The old Gonzo is back

Watching Mike Gonzalez record three strikeouts against the heart of the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday night brought back memories of  the pure dominance he displayed on consecutive August nights three years ago at Turner Field. 

While notching a pair of perfect innings for the Pirates those evenings, he collected five strikeouts.  His final three strikeouts came during an 11-pitch span against Adam LaRoche, Matt Diaz and Marcus Giles. 

Unfortunately after throwing another perfect inning in Houston the following day, Gonzalez began experiencing elbow soreness that would prevent him from proving dominant again until now.

On the way to notching Tuesday’s save, Gonazalez needed just 15 pitches to record consecutive strikeouts of Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick.  His fastball is once again resting around 94 mph and his breaking pitches are consistently sharp.

“That’s the old Gonzalez from Pittsburgh that I remember,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He was outstanding.”

Always confident and upbeat, Gonzalez seemed to truly regain his swagger when he gained a 3-2 count by getting  Pujols to look at consecutive fastballs.  This brought the crowd to its feet and led the left-handed closer to exagerate his pre-delivery sway before unleashing a slider that the St. Louis monster simply watched. 

In the seven career at-bats Pujols has registered against Gonzalez, he’s recorded one hit and struck out three times.  When asked about this success, the left-handed closer said that guys like Chipper Jones and Pujols bring out the best in him.

Look Jones is one of the greatest talents I’ve ever seen and it’s been a pleasure to have had the opportunity to cover him over the course of the past nine seasons.  But it still makes you pause when anybody is placed in the same category of King Albert. 

Still somehow the Braves have managed to limit Pujols to one hit in eight at-bats during the first two games of this series.  

“We try hard,” Cox said. “He’s going to be one of the greatest players in the game’s history.  There’s nothing he can’t do.”

When Gonzalez displayed limited velocity during Spring Training, he said he would be fine once the bright lights were shining on him during the regular season.  While wanting to believe him, I heard him say some of the same things just two years ago, when he eventually had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Doubts about Gonzalez grew when he allowed four earned runs in his first five innings this season.  But since surrendering a two-run, eighth-inning homer to Nate McLouth on April 17, he’s struck out nine of the 13 batters that he faced.

After surrendering that homer to McLouth, Gonzalez sat motionless at his locker, simply staring forward.  A little more than a week later, he finds himself confidently serving as the anchor for a much-improved Braves bullpen.

Change of emotions
:  As 9:30 p.m. ET approached last night, the Braves were seemingly destined for another frustrating evening.  But Peter Moylan, who had issued a costly walk in Tuesday’s loss, pitched a perfect eighth inning and Matt Diaz produced the clutch hit the offense has too often lacked over the course of its two-week slumber, during which they’ve scored two runs or less in eight of 12 games.

From afar, there was also reason to worry about the fact that Brian McCann was hitless in three at-bats for Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach in a Minor League rehab assignment.  But   after writing my recap of what had occurred in Atlanta, McCann called to say that his vision was better than it had been since his left eye had started to bother him.

With a -.50 contact lens in his left eye and a -.25 lens in his right eye, McCann will make one more rehab appearance for Myrtle Beach and then return to Atlanta.  He believes he’ll be fine by the time he is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 8.

While it was nice to see Jo-Jo Reyes pitch so effectively on Tuesday night, the evening’s real feel-good moment occurred when McCann revealed that he was encouraged about his improved vision. 

As time progressed and doctors weren’t able to pinpoint the reason for his left eye ailment, you couldn’t help but worry about the possibility that he might be dealing with something that would at least hamper him throughout what appears to be a very bright future.

McCann is great baseball player and an even better person.  Let’s hope he provides another encouraging call tonight.

Hampton returns Friday:  It’s going to be interesting to see how Mike Hampton is received when he returns to Turner Field on Friday night to pitch against Derek Lowe and the Braves.  What do you think?  Will the crowd boo the injury-plagued hurler, who was on the disabled list throughout most of final four years in Atlanta?

Or will he just receive an apathetic welcome from a fan base that began to forget him as his injury woes mounted from 2005-2008?

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbravesscribe 


I wouldn’t boo Hampton any more than I would boo “Ferddie Krueger” Tavarez. He is irrelevant and has been for a very long time. He came is at the end with the rest of the mercenaries last season, no big deal. He’s just another roid boy who got tore up and oh so fragile when he went off the juice.

Who’s Mike Hampton?

I will boo him until I can boo no more. He crippled the Braves sallary flexibility for years. Don’t do roids and then you won’t be injury plagued. I hope he falls and breaks his face.

Four walks for Chipper?
7 great innings for Reyes?
3 ks for Gonzo?
Clutch hit from Diaz?

Great game.

But, still, four walks for Chipper? No ABs?

neverwhere, as long as games stay close, you’re going to see Chipper doing a whole lot of jogging to first base until McCann returns.

