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Chipper sets standard for youngsters

The Sports Xchange
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Three of the Braves' regulars and their fifth starter are 22: first baseman Freddie Freeman, right fielder Jason Heyward, shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and Randall Delgado. Their 2011 Rookie of the Year closer, Craig Kimbrel, is 23. Left-handed starter Mike Minor, who has the most quality starts on the staff, is 24. That makes right-handers Brandon Beachy and Tommy Hanson old-timers at 25.

Yes, the core of the Braves is young, which is another reason the presence of third baseman Chipper Jones and right-hander Tim Hudson is critical to the team.

"Like fine wine, baby," Hudson joked before Wednesday's game, after infielder-outfielder Eric Hinske, who lockers between the two of them, made note of the fact that they're the oldest men on the team.

Obviously, having Jones in the lineup changes it and makes it better, not only because he's a switch-hitter and can balance the order, but also because he can give protection to second baseman Dan Uggla, who hits in front of him.

But what about the psychology of having him play? His performances after he's had days off have been almost magical, like hitting two home runs in his season debut April 10 against the Astros, or the two-run homer he hit in his home debut on April 15, after missing the home opener.

"If every day after we give him a day off he gets two hits and drives in a run we'll be good with it," manager Fredi Gonzalez has said more than once.

Returning to the lineup Wednesday after missing a day, Jones sparked the Braves' six-run fifth inning by leading off with a single up the middle, but he saved the best for last -- as in the bottom of the 11th inning -- when he won the game 15-13 with a two-run homer.

Jones is talking to the young players in the clubhouse to make sure they don't use his presence as a crutch, that they believe that the lineup one through eight is good enough to win whether he's in there or not.

"Championship teams trust each other," Jones says. And they trust each other because they bring it every day. That is sometimes an issue with young guys, and Jones has had to pull one or two of them aside and admonish them about that.

"You know," he says, "when you're bringing it every day." He cites the Phillies as the prime example of a team that does.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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