Chipper says he's content being piece of the puzzle

Chipper Jones recently told Braves officials he's leaning toward retiring after the season, and his performance has improved significantly since that story leaked.

He's declined to elaborate publicly on his plans beyond 2010. But in a Q&A with Braves beat writer David O'Brien, Jones was candid about coming to grips with the fact that he's  more of a role player now, not the engine that drives the Braves' offense.

His hitting totals before the 2010 All-Star break (.252 with six homers, 33 RBI, a .378 on-base percentage and .393 slugging percentage) weren't much better than his career-worst stats after the 2009 break (.236 with nine homers, 30 RBIs, .361 OBP and .389 slugging).

But after hitting .228 with three homers and 22 RBIs in his first 51 games, he hit .307 with three homers and 11 RBIs in his past 21 games.

Q. Do you look forward to the "break" part of All-Star break a little more as you get older?

A. Obviously I wish I had played a little better to garner an All-Star bid, but the farther and farther you get along in your career, the more you cherish three days off.

Q. Do you feel better about things in general, given the recent improvement in your performance?

A. I'm swinging the bat OK. I stopped looking at the numbers a month ago, and I just try to concentrate every day on being one-ninth of the equation that helps us win. I'm hitting third and playing third or, right now, on the best team in the National League, record-wise. And how can you be unhappy with that?

I got my five opportunities with the bat a game to influence the game, and a couple of plays in the field. I'm just trying to do that as flawlessly as possible, and at the end of the day after a win, it's been a successful day.

I'm not worried about whether I'm hitting .220 or .250 or .270, or where the RBIs and home runs are. I'm just going to go out there and compete.

Q. Outwardly, it seems like you're genuinely content, or comfortable, with just being part of the equation, playing a lesser role than before.

A. Yeah, one piece of the puzzle. I think once you come to the realization that, you know what, you're not going to go out and hit .350, or you're not going to hit 40 homers, or you're not going to drive in 110 runs, that you do just get, like you said, content with going out and executing your at-bats as best you can, and fielding your position as best you can.

Hopefully it's good enough to contribute to winning the game. For the last couple of weeks, I've been happy with my contributions. It hasn't been two homers and five RBIs in a game, but it has been a single to get a big rally started, or good baserunning to help along an inning, or make a good play in the field to prevent some runs from scoring. Things such as that, which don't always show up in the boxscores, but they help your team win.

Q. Can being a contributor to a team that's really playing well be just as satisfying as being a bigger force on a mediocre team?

A. Yeah, it really can. Even more so. Because it doesn't matter if you're the horse [of a team] and you finish third or fourth in the division. That doesn’t matter. That gets overlooked. Yeah, it's sexy, it's got appeal. But in the long run, it doesn’t help you get to where all 25 guys want to go. And all 25 of our guys are contributing every day, and we're getting to where we want to go. That's more gratifying.

Q. You sense something special with this team?

A. Yeah, everybody's locked in. Everybody's got the same goal, day-in and day-out. First day in town [New York Mets, final series before break] it was to set the tone for the series, get that first one out of the way, don't let them build any momentum. We did that. [Saturday, second game of series] it was doing whatever we had to do to make sure we won the series. We did that. [Sunday], it's more or less, we've won the series, now let's try and step on their neck.

That's kind of been the mindset for the last 20 series, and look at the results. Even the one series where we got swept in Chicago, we played pretty good baseball. We just ran up against a hotter team. That's going to happen from time to time. But you can't fault the way we played.

When we [were back] in our division for the last two series before the break, I think all of us would have been happy treading water, if we'd have gone 3-3. But at 4-1 going into the last game, we won both of these series and gained on both of the other two leading teams in our division, you've got to be ecstatic with that.

Q. Did any one thing stand out to you as the key to the turnaround by this team after its bad start?

A. No, it was just a cumulative effort to go out and bring all three facets of the game. It started with us pitching better; we didn't pitch particularly well in April. We pitched well, starter-wise, ever since. We're able to shorten games because of our dominant bullpen, been able to make it a seven-inning game because of our strong back end of the bullpen. And after Martin [Prado] and Troy [Glaus] got hot, the rest of us kind of followed.