Anyone realize that our next 3 games will be against former Braves? Wainwright, Hampton, Russ Ortiz… pretty weird huh?

Not to sound like a moron, but why do they do that? Is it because they aren’t worried about him being on base but they don’t want him to actually hit? I understand that if they have a threat behind him they won’t walk him, but they aren’t IBB him, are they? Sorry, just curious…

I would offer that with our fledgling offense Chipper is our biggest offensive threat so if a team can negate his power by not giving him good pitches to hit, they likely will find themselves in every game against us.

They’ll continue to attempt pitching him carefully with the hope that he’ll grow impatient and chase something out of the zone, like Pujols did on the 3-0 pitch he hit to right off Reyes in last night’s seventh inning. it was somewhat odd that the Cards pitched him so carefully just one day after Casey Kotchman had a productive three-hit performance. But at the same time, understanding…Lohse said after the game that he’s had his troubles with Chipper and was more willing to test his luck against Kotchman.

“I’m not going to give in to him,” Lohse said. “If he’s going to hit a pitch, it’s going to be my pitch. I’m not going to miss with something over the middle. I wasn’t planning on walking him three times in a row, but you’ve got to be smart about it. That’s a guy right there that I have a history with, and if you can get away with walking him.”

I’m not sure I understand the strategy either. With nobody on base you should pretty much always pitch to everyone in my opinion. With runners on, I understand walking Chipper, but not with the bases empty. I think LaRussa trusts his staff against the rest of the Braves’ line-up and doesn’t want to let Chipper beat us. But why worry about it with the bases empty? Whatever. I’ll take an OBP of 1000 any day of the week. To quote Bill James on a similar issue:

“Q: If a power hitter, let’s say Jason Giambi, could bunt .800 or more (but with no power) against an extreme shift, would this be the better strategy than trying to continue to hit normally?

A: If you can bunt .800–or, for that matter, .550–it would be virtually impossible to equal the value of that with regular hitting.”

I’m not mad at all they choose to issue Chipper a free pass every time at the plate. It works out for us better in the long run.

I posted this link on the last blog, but I’d like to post it again. I did a piece on Kawakami’s slow start:

Considering Chipper scored the winning run(or tying run, it doesn’t matter and I don’t remember who scored first), I’m not mad at all about the fact that he got walked four times. I’m just wondering why.

Is Infante getting another start? He seemed effective. KJ shouldn’t be benched, but rewarding a player is sometimes good.. IMO…

I have been only able to watch a few games this year because I am the one braves fan in NY. Yes, the only one. Any idea if there is a way to get these after the fact or something? I’d love to see that 9th inning Gonzo threw or some of the other pitchers, or the 8th inning rally, or anything thats happened this season other than the ONE GAME I caught on ESPN.

How do I change my name not to include my email?

neverwhere, I think you can change your profile name on the page where you sign in…and MLB.TV does offer you the chance to watch archived games.

Infante is starting again tonight. Bobby says he just wants Kelly to take advantage of a few days to get himself right.

Two days, two first ab of game hits by Infante? Hmmmm….

Kawakami will have three additional days to rest his fatigued right shoulder. Instead of starting on Saturday, he will start Tuesday’s series finale against the Mets. With an offday tomorrow, the Braves will push each of their starters up and still have them pitching on regular rest.

From what I understand, Kawakami experienced some relief after getting a cortisone shot on Monday.

wait a minute….Did I miss something here? When did Kawakami get hurt? This is the first I’ve heard about it.

I’m not a betting man, but I’ll guess he gets a win in his next start.

I like KJ, but Infante is really impressing me…
Can we have two 2B?
Seriously, though, we have something of a logjam of talent in our system at a lot of positions, pitching, some infield spots and definitely outfield now with Barton.

jim, you didn’t miss anything. today was the first time we received any indication that he had been sore…i really don’t think it’s a big deal…while allowing him to get used to the five-man rotation, the Braves said they’d try to take advantage of opportunities to give him extra rest.

Mark, what’s your take on why it seems that Escobar seems to be overly anxious any time he comes to bat with runners in scoring position? I can think of 3 occurrences in the past week or so (1 just last inning) where he’s putting the ball in play on the first pitch with someone in scoring position. Maybe Frenchy needs to give him some pointers? lol

Nice play, but I think I just saw Escobar’s head swell about two inches.

Really all I can say is that Escobar isn’t alone in that category. Some of you have complained the overaggressive nature the Braves have shown at the plate and the numbers prove they are about as impatient as any Major League team…I’ll provide the numbers of their pitches per plate appearance tomorrow. But looking quickly earlier today, it looked like each of the qualified batters ranked near the bottom of NL players at their position in this category.

