July 2009

LaRoche stuck in Baltimore but plans to play Saturday

Adam LaRoche plans to be in the Braves lineup when the face the Dodgers at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon.  But first, the 29-year-old first baseman is going to have to get out of Baltimore. 

After learning the Red Sox had traded him to