LOS ANGELES -- Chipper Jones made his final birthday game a memorable one and extended his recent trend of hitting a home run every time he returns to the Braves' lineup for a special day.
With his bothersome left knee improving enough on Tuesday, Jones added to the memories of his 40th birthday with a fifth-inning home run that helped the Braves claim a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. The long solo shot off Aaron Harang was the fifth birthday home run in the veteran third baseman's career and it made him just the fifth player in Major League history to hit a home run on his 40th birthday.
"You always want to do something special on your birthday and it doesn't get any more special than that," said Jones, who ended up batting .429 (21-for-49) with five home runs in his career on his birthday.
Adding to the significance of this home run was the fact that it was hit at Dodger Stadium. The third baseman grew up in Pierson, Fla., religiously following the Dodgers.
"Maybe we can trick him again tomorrow into thinking it's his birthday," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He stands up to those occasions."
As Jones nears his retirement at the end of this season, he is showing the knack for doing something special in big games. Two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair torn meniscus in his left knee, he made his regular-season debut in Houston on April 10 and homered in just his second at-bat.
Five days later after his left knee had forced him to miss the first two scheduled home games of the year, he celebrated his personal home opener with another home run. Now his third home run of the season was hit on his 40th birthday.
"All three of the homers I have hit this year have been really cool," Jones said. "I hit my first one in Houston with my parents in the stands. My second one was my home opener and then this one was on my birthday."
Jones awoke around 8:30 a.m. PT on Tuesday and found approximately 30 birthday wishes on his cell phone. After going back to sleep for another couple hours, he found about 30 more messages from friends and family members wishing him a happy birthday.
"I've got a ton of friends out there, both inside and outside the game that thought enough to say happy birthday," Jones said. "It was really appreciated. I can't wait to get home. I got a message from my four boys this morning. I miss them. Hopefully we won't get rained out [on Wednesday] because my wife has a rather elaborate birthday party planned for Thursday."
Jones also awoke with the satisfaction that his surgically repaired left knee had improved enough to allow him to return to the lineup for the first time since Saturday.
When asked how his knee was feeling, Jones said. ""Better, it felt 40, instead of about 55, which is good because it's an improvement from yesterday."
Braves hope demotion will get Jurrjens on track
LOS ANGELES -- With their patience exhausted after his struggles were extended in Monday night's loss to the Dodgers, the Braves were left with no other choice but to option Jair Jurrjens to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Now the club can only hope that he eventually proves he can once again be successful at the Major League level.
"It's up to him," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He needs to buy into whatever we're going to ask him to do to get back up here. He's going to have to buy into it and trust us."
As Jurrjens enters the final five months leading up to his final arbitration-eligible season, he stands as a potential non-tender candidate. Unless he shows definite improvement the Braves are not going to pay him the $7 million contract he could earn via arbitration. But at the same time, the club certainly does not want to reach a point where it has to non-tender him and get nothing in return.
When asked if Jurrjens needs to alter his mechanics or simply gain confidence in his bothersome right knee, Gonzalez said, "It's almost a redo." He then explained that the 26-year-old will need to focus on mechanics, confidence, arm strength, leg strength, weight training and conditioning.
"It's up to him, and we as an organization are going to try to get him back," Gonzalez said.
All seemed right in Jurrjens' world when he entered last year's All-Star break leading the National League with a 1.87 ERA. But in the 11 starts he has made since then, he has posted a 6.87 ERA and struggled to regain the velocity he generated before right knee discomfort sidelined him for the final two weeks of the 2010 season.
During Jurrjens' first three full Major League seasons, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball rested around 91 mph and he had the ability to occasionally touch 95 mph. But since his right knee became a problem, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball has sat around 89 mph and his max velocity has been closer to 92 mph.
Jurrjens' velocity was down as he proved to be one of the game's most successful pitchers before last year's All-Star break. But his good fortunes disappeared after the break and have not returned. As he posted a 9.37 ERA in four starts this year, the average velocity of his four-seamer has been 88.7 mph.
"It wasn't the JJ we've seen in the past," Gonzalez said. "You can tell from his frustrations on the mound the past three or four starts."
Tim Hudson completed his Minor League rehab stint while pitching six strong innings for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday night. Hudson, who underwent back surgery in November, will rejoin Atlanta's rotation on Sunday or Monday. The Braves will allow him to decide. If he chooses Sunday, Mike Minor will start Monday's game with an extra day of rest.
Courtesy of Jair Jurrjens' demotion, Randall Delgado will remain in Atlanta's rotation and make his next start on Saturday.
Right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin was recalled from Gwinnett on Tuesday to take Jurrjens' roster spot. Gearrin has recorded 15 strikeouts in 12 1/3 scoreless innings at the Minor League level this year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.