HOUSTON -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was criticized for using his top three relievers too frequently last year. Four games into this season, he found himself wishing he was drawing similar criticism.
While setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty both made an appearance as the Braves lost their first four games, closer Craig Kimbrel had remained idle. Thus, Gonzalez went into Tuesday night's game knowing that he was going to pitch Kimbrel regardless of whether a save situation developed.
Fortunately for Kimbrel, the save situation materialized and he was able to preserve Tuesday's 6-4 win over the Astros. After allowing the first two batters of the ninth inning to reach safely, he got Chris Johnson to ground into a double play. The hard-throwing closer then induced a Chris Snyder strikeout to end the game and notch his first save of the season.
Courtesy of Thursday's scheduled off-day, Gonzalez knew he could use Kimbrel on Tuesday without the possibility that it would set him up to pitch on three consecutive days.
"If he pitches tonight and [Wednesday], he's fine," Gonzalez said on Tuesday. "That's only two in a row. If he would have pitched [Monday] and then today and [Wednesday], then you've got three in a row. That's not unheard of, but not in April."
Venters led the Majors with 85 appearances last year, and Kimbrel notched the second-highest total with 79 appearances. O'Flaherty ranked third on the team with 78.
Chipper activated, makes his season debut
HOUSTON -- Chipper Jones returned to the Braves lineup on Tuesday night, confident that his surgically repaired left knee will remain strong and determined to help his club escape its early-season woes.
It did not take long for Jones to contribute. He singled in his first at-bat, then drilled a two-run homer in a three-run third inning that gave the Braves the lead in an eventual 6-4 win over the Astros.
The immediate success contradicted Jones' fear fact that he had not seen enough live pitching recently to regain his ability to time and react to fastballs. The veteran third baseman had not played since March 20. But instead of playing a rehab game or two in the Minors, he opted to simply push himself during a pregame workout on Monday.
"I'm real concerned with my timing at the plate," Jones said before the game. "It's probably not going to be there at the beginning. But going down and getting some a-bats in the Minors is not going to accelerate the process."
Given that Tuesday night's game at Minute Maid Park was his first in three weeks, Jones expects to wake up on Wednesday feeling some normal soreness and fatigue. But after watching the Braves lose their first four games while he was on the disabled list, he seemed determined to play in Wednesday night's series finale against the Astros.
"Hopefully these guys will get a little more comfortable and get some innings under their belt and we'll start doing what we have to, to win games," Jones said. "Obviously, it's a little easier to take days off when you're confident we can still go out there to win games."
Two weeks shy of his 40th birthday and two weeks removed from a surgical procedure that repaired torn meniscus in his left knee, Jones plans to rest during Thursday's off-day, then return to the lineup for Friday night's home opener against the Brewers.
"If he feels good, I will want him in there," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Outfielder Jose Constanza was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Jones on the 25-man roster.
Fredi: Ozzie 'knows he made a mistake'
HOUSTON -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez understands the emotions his parents and other Cuban-Americans felt when they learned Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen had told a Time magazine reporter, "I love Fidel Castro."
At the same time, Gonzalez felt Guillen expressed genuine sorrow as he apologized during a news conference in Miami on Tuesday morning.
"I saw a guy who knew he had made a mistake," Gonzalez said. "By reading his face, he's wearing it pretty good. I'm surprised for him [living in Miami] for so long that he took that lightly. I have an uncle and grandmother still down there. I was born there and came [to Miami] when I was real young with my mom and dad. You take that pretty seriously, those kinds of comments when you're dealing with those kinds of dictatorships or leaderships."
Braves right-hander Livan Hernandez chose not to comment. Hernandez was 20 when he defected in 1995 with the desire to pitch at the Major League level.
"I do not talk about politics," Hernandez said. "I still have family down there."
Gonzalez's father, who still lives in Miami, called his son on Tuesday morning and asked him to remain quiet. But the former Marlins manager felt he should provide some perspective. He exited Cuba with his parents at the age of three and spent most of his life living in Miami.
"It's going to take a while to earn the trust of the people down there or for them to forget and forgive," Gonzalez said. "You could tell that press conference was hard on him, harder than any kind of suspension or fine."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.