VIERA, Fla. — Chipper Jones felt so good Wednesday night he started being more aggressive at the plate.
Jones hit a two-run homer and finished with two hits in the Atlanta Braves’ 6-3 loss to the Washington Nationals. The All-Star third baseman has been bothered by a muscle strain in his right side most of the spring.
“I’ve been trying to protect my side for so long that it kind of took away my aggressiveness,” Jones said. “I’m trying to hit balls hard rather than feeling for it. This was really the first night I felt dangerous. If I got a pitch in my zone, I felt like I was going to hit it hard.”
The reigning NL batting champion connected against Collin Balester in the fourth inning and doubled in the sixth.
Nick Johnson and Elijah Dukes each drove in two runs for Washington. Johnson finished with two hits.
“We like our chances with Nick at the plate,” manager Manny Acta said. “The last week has been a good testament of how ready he is.”
Balester allowed two runs and four hits in five innings. The 21-year-old right-hander, vying for a spot in the Nationals’ rotation, bounced back after giving up five runs and nine hits over four innings in his last outing.
“I’m just getting over the hump of those bad outings and I went out there and went after them,” Balester said. “I threw first-pitch strikes, and that’s the key to this game. Get ahead of these guys and put them away with your off-speed stuff.”
Kenshin Kawakami threw five sharp innings for Atlanta, yielding an unearned run and one hit. The Japanese right-hander struck out three and walked two.
“There were good things about my outing, but there were also bad things about my outing,” Kawakami said through a translator. “My body and my mindset are beginning to feel ready for the season.”