May 2009

Medlen ready to conquer nerves?

Obviously the biggest question going into tonight’s game against the Giants centers around Kris Medlen and his ability to overcome whatever demons haunted him during the fourth inning of his big league debut last week. 
Because he pitched effectively during the first three innings of last Thursday’s game against the Rockies, I didn’t initially buy into the notion that it was solely nerves that caused him to miss the strike zone with 15 of his 18 fourth-inning pitches.
But I certainly can’t discount the likelihood that all of his nervous energy started working in a negative manner once he threw his first wayward pitch during that forgettable fourth inning.  
From what I have gathered from those who have had the opportunity to watch him rise through the Minor League ranks, Medlen is a pitcher who has always been able to utilize his energetic personality to his advantage.   At the same time, he’s occasionally experienced outings where he suddenly struggles with his control and then regains it a short time later.
The Braves can only hope that Medlen is able to channel his great sense of energy when he once again encounters the expected nerves that will be present tonight, when he faces the challenge of outdueling Tim Lincecum. 
Given that the Blue Jays were leading the Majors in a number of statistical categories, I’d argue that Medlen’s challenge against Lincecum is actually less significant than the one Kenshin Kawakami conquered during last week’s duel against Toronto ace Roy Halladay. 
Medlen likely isn’t going to match the dominance that Kawakami showed with his eight scoreless innings against the Blue Jays last week. 
In fact, fading away from the topic for just a second to admit that my timing was great last Friday afternoon, when I said the Braves will regret the Kawakami signing through the end of the 2011 season, I will say that Kawakami’s effort was the second-best provided by a Braves pitcher this year, trailing only the Opening Day dominance that Derek Lowe showed in Philadelphia. 
But (getting back to the original topic) Medlen says that he’s “super pumped” about tonight’s matchup and he expressed this with more than words.  In fact, once he got done moving his hands in countless directions while talking about tonight’s matchup, I walked away wondering if I was supposed to bunt or hit-and-run.
Francoeur provided opportunity:  When Garret Anderson and Brian McCann returned to the lineup, Jeff Francoeur wasn’t happy about the fact that he was primarily hitting seventh, where he says pitchers were less apt to pitch to him because he had Jordan Schafer and the pitcher’s spot sitting behind him. 
With Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar out of the lineup on Saturday, Francoeur moved up to the sixth spot and responded with a three-hit performance that included four solid at-bats. 
But with Jones, Escobar and Anderson out of Monday afternoon’s lineup, Francoeur didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to show his run-producing skills.   While going hitless in four at-bats, he didn’t advance any of the seven runners who were on base when he came to the plate. 
The frustration he felt while striking out with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning increased during the eighth inning, when he again recorded the first out with runners at first and second base. 
During the early weeks of this season, when it didn’t make much sense to evaluate batting averages, the reason to be encouraged about Francoeur stemmed from the fact that he had eight hits in his first 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  
But he has just five hits in his last 35 at-bats with runners in scoring position.   His three-run homer against Mike Hampton on May 1 accounted for the only extra-base hit and three of the nine RBIs he’s compiled during this span.
The Braves will continue to shop Francoeur with the hope of getting some substance in return.  But dealing him isn’t going to solve all of their offensive outfield woes. 
While the corner outfield positions aren’t providing any power, Jordan Schafer has essentially done nothing but spend the past seven weeks providing a solid glove.   In his past 39 games, Schafer has hit .173 with a .298 on-base percentage and 51 strikeouts. 
Schafer’s strikeout total ranks as the fourth-highest in the Majors and comes with the contribution of two homers, which were both provided during the season’s first three games.    Each of the three players with more strikeouts this year   —  Texas’s Chris Davis, Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena and Arizona’s Mark Reynolds  —   have all hit at least 10 homers. 
Looking at internal options, the Braves could give Brandon Jones a chance to play right field.  Jones is hitting .315 with Triple-A Gwinnett.  But he still hasn’t homered in 111 at-bats and from a defensive perspective, he would have to be considered a downgrade in comparison to Francoeur, who can still affect a game with his arm. 
As for the internal center field options, they are limited to Gregor Blanco, Brian Barton and Reid Gorecki  and none of these players provide the Braves much reason to be confident about their ability to fare much better than Schafer. 
But from a developmental standpoint, the Braves have to at least wonder if Schafer’s bright future will become clouded if he continues to provide consistent indication that he’s overmatched at the Major League level. 
Braves general manager Frank Wren has assembled a pitching staff that could take his team into October.  But he currently faces the great challenge of finding a way to minimize some of the same outfield concerns that were present last year.