I didn’t hear anything from McCann tonight. He might be traveling back to Atlanta. He doubled in the first inning tonight and ended up 1-for-3 with a strikeout… Speaking of strikeouts, big Cody Johnson hit his eighth homer of the year for Myrtle Beach tonight.

neverwhere.. I live in Brooklyn and am a huge Braves fan. I’m pretty excited to check out Citi Field for the first time when the Braves are in town. Mets fans aren’t too receptive to guys in Braves hats.

I hope that Hampton gets 3 times as many boos as Glavine used to get when he came to town in a Mets uniform. No, make that 10 times. If for no other reason than being the financial black hole in our organization for the past 4 years and then jumping ship without even a willingness to sign for a cheap rate, if only for a year. That just shows no loyalty. I don’t know if the Braves ever offered him anything or not. Personally, I’m glad we didn’t sign him anyway. I expecting that five minutes before his start at Turner Field, he’ll develop a charlie horse or something and go on the DL for two weeks (read that two months).

He signed with the Astros to be with his family plus he needed a fresh start and the Braves did too. He didn’t owe the organization anything. They didn’t sign him to his contract, insurance paid for a large portion of his contract while he was hurt, and they would’ve dumped him awhile ago if he wasn’t making so much money. He earned the right to be a free agent and there was no reason he should feel obligated to sign with the Braves.

In other news, in MLB, our pitching staff is:

7th in ERA – 4.06
T-3rd in QS – 12 (KC & Pitt 13)
5th in OPS – .699 And
T-1st in HR – 10 (Seattle)

I love those states PWHjort.
However, I’m pretty confident that we will continue to score no more than 3-4 runs per game until we make a move to bolster our lineup and add that true clean up hitter. Even when McCann returns, I don’t see our run production going up. If we continue to score 3 and 4 runs / game, we will be a .500 team at best.

Wow, nickel and dimed to death last night. Sometimes the grounders find holes, but all the jam shots and broken bat hits, that’s awful. Too bad for Vazquez as he really pitched a lot better than it looks on paper.
There will be nights like that. I really like Infante at 2nd right now, but I’m quite sure Kelly gets the nod tomorrow night. I’m not sure what Omar has to do to prove himself. He seems to be a victim of the utility label, much like DeRosa. Maybe Mark’s success will open Bobby’s eyes as well.
Johnson really does seem to be the third option both defensively and offensively, and the other guys on the team, based on Chipper’s comments, are certainly aware of it as well. Sticking with Kelly because he got here first is going to be a problem eventually in the clubhouse.

It should be noted to all you money ballers out there that the worst team in the league is Oakland. They literally have nothing. No pitchers that aren’t basically rookies, and no players at all besides Holiday. Juice Giambi, et al, are awful. Beany Baby needs to get a new calculator for his pocket protector.

What happened to Jason Heyward? He hasn’t played in three games now.

Adrian Gonzalez’ contract is up next year. He has 9 home runs already and batting .309… It’s wishful thinking, but I’d love to have him protecting Chipper right now. I think Frank Wren would rather get a colonoscopy than deal with Kevin Towers again… plus we’re unable to give up the farm / tight budget yada yada.
He’d be that Fred McGriff type transaction that would put us over the hump.
Only in dreams.

Excuse me – Gonzalez has a .329 avg. and not .309. Right now the Padres are competitive with the division so they wouldn’t even think of moving him unless they were 10 + games out in July. But he’s leading the majors in homers, top ten in rbi’s, and obviously hitting for avg. Perfect fit for a power hungry team in dire need of driving in runs.

Great patience by Schafer last night, 3 BB’s (and an SB!!!)for a rookie working on cutting down his K’s – very promising!

Any update on our Mr. Anderson?

Gonzalez is still a cheap date, not a free agent find, so the Padres won’t even think of it. You think Towers asked a lot for a pitcher, wait until he goes fishing with Gonzalez on the line. I get the idea Towers isn’t on the A list to trade with for anybody these days. Not from the success he has had lately. He is basically a waiver wire garbage picker now.

Adrian Gonzalez’s contract actually has a really, really cheap club option for 2011 (5.5 million), so he’s pretty much under team control for 3 years. Kevin Towers has gone on record saying they probably won’t trade him because he’s a very popular player, especially among the Mexican-American demographic. He makes SO much sense for the Braves, though, and you’ve gotta figure the Padres are still trying to cut payroll. If they fall out of contention and explore the possibility of moving him, Frank Wren should get it done. It’d take a king’s ransom, but he’s worth it. He puts up those monster numbers playing in Petco park, a park that suppresses numbers.

