Mar 15, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Juan Francisco (25) hits a solo home run during the third inning against the New York Mets at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Replacing Chipper Jones' bat in the Braves lineup may not be as daunting a task as once feared.
Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson keep one-upping each other in Grapefruit League games as they battle to replace the retired future Hall of Famer at third base.
That has left Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez with a tough decision, but one he can hardly go wrong on.
Francisco hit homers in three out of four games and was batting .353 with five homers and 13 RBIs after his first 51 at-bats. Johnson had 49 at-bats and was hitting .347 with three homers and nine RBIs.
Of course, it's just spring training. But Gonzalez certainly likes what he sees.
"They're both playing great," the manager said. "Juan has a big game and then Chris follows him up. They're both swinging it. It's a good combination."
Since Francisco hits left-handed and Johnson bats from the right side, Gonzalez can always platoon the two.
Both, of course, would like to play regularly. Gonzalez is holding off on making a decision about playing time, letting Francisco and Johnson push each other.
"I'm open to a platoon situation, but I'm also open to whoever wins it," the manager said. "It's that close."
Johnson, acquired along with Justin Upton from Arizona, hit .281 with 15 homers and 76 RBIs last season with Houston and the Diamondbacks. Francisco showed pop by hitting nine homers while filling in for Jones last season.
The Braves wanted to see Francisco, 25, get in better shape and have a good season in the Dominican Winter League. He did both. But it is Johnson, 28, who has the more proven major league track record.
"If one is hitting .400 and one is hitting .050, then it's an easy decision," Gonzalez said. "If it's competitive, it's going to be one of those meetings for five hours to see what we come up with. But I don't think there is any down side really, for me."
Although neither Francisco nor Johnson is a Gold Glove candidate, each has made some nice plays this spring. "They are better than average defensively," Gonzalez said.
No matter who gets the most playing time at third base, it could be a win-win situation for the Braves.
"They both bring other pluses to the team," Gonzalez said. "For example, if Juan is playing, Chris could be the right-handed bat off the bench. When Chris is playing, Francisco is a dangerous bat off the bench left-handed. Chris could play at little first base, so it gives you that dynamic where you could give (Freddie) Freeman a day off against a tough lefty. It gives you versatility. It gives you pretty good weapons."
Notes: Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will rejoin the Braves later in the week after a standout performance in the World Baseball Classic. The Dutch team was the surprise of the event and the 23-year-old native of Curacao was one of the reasons why. Simmons batted .333 with three doubles, two homers, six RBIs and 10 runs scored in eight WBC games. He led off the semifinal game with a walk and scored the Netherlands' only run in a 4-1 loss to the Dominican Republic at San Francisco on Monday night. ... The Braves had their second day off of the spring on Tuesday. ... Left-hander Mike Minor will start against Pittsburgh in today's 1:05 p.m. game at Champion Stadium.