Braves winning the close games

As the Braves prepare to begin this three-game series against the Giants, I decided to see where they stood on May 25, 2008.  Given how bad the season developed, it was somewhat surprising to see that they were 27-23 and 2 1/2 games behind the front-running Marlins in the National League East race.

But those aren’t the important numbers to utilize while comparing the 23-20 record the Braves carried into Monday afternoon’s Memorial Day game at AT&T Park. 

Instead, it’s more important to look at the fact that the Braves got off to that decent start last year, while winning six of their first 22 road games and two of their first 14 one-run games. 

Armed with a much better pitching staff this year, the Braves have gone 12-8 on the road and 8-6 in one-run games.  The only National League teams with more one-run wins are the Dodgers (9-3) and Padres (12-5).

Four of those one-run victories garnered by the Braves have occurred during the 7-3 stretch they carried into the Giants series. 

However you cut it, this Braves team doesn’t seem like the same one that was 11-15 and four games back on May 5.  Brian McCann and Garret Anderson have provided the lineup a spark and Jair Jurrjens continues to strengthen a sound starting rotation.

The fact that the Braves produced their seven-run seventh inning after Jurrjens exited on Sunday simply provided more reason for the young right-hander to be frustrated about the fact that he ranks fourth in the Majors with a 2.07 ERA and has just four wins. 

During his past eight starts, Jurrjens has gone 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA.  In the 50 innings that have encompassed that span, he has limited opponents to a .230 batting average and .285 on-base percentage. 

It would be nice for him to gain some of the luck necessary to garner the win total that would allow him to receive deserved consideration when the National League chooses its All-Star team.

Chipper out again:
  Still bothered by some soreness and swelling in his right big toe, Chipper Jones was out of the lineup again for Monday’s series opener against the Giants.   While the Braves would like to see him return to full-time action soon, they know he’s dealing with a very sensitive injury that can be easily aggravated. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if Jones remains out of the lineup for the remainder of this series.  When you think about it, there’s very little you can do on a baseball field without putting some pressure on your big toe. 

It was kind of telling, when Jones said that it took him nearly 10 minutes to make his way back to the clubhouse after taking batting practice on Sunday morning. 

As for Yunel Escobar, it seems like he’s still dealing with a day-to-day right hip ailment.  He could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday.       