I’m not concerned about Kawakami – in the sense that I didn’t expect him to be incredible his first month anyway. By September I think we’ll all agree he’s a solid 4-5 man. My primary concern with the pitching right now is with Glavine. And as much as I love Tommy, he won’t be back, at least not as the Tommy we know. But as long as there’s a chance he’ll return I think we’ll see Reyes up with the big club, and I don’t see him as a solution. As soon as we know Glavine isn’t coming back we need to bring up the other Tommy… just saying, and that said I like our pitching and our pen is looking great now.

Our hitting… makes me sad. But who saw this coming with Mac? Or Anderson (alright, maybe we could have seen that a little). I think a trade is on the horizon, whether for Adrian Gonzalez or Swisher (would have loved to have had him already), but Frank Wren doesn’t need to make that trade right now. Let some pieces gain some value, let the team gain some perspective then make a trade when the timing is right and its absolutely necessary. So for now we’ll have to suffer with good pitching and an injured lineup. But please, Mac, get back asap.

okay, can I share this?
Tommy Hanson is 0-3 with a 2.18. He has 5 earned runs and 29 ks over 20.2 innings. Wow, he’s getting less run support than Jurrjens!

Not really, bravenorth. He’s just throwing way too many pitches, averaging just over 5 innings/start. He needs to learn to work more efficiently.

that’s true, but in his three starts they supported him with 0, 2 and 0 runs. He’s probably pitching better than his record shows but not as good as his era might suggest.

let’s see how he does tonight… hopefully 6 plus innings at least.

You’re right, the run support hasn’t been great, but it is hard to get a win when you’re not pitching past the 6th inning.

Hanson currently has 8 Ks through 5 innings of shut out ball. 16 pitches per inning is excellent for a power guy, and if anybody is stupid enough to say he should pitch to contact I will send Nolan Ryan over to your house to kick your butt.

I have seen Hanson in person twice already for Gwinnett. The defense is not only shaky, the infield doesn’t get to anything. He has also been getting squeezed on close pitches, which isn’t really a AAA phenomenon usually.
He has also been on a tight pitch count as they build through the season. He hasn’t thrown 100 pitches in a game yet. He may tonight as they progress the number. Crunching the numbers doesn’t tell you at all just how good this kid is. I’ve seen Price in person as well, and he’s not where Hanson is yet.

92 pitches and 9 Ks through 6 shutout innings now.

I saw Hanson pitch in Spring Training against the Phillies. It was nothing short of brilliant. The most memorable moment was when he fell behind Ryan Howard 3-0 and came back to strike him out on the following 3 pitches. He’s one of the most talented pitchers I’ve ever seen. I thought about late-90’s/early-2000’s Kerry Wood when I saw him. He puts on a show every time he goes out there.

However, being effective and putting on a show are different things. And you can’t be help your team without consistently going at least 6 innings. You do make a great point about the defense, though.

I don’t think anyone suggested Hanson pitch to contact, just that he be more efficient. Efficiency and effectiveness make a great pitcher, not effectiveness alone.

When you’re behind the number 8 hitter 2-0 with 2 outs and the bases empty, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be pitching to contact. Let him hit it and see what happens is a very useful concept in baseball. Nolan Ryan never became a legitimately great pitcher because he refused to do this and walked his way into jam after jam after jam. Some of which he was able to get out of in dramatic fashion, some of which he paid for in equally dramatic fashion. Pitching to contact in general would be an inappropriate strategy for Hanson, but you’ve gotta pick your spots.

That being said, I’m very encouraged by his outing tonight. Awesome stuff.

Good to see the Gwinnett boys get Hanson some runs tonight. I guess they like hitting the knuckleball. Pawtucket’s starter, Charlie Zink was the International League pitcher of the year last year…His lone appearance in the Majors was a forgettable one. He was the Boston starter in the 19-17 win the Red Sox claimed over the Rangers in August.

Heyward has missed the past few days with a sore quad or hammy. It sounds like he’s expected to return to Myrtle Beach’s lineup tomorrow…Cody Johnson has eight homers in the first 21 games this year. That’s more than the combined total of Heyward (3) and Freddie Freeman (4)..But Johnson’s 31 strikeouts are also more than the combined total of Heyward (13) and Freeman (11).

April Awards from my latest at Capitol Avenue Club:

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana.

Runner up: Dan Haren.

NL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez.

Runner Up: Raul Ibanez.

NL RoY: Brian Barden.

Runner Up: Jordan Schafer.

NL Rolaids Award: Jonathan Broxton.

AL Cy Young: Zach Grienke.

Runner Up: Felix Hernandez.

AL MVP: Kevin Youkilis.

Runner Up: Jason Bay.

AL RoY: Ricky Romero.

Runner up: Scott Richmond.

AL Rolaids Award: Frank Francisco.

The Smoltz news is really not a big surprise. His shoulder is held together on pure hope right now. I hope he lasts long enough to get in the playoffs again, and of course to keep the Yankees out of them.

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