Um, it's warm here. No sub-freezing temperatures. After enduring what seems like several winters' worth of snow this year in the Northeast, this change alone was almost a shock to my system. It's no wonder the athletes are so happy and everyone is oozing optimism about what their respective seasons will bring. Spring makes everyone feel young and revitalized. Trust me, there are health benefits to this.
Beyond the warm weather, there is just a great energy here at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, spring training home of the Braves. Not only is this an incredible state-of-the-art venue, it is also the first day of ESPN The Weekend, so there are a multitude of activities taking place all over the site. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the complex and see all the playing fields, training facilities and technology areas. At the game itself, I saw plenty of the usual early-season jitters ... and I'm not just talking about the players. I caught up with ESPN baseball analyst Bobby Valentine briefly in the press box three minutes before launch, and he said he was "excited" to get their first broadcast of the season under way.
Once the introductions were made and the national anthem was played, it was time to get down to the business at hand: Getting a look at some of the players returning from injury.
For the Braves, let's start with who was not playing today. Outfielder Jason Heyward, whose big bat caught everyone's attention last spring, was a scratch today due to soreness in his left groin. The soreness cropped up during Wednesday's exhibition game. There's no reason to take chances before the regular season. This appears to be a proactive maneuver, and not a serious concern.
Most notable among Braves players coming back from injury was third baseman Chipper Jones, who has just returned to the field after suffering a left ACL tear (and subsequently undergoing reconstruction) in August. Reports on his progress had been good so far, but it's another thing entirely for him to be in a game situation. Returning to full play, especially in the field, would force Jones -- and his knee -- to react situationally.
His outing was reassuring in that he did all that was asked of him and did not appear limited. He swung the bat -- he got a hit and scored a run in the fourth inning -- and he caught an infield fly ball, moving easily in both situations. But it's worth noting that he wasn't particularly challenged offensively or defensively. There were no sprints, no slides, no diving plays. In actuality, it's not a bad thing to have a game like this to increase comfort in the surgical knee. Regaining confidence is always the final hurdle after this type of injury, and that only comes with increased playing time. Jones looked like the experienced player that he is, and that alone must help his confidence in his knee.
Another Braves player whose season was ended by injury was in today's lineup. Martin Prado suffered both a hip pointer while diving for a ball and a torn oblique while swinging the bat in one disastrous September game. Luckily the season was near close for the Braves, and Prado was able to get the rest he needed. He entered the spring healthy and certainly looked fine swinging the bat.
Pitching today for the Braves was Jair Jurrjens, who is coming off October surgery to address a lateral meniscus tear. The injury was to Jurrjens' right (stance) knee, which doesn't undergo as much strain during the pitching motion as the lead leg, and his delivery looked solid. Perhaps the issue to watch for Jurrjens is how the hamstring on his left (lead) leg holds up. Last year he strained his left hamstring in April, and an aggravation of the injury while on the DL kept him out until June. Watching him pitch today, he certainly puts a lot of torsion through that side on his follow through. At least he appears to be getting out of the gate healthy, and there's no blatant cause for concern at this point.
On the other side of the ball, Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez was in the lineup today as a designated hitter. Ordonez suffered a broken right ankle, which ended his season in late July. With Ordonez at age 37, this is no injury to sneeze at. The biggest concern from an injury perspective will be how it affects his running. Today's game did not showcase much in the way of running, especially since he was not playing in the field. Most fantasy owners are interested in what he can bring offensively, and the ankle should not be a limiting factor there. In fact, very good things could be on the horizon for him if all continues well. (Hint: he's one of my sleeper picks.)