Braves need to make changes to outfield mix

Braves general manager Frank Wren isn’t in a position where he can wait until the July 31 trade deadline to upgrade his powerless outfield mix.    There’s a need for immediate changes and also indication that we’ll begin to see it in the near future.  
But now that we’ve completed the easy part by stating the obvious, what is the best way for Wren to improve an outfield that ranks last in the National League in slugging percentage (.356), homers (7) and OPS (.674)?
In dire need to hear something positive?  Well there are three NL teams, whose outfield mixes have produced a worse batting average (.248) and on-base percentage (.318).
Given that he’s played just 12 games since returning from a disabled list stint that was preceded with long stretches of injury-related activity, maybe it’s unfair to already declare the Garret Anderson project to be a bust, unless of course you want to factor in the defensive element that is sorely affected by his limited range.
But is it unfair to ask for at least one home run through the 71 at-bats compiled by a left fielder that you solely acquired to add some pop to your lineup?  If so, then you’re probably arguing that you shouldn’t have expected to see longball regularity from a 36-year-old veteran who hadn’t hit more than 17 homers any of the previous five seasons.  
With this being said, is it unfair to at least expect more than two extra-base hits (two doubles) in the 46 at-bats that Anderson has totaled since returning from the DL?  In the 12 games that he’s played since being activated, he’s hit .283 with a .321 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage.  
Those are numbers that only look good when compared to the .197 batting average, .214 on-base percentage and .273 slugging percentage that Jeff Francoeur has compiled in the 66 at-bats that he’s tallied this month.  
While there are a number of players that are going to experience bad months, Francoeur isn’t in position where he can produce these kinds of numbers and expect to  remain in Atlanta much longer.  Earlier this week, I pointed out that the biggest difference between this year and last year for the 25-year-old outfielder is the $2.92 million raise that he gained while avoiding arbitration in February.
During his first three full Major League seasons, Francoeur has collected an average of 630 at-bats.    Using this as a variable, let’s look at the fact that he’s hit .235 with  11 homers, a .287 on-base percentage and  a .341 slugging percentage in his last 631 at-bats   — dating back to May 6, 2008.
Among every Major Leaguer player who has collected at least 500 plate appearances during this span,  Bobby Crosby, Michael Bourn, Willy Taveras,  Chone Figgins and Jason Kendall are the only ones who have compiled a lower slugging percentage.  
Francoeur’s .287 on-base percentage during this span ranks dead last, just ahead of the .288 mark compiled by Arizona’s Chris Young, whose contract calls for him to make $23.75 million from 2010-2012.
Using this as a comparison and blinding yourself from the fact that Young has recorded 15 more stolen bases than Francoeur’s zero during this span, maybe the Braves shouldn’t feel too bad about the fact that they’re paying Francoeur $3.325 million this year.  
At the ripe age of 25, Francoeur might one day regain the power that has been absent since his 29-homer, 2006 season.  But as they continue to patiently await the return of this power, the Braves find themselves in a position where they have to at least explore the option of trading him to a team that believes they can fix him.
Obviously, Francoeur enjoys working with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.  So maybe Jaramillo could persuade Jon Daniels to roll the dice with another ex-Braves player.  Sill while the Andruw Jones project is currently working, Texas is loaded with outfielders and many other top prospects  who were once destined for Atlanta.
The Braves aren’t going to get much in return for Francoeur. But they need to at least explore the possibility of moving him before they reach a point during the offseason, when they might non-tender him and get absolutely nothing in return for a former top prospect, who was once-considered to be the next Chipper Jones.
In addition, while attempting to alter their outfield mix, the Braves to face the reality that Francoeur still might generate a greater return than Anderson would on the trade market.  
Jordan Schafer’s rookie struggles have played a part in the lack of offense the Braves outfield has generated this year.  But while playing the field this year, the  only Atlanta outfielder to better the .660 OPS generated by Schafer is Matt Diaz with a .766 mark.  
With Diaz and Brandon Jones, the Braves have a couple of internal pieces who could at least attempt to improve the corner outfield production.  But to truly make a difference Wren is going to have to look outside his organization and navigate a trade market with funds that were reduced by the questionable signings of Anderson and Kenshin Kawakami.
Kawakami’s three-year, $23 million contract will continue to haunt Wren through the end of the 2011 season. The immediate effects have already proven to be a hindrance.  
How nice would it have been to have had an extra $7 milllion to spend on an outfielder right now or back in February,  when the Angels  avoided re-signing Anderson and opted to give Bobby Abreu  one-year $5 million?
Without a homer in his first 140 at-bats this year, Abreu wasn’t going to bring the Braves the power that they need.  But his .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage certainly look much better than the marks compiled by Anderson or anybody else the Braves have utilized as an outfielder this year.

Braves to employ right-handed lineup on Wednesday

I’ll write something more extensive when I get back upstairs.  But for now, I thought you’d be interested to see the lineup that Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa will be facing tonight. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox has constructed a right-handed heavy lineup against the Rockies left-hander, who has limited left-handed hitters to a .130 (6-for-46) batting average this year.   Right-handed hitters are batting .252 (28-for-111) against him. 

Wednesday’s lineup:

2B Omar Infante
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Chipper Jones
1B Martin Prado
LF Matt Diaz
RF Jeff Francoeur
C David Ross
CF Jordan Schafer
P Javier Vazquez

Cox shuffles power-hungry lineup

If Braves general manager Frank Wren’s attempt to land a power bat proves unsuccessful, he might want to see if the Phillies are willing to trade Citizens Bank Park in exchange for Turner Field.

In fact, while thinking out of the box, he might want to call the Reds or any other team that is capable of providing a homer-happy environment in exchange for Turner Field, a place that has become the kryptonite to the power-limited Atlanta lineup.
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Rockies, the Braves had scored one run in their previous 18 innings and won just three of their previous 14 home games.  Working with a roster that doesn’t possess a legit leadoff or cleanup hitter, manager Bobby Cox is going to have to employ some serious chemistry skills to form an effective equation with his current elements.  

With his latest attempt on Tuesday night,  Cox moved Yunel Escobar into the leadoff spot, placed Casey Kotchman in the second spot and positioned Brian McCann back in the cleanup spot.  Kelly Johnson will bat sixth, where he’s found success in the past.

