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.