to compare his outlook with his expectations before last season. "I'm coming in healthy. I think I ended the season on a good note, at least offensively.

"I'm confident. I want to go out and hit in the middle of this lineup and help this offense kind of turn the corner, but it's not going to be just me. I'm looking forward to it. As long as I stay healthy and I'm having fun, I'll keep going."

He had more scares with his right knee in the offseason. He revealed Tuesday he had problems in November when he tried to play in teammate Brian McCann's charity softball game.

"I came out of that thinking I can't play," he said.

Then he had to fly back to Atlanta for a MRI after stepping in a hole and hurting the knee while hunting.

"I was scared I had messed it up again," Jones said, adding he heard something in his knee pop and was told by doctors it was scar tissue.

Finally, Jones gave his knees more rest. His reward came when he could hit with no discomfort at the start of January.

"It's been good to be able to walk back into a cage and work on all my stuff and get myself in shape without having to worry about how my knee was going to do," he said.

Jones returns to a Braves lineup that is expected to have only one change. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez signed with Milwaukee. Rookie Tyler Pastornicky will have the chance to win the starting job.

Pitchers are continuing offseason workouts with pitching coach Roger McDowell this week. Some players, including Jones and right fielder Jason Heyward, are working with new hitting coach Greg Walker.

The Braves blew an 8½-game wild-card lead in September and missed the playoffs. There have been few offseason moves. Right-hander Derek Lowe was dealt to Cleveland for a minor league pitcher in the team's most notable move.

"I think it's a good team," manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday from his Turner Field office. "We've got good personnel. Why blow it up?"

Jones agreed that a makeover was not needed.

"The bottom line, for four and a half to five months last year, we were pretty dang good," Jones said. "We were the third- or fourth-best record in baseball. We were right there. We just couldn't finish it out. I think that's the sour taste everybody still has in their mouth."

Jones played in 126 games last season and hasn't played in more than 143 games since 2003. He knows there will be days this season he won't be able to play.

"I will be 40 years old in April and there's no doubt there will be times when the body is going to wake up in the morning and say 'Don't you even think about walking out on that field today,'" said Jones, sporting some gray hair on his chin. "And I know that. I've got to listen to it so I can play the next day. That's how I look at it.

"I'm not going to look a week or two months into the future. I'm just going to go one day at a time, and if I can go out there, I'm going to go out there."