Tonight’s Lineup
SS Yunel Escobar
1B Casey Kotchman
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
LF Garret Anderson
2B Kelly Johnson
 RF Jeff Francoeur
CF Jordan Schafer
P Jair Jurrjens

In  346 career plate appearances in the lineup’s first spot, Escobar has hit .317 with  a .378 on-base percentage.   In the 72 plate appearances he’s recorded while serving as the game’s first hitter, the Cuban shortstop has .429 with a .444 on-base percentage. 

The potential benefit of placing Kotchman in the second spot stems from the fact that he routinely puts the ball in play.  In the 316 plate appearances he’s registered since joining the Braves, the veteran first baseman has struck out 32 times   —  or  just 13 times more than the second hitter in Atlanta’s lineup has registered in 169 plate appearances this year. 

Putting McCann in the cleanup spot provides Chipper Jones the protection he needs against pitchers, who still haven’t been given much reason to fear Garret Anderson’s bat.    In the 11 games he’s recorded since returning from the disabled list, Anderson has hit .262 (11-for-42) and tallied just two extra-base hits  — both doubles.

Johnson, who has batted .191 with a .262 on-base percentage in 105 plate appearances as the leadoff hitter this year, will now have an opportunity to display his run-producing skills.  He has hit .289 with a .344 on-base percentage in 90 career plate appearances , while batting sixth. 

Jumbling the order of the lineup might enhance the power by giving Jones the potential to see better pitches with McCann hitting behind him.  But this is a club that is in dire need of benefiting from the longball.  

Entering Tuesday, the Braves had scored 58 runs during their 17 home games.  The only Major League team with a lower home total was the White Sox with 56 runs after 16 dates at U.S. Cellular Field. 

The six home runs the Braves had tallied at home ranked as the Major League’s lowest mark, sitting five dingers behind the 29th-ranked Giants.
The Braves have totaled 28 homers this year and 12 of those were hit during this six games they played at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.  Another four were tallied during the three-game series at Cincinnati’s compact stadium.

Further showing the power discrepancy that has been produced outside of Atlanta, the Braves have homered once every 31.7 at-bats on the road and once every 90.7 times at home.  The Giants have compiled the Major League’s second worst home mark with one homer every 62.7 at-bats.    

While you’re at it Frank, see if the Phillies are also willing package Ryan Howard with their ballpark.


Time for Francoeur to find a groove

Those of you who said that Tom Glavine wouldn’t step on the Turner Field mound this year need to head to the ATM or at least examine the fine print of your friendly wagers.   From what I could tell, he had no trouble standing on that mound while completing three innings and dodging a Greg Norton liner during Monday afternoon’s simulated game.  

As long as his left shoulder is still cooperating, Glavine is still planning to make a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday.  In other words, the simulated game went as well as could be expected, minus the Norton liner that bruised the 43-year-old left-hander’s left hip.  

When Norton walked through the clubhouse and said he was sorry, Glavine said, “It’s better that you hit it off my leg, instead of into the seats.”

Never afraid to make himself the punchline of a one-liner, Norton said, “If I was fast enough,  I’d have run and caught that ball before it hit him.”

The soft liner didn’t seem to affect Glavine’s delivery or sense of humor.  

“I told Norton that I’ve gotten hit a lot harder with slap shots,” Glavine said in reference to his hockey background.  

Based on the comments posted today, your primary interest isn’t centered around the 43-year-old left-hander, who  won’t  be in position to pitch in a Major League game until the first week of June.  Instead, most of your attention seems to be focused on that 25-year-old right fielder who finds his current statistics eerily similar to the ones he produced at this time last year.  

When Francoeur homered on the first pitch that he saw, there was reason to believe that this year might be different than the last.  But 509 pitches and two homers later, the most significant difference is the $2.92 million raise he gained after producing career lows in batting average (.239) homers (11) and OPS (.653)  last year.   <p>

Through his first 36 games this year, Francoeur has hit .252 with three homers  a .272 on-base percentage, a .371 slugging percentage and a .642 OPS   —  fourth-worst among the 40 qualified National League outfielders.

His numbers through his first 36 games last year included a .262 batting average,  three homers, a .310 OBP, a .421 SLG and a .721 OPS.  

With less than 80 percent of the season complete, we haven’t reached a point where we can justifiably say that Francoeur is destined to repeat last year’s disappointments.   But his current trend is pointing him in that direction.  

During his first 18 games this year, Francoeur hit .292 with a .320 OBP, a .458 SLG and a .778 OPS.  In the 18 games that have followed, he’s hit .211 with a .224 OBP, .282 SLG and .505 OPS.

