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Krohn: What the Braves must do in Chipper's absence

POSTED: August 12, 2010 12:44 a.m.

So Chipper Jones is hurt again — that’s a surprise to no one. But this time, he didn’t “tweak” or “pull something” that will keep him out just long enough to not go on the disabled list. Against the Astros on Tuesday night, while making a brilliant stop and twisting across his body to throw out Hunter Pence at first, he said he felt something in his left knee “pop.”

That doesn’t sound good.

He’ll undergo an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of his injury, but for the purposes of this column, let’s assume he’s out for the season.

Where does that leave the 2010 Braves? After all, this is allegedly Bobby Cox’s final season as manager, so this year may represent the only postseason where the Bravos play with a sense of urgency — if they even make the postseason.

While there are many options to plug the lineup — like platooning Brooks Conrad and Omar Infante at third base, or shifting Martin Prado (when he returns from the DL) to third and playing Infante at second — there’s a necessary gamble that the Braves’ higher-ups should take.

The Braves should move current first baseman Troy Glaus back to his natural position at third base and call up first base slugging prospect Freddie Freeman from Triple-A Gwinnett.

Makes sense to me.

The way Glaus has been struggling since May, it was already concievable to call Freeman up and platoon him at first even with Jones healthy, because Freeman has been on a major league tear since June. Here’s a month-by-month breakdown for those who love stats: Glaus’ splits this season are: Bad — Great — Not-so-hot — Bad again — Nate McLouth. Freeman’s splits are: Bad — Better — Betterer — Bettererer still — Call-the-kid-up-already.

So why not take the “chance” on Freeman?

Jones’ production this season was no doubt a far cry from his MVP days, but he was still the answer as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. With him out, who takes that spot?

The Braves could move their best hitter, Prado, into that hole, but he’s put up All-Star numbers in the leadoff spot and shifting him to No. 3 only shifts the problem, because who do you put at leadoff? Rick Ankiel?

The Braves have already shown they’re willing to try anything by trading Yunel Escobar — a solid defender with offensive potential and cheap, arbitration years remaining — for Alex Gonzalez, who was supposed to bring stability but instead has six errors in his last 11 games. So why not roll the dice on Freeman?

Of course, moving Glaus to third could result in his injury as well. You want to cringe just watching him hobble from the dugout to take first base because of his bad knees. His health is just as volatile as Jones’. But he’s stayed healthy most of this year, and he’s struggling anyway — struggling to the point where his bat wouldn’t be missed should he succumb to injury. So move him back to the position he’d played his entire career up to this season and see if he responds with a better offensive showing.

And give The Kid a shot.

Remember, the Braves are holding on dearly to a slim first-place lead no one thought they’d have right now and a Wild Card scenario is not something this team wants to flirt with.

If the Braves fall from first place, they’ll move from a sure playoff spot to throwing their names in the Wild Card mix with just about every NL team not named the Pirates or Astros.

As a franchise historically known for folding under pressure, being forced to deal with a playoff atmosphere in the regular season would assure the continuance of a postseason drought. Plus, even if the Braves did earn the Wild Card, they’d have to start a short five-game series on the road, where they’ve been horrible this season.

First place and home field advantage is the Braves’ only shot at getting out of the first round.

The Braves now have to hold on to their NL East lead over the Phillies without their starting third baseman and No. 3 hitter. It’s too late in the season to begin tinkering with the lineup, so keep Prado at leadoff and keep everyone else where they are in the batting order. Just move Glaus to third and call up Freeman. It’s simple enough and the gamble — I’m not even sure it’s much of a gamble — could lead to a World Series ring.

Well, probably not. It’s still the Braves.

But I wouldn’t mind seeing what Freeman can do through the first round of the playoffs.

Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @gtimesakrohn.



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