KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Chipper Jones said there was a simple reason behind his return Thursday after being held out for almost a week with a sore muscle in his right side.
"It didn't hurt anymore," said Jones, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI double in the Atlanta Braves' 7-1 spring win over the New York Mets. "If it didn't hurt, I think I'm all right."Jones, who missed five games with the sore oblique muscle, had asked to play but had been turned down by Braves manager Bobby Cox at least twice before finally talking his way into the lineup. Cox said he was relieved to see Jones experience no problems with the oblique."It was real good to see for Chipper," Cox said. "If he hurts it again he'd be right back to square one."The switch-hitting Jones took swings from both sides of the plate. "He was fine both ways," Cox said.Jones also had four chances in his six innings at third base and had no difficulty throwing to first.Braves starter John Smoltz also showed he is game ready, giving up seven hits and only one run in six innings. He struck out five and walked one.Smoltz has a 1.80 ERA through five spring starts and said he is confident in his changeup now."As far as I'm concerned, at this point I have five pitches I can throw at any time," Smoltz said.Smoltz also worked on his changeup last spring but didn't make the pitch a significant part of his plan.This year, he said, "it's not just to show them that I've got it."Smoltz had his longest outing of the spring and is on schedule to start in the Braves' April 2 season-opening game at Philadelphia.Smoltz had been listed as Friday's starter against Philadelphia, but he was moved up one day to remain on his normal pitching schedule. Kyle Davies, originally listed as Thursday's starter, instead will pitch Friday.Aaron Sele pitched five innings for the Mets, giving up only two hits and one run. Sele, making his fourth start, walked two and struck out one.Tony Pena Jr. hit a three-run homer off Mets closer Billy Wagner in a five-run seventh inning. Wagner was charged with five runs and four hits in the inning. He had given up only two runs in seven innings entering the game.Jose Valentin had two hits, including a fourth-inning single that drove in the only run off Smoltz. Julio Franco and Jose Reyes also had two hits apiece for the Mets.
Braves 2B and leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson had the only hit off Sele but after his third-inning single was thrown out by catcher Paul Lo Duca while trying to steal second base. ... The Braves have five players who were unavailable Thursday and may not play Friday due to a virus spreading through the team: pitchers Chuck James and Blaine Boyer, outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Matt Diaz and shortstop Edgar Renteria. The virus also dipped into the umpiring ranks, keeping Jerry Layne out of Thursday's game. A three-man crew worked the game. ... Sele lowered his ERA from 7.82 to 6.11.