ATLANTA -- With Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs reaching 3,000 hits during the past three days, it seems the right time to wonder if any current Brave has a chance to reach the milestone.
Third baseman Chipper Jones seems the most likely candidate, but he'll need to maintain his current production for another 13 years to reach 3,000 hits.
In his first four and a half seasons, he's averaged 172 hits for a total of 815 hits. If he remains injury-free, Jones will surpass 1,000 hits next year, he'll reach 2,000 hits during the 2006 season and join the 3,000-hit club in 2012.
That's if he's still playing.
"I don't know if I want to play that long," said Jones, who turned 27 in April. "It depends on my state of mind. If I'm 40 years old and have 2,500 hits, I doubt I'd go after it. I don't know what my priorities are going to be in 10 years."
Jones has come close to a 200-hit season twice, but a series of poor Septembers has foiled him. Though 200 hits remains elusive, he has become a steady run producer with three straight seasons of 100 runs and 100 RBI.
"When the time comes for me to hang it up, my career is not going to be defined by how many hits I have," he said. "Three thousand hits is great, that's unbelievable, but it's not what drives me."
Bruce Chen made his first relief appearance in Saturday's blowout, working a scoreless ninth inning. The rookie left-hander, who was shifted to the bullpen with Terry Mulholland's arrival, knows he's only going to work in lopsided games or in extra innings.
"I understand," he said. "I'm ready whenever they need me. I've been able to work on some things since I went to the bullpen. I want to be more consistent and have my pitches coming out of my hand feeling good and this has given me the chance to do it."
BACK ON JOB:
Second baseman Keith Lockhart was back at work Sunday after being clobbered by an F.P. Santangelo elbow in the face during a first-inning collision at first base in Saturday's game. Lockhart took two stitches in his lower lip and reported a sore jaw that prevented him from eating anything but soft foods.
"It hurts to bite down," he said. "I didn't eat dinner last night and I had eggs this morning."
Lockhart was fooled on the play by first baseman Ryan Klesko, who broke in on Santangelo's bunt, then started to retreat toward first. When Klesko suddenly knelt to give pitcher Terry Mulholland a sight line to first base, Lockhart realized he had to get over to the bag.
"It was an easy play," he said. "I should have been at first. Klesko fooled me, I thought he was going back to first. The ball and everything came at the same time. (Santangelo) got me good."
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