One of the most encouraging things about Francoeur’s start came from the fact that he recorded eight hits and 10 RBIS in his first 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  But he’s  had just four hits and seven RBIs in his past 26 at-bats with RISP.  

Still lost within the .279 batting average Francoeur has produced with runners in scoring position is the fact that he’s recorded three hits and produced four RBIs in six plate appearances with two outs and a runner on third base.  

In addition, simply looking at his outfield assists total isn’t going to show how many runs he saved based on the fact that runners are less apt to attempt to score or take an extra base against his arm.  

But while agreeing the statistics don’t tell the whole story about a player’s value, you can’t ignore that Francoeur’s $3.375 million salary has put him in a position where he needs to turn things around before the Braves reach the point where they deem that his cost outweighs his value.  

The Braves were reluctant to give Francoeur this salary in February and they certainly aren’t going to want to provide him an even greater arbitration-generated salary next year, if he isn’t able to end the trend that is pointing him in the same direction that he traveled in 2008.  

But it’s still too early to talk about the possibility of the Braves trading or non-tendering Francoeur.   Right now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying that his current three-week slump is just a product of the fact that he was bound to encounter struggles after completely altering his swing and stance during the offseason.  

With this being said, the business aspect that made Francoeur a millionaire is the same one that will lead the Braves to be much less patient than they were when they stuck with him throughout last year’s struggles.

Follow through Twitter  @mlbbravesscribe 

Medlen to start Tuesday

Kris Medlen is going to make his Major League debut when he starts in place of Jo-Jo Reyes against the Rockies on Tuesday night. 

During the six starts he’s made for Triple-A Gwinnett this year, Medlen has gone 4-0 with a 1.07 ERA and limited opponents to a .167 batting average.   The 23-year-old right-hander  hasn’t allowed a run in his past 19 2/3 innings. 

With these dominant stats, Medlen has provided himself the opportunity to make his Major League debut before Tommy Hanson, who is widely considered the game’s top right-handed prospect.   Hanson, who is 1-3 with 1.99 ERA in seven starts for Gwinnett, is  still expected to be promoted to Atlanta within the next month or two. 

Reyes, who is 0-9 with a 6.58 ERA in his past 18 Major League starts, will now assume a spot in the Braves bullpen.  

Bats prepared to come to life at Turner Field

Instead of dissecting statistics to determine why the Braves have encountered most of their success on the road, you can look at the simple fact that Brian McCann and Garret Anderson have been in the same lineup just once at Turner Field this year.

OK, now let’s delve into the numbers to show why the Braves have gone 2-9 at home since opening Turner Field with a three-game sweep of the Nationals.  In these 11 games, the Braves have hit .236 with THREE homers, a .329 on-base percentage and a .325 slugging percentage.

While going 6-2 on their recently-completed road trip, the Braves hit .285 with seven homers, a .380 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage.   This improved production was obviously a direct result of  Anderson and McCann returning from the disabled list last week.

With the Braves opening a 10-game homestand on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, the home fans should also be prepared to see the return of Chipper Jones’ bat, which slumbered as McCann and Anderson dealt with their ailments. 

During the past 11 home games, four Braves players produced a .300 batting average (min. 20 at-bats)    —  Omar Infante  (.355), Jeff Francoeur (.310), Casey Kotchman (.306) and Yunel Escobar (.300).   The next-best batting average compiled during this span was .208 — a mark produced by both David Ross and Kelly Johnson. 

This lineup obviously revolves around the success of Jones and the team-worst .143 batting average he produced during the past 11 home games was a direct result of some of the impatience he showed while facing pitchers, who didn’t feel the need to challenge him without Anderson and McCann hitting behind him. 

The 11 walks Jones drew during this 11-game span represent half the total he’s tallied through the first 27 games that he’s played this year.

“I stayed as patient as I could,” Jones said. “Some teams were just determined not to pitch to me.  Other teams were taking their chances.  It’s going to make Garret and Mac making guys pay whenever they do walk me. That’s how you get 2-0 fastballs and 3-1 fastballs.  There weren’t a lot of those.”

In the five games that Jones has played since Anderson returned to the lineup and started hiting cleanup, he has hit .400 with three doubles and seven walks  — four intentional. 

After Jones recorded two doubles and a sacrifice fly during his first three plate appearances against the Mets on Wednesday, he drew two consecutive intentional walks. 

