MLB: Hot-hitting Jones not slowing down
By Charles Odum
ATLANTA ó As manager of the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and now the Cincinnati Reds, Dusty Baker has had a front-row seat for many of Chipper Jonesí career highlights.
Baker left Atlanta on Sunday convinced Jones, the 1999 NL MVP and the Atlanta Bravesí all-time leaders in home runs, is better than ever at 36.
iHeís always been a great hitter,î Baker said Sunday before adding ibut right now …î
Jones had seven hits in 13 at-bats in the Bravesí three-game sweep of the Reds. On Sunday, the switch-hitter was 3-for-6 with a homer, a double and five RBIs.
iChipper got a homer from one side and then turned around and got a hit from the other side,î Baker said.
Jones hit .410 in April ó an average for the month topped by only one player in the last 10 years: Barry Bonds hit .472 in April, 2004. Vladimir Guerrero also hit .410 in the opening month in 2000.
As if to make the point his stellar April was no fluke, Jones has pushed his major league-leading average to .426 for the Braves. He increased his season totals to 10 home runs and 29 RBIs on Tuesday in a win against San Diego.
Baker could only shake his head in wonderment and appreciation Sunday.
iThatís some sweet stroke heís got,î Baker said.
Sweet and consistent.
Jones has hits in 26 of 29 games, including 14 multihit games. Heís hitting .400 against left-handers and .440 against right-handers. Heís hitting .500 (29-for-58) with runners on base.
Jones, a career .309 hitter, has nine .300 seasons in 14 years, including a career-best .337 last season when he was second in the NL behind Coloradoís Matt Holliday.
Since the start of the 2006 season, Jones is hitting .340, the best mark of any player in the majors with at least 1,000 at-bats.
Jones drove in 100 or more runs in eight straight years from 1996-2003 before his power totals were hurt by injuries, including chronic problems with his feet. He fell below 100 RBIs three straight years before hitting 29 homers with 102 RBIs in 134 games last season, when he set a career high with 42 doubles.
The power game is peaking with his average. Jonesí 396 career homers rank third behind Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) on the career list for switch-hitters.
There were some concerns before the season about the Bravesí ability to replace his longtime partner in the middle of the lineup, Andruw Jones, who signed with the Dodgers.
With Andruw Jones struggling in Los Angeles, Mark Kotsay is hitting .308 as the new Bravesí centerfielder. And with Chipper Jones leading the way, Atlanta had 15 hits and 19 hits in back-to-back wins against the Reds over the weekend to complete the three-game sweep.
The Braves have injury concerns on their pitching staff, but their .287 team batting average leads the majors.
iAs long as we crush people to death, our starting pitching and our bullpen should be fine,î Jones said with a smile Sunday.