Anderson followed the first intentional walk with a sacrifice fly and the second with a fly ball that would have put Yunel Escobar at third base with one out in the ninth inning of a tied game if Mets right fielder Ryan Church hadn’t made a perfect throw to third baseman David Wright.

Obviously, I’ve been very critical of Anderson and a lot of that stems from the fact that because of his reserved demeanor, you can’t get a good read about his desire to be in Atlanta. 

There’s no doubt that he should have taken the short drive to Gwinnett County to play at least one Minor League game before returning from the disabled list.  In addition, he still has provided indication that he’s going to cost the Braves some runs with his limited range in left field.

But while getting the chance to watch him play over the course of the past week, I’ve seen seen a professional hitter, who will provide a presence in the middle of the lineup by putting the ball in play with regularity when runners are in scoring position.

While giving credit where credit is due, I’m also ready provide some to Kenshin Kawakami, who has allowed two earned runs and completed at least five innings during his past two starts against the Mets and Phillies.  I still don’t think he should be considered anything more than a fourth or fifth starter.  But if you’re fourth or fifth starter is providng these kinds of efforts on a consistent basis, then you’re probably feeling good about your rotation as a whole. 

Speaking of fifth starters, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we won’t be seeing Jo-Jo Reyes making another big league start in the near future.   Instead, I think we should expect to see Charlie Morton taking Reyes’ spot in the rotation until Tom Glavine is ready to resume pitching near the end of this month.

Tommy Hanson will still likely arrive in June.  But until then, he’s going to gain a little more Minor League seasoning, while Morton is given the chance to prove that he can carry his recent success to the big league level.

The Braves are going to be looking to find some power before the trade deadline and with a surplus of arms, there may be a number of teams interested in Morton, who has allowed just four earned runs in his past 27 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett.    


Frenchy rests during series finale

It’s been kind of a hectic morning.  So we’ll keep this short by informing you that Jeff Francoeur is getting a day off and Tom Glavine was once again pleased with the bullpen session that he completed this morning. 

Francoeur has hit .213 with a .204 on-base percentage and .255 slugging percentage in his past 11 games.   Braves manager Bobby Cox said that he wanted his right-fielder to rest during the series finale against the Mets and then take advantage to gain further rest during the team’s scheduled offday on Thursday.

With Francoeur out of the lineup for the first time this year, Matt Diaz will start in right field for the first time since he joined the Braves in 2006.  In fact, this marked just the third time in his career that he’s started in right field.

Diaz’s most recent start in right field occurred on Sept. 27, 2005.  While playing for the Royals against the Twins that day, he recorded two hits, including a seventh-inning leadoff homer, against Johan Santana.

Glavine felt good about about the 35-pitch bullpen session that he completed this morning.   He’ll likely throw a simulated game at Turner Field early next week and then prepare for at least one Minor League rehab assignment.  The 43-year-old left-hander is still aiming to return to the Atlanta rotation before the end of this month.   

Jurrjens aiming to prolong recent success

While watching Chipper Jones play catch with Kelly Johnson a few minutes ago, I couldn’t tell if his right elbow is healthy enough for him to return to the lineup tonight.  I’ll let you know when I return from the clubhouse.

But until then let’s talk about the fact that the Braves have already guaranteed a winning record for this road trip that Jair Jurrjens said would set the tone for the rest of the season.  Through the first six games of this trip, they’ve already removed the Phillies from first-place status and there’s a chance that they could perform the same act on the Mets by the time tomorrow’s series finale is complete. 

Jurrjens, who ranks fifth in the National League with a 2.01 ERA, has allowed six earned runs in his past five starts.  Oddly the three earned runs he’s combined to allow in his past two outings have come courtesy of solo homers hit by Lance Berkman and Hanley Ramirez (two).

Among those Major Leaguers who have completed at least 150 innings since the beginning of the 2008 season, Jurrjens ranks fifth with a 0.55 homers-per-nine innings mark.   Derek Lowe, who shut the Mets down for seven innings on Monday night, ranks sixth with a 0.56 mark. 

David Wright accounted for the only homer (another solo shot) that Jurrjens has surrendered in 18 career innings against the Mets.  Wright will be back in the lineup tonight, but Carlos Delgado, who is dealing with a hip ailment that could send him to the disabled list, likely will once again be absent.

This is good news for the Braves.  Delgado has hit .387 with four homers and a 1.102 OPS in his last 16 games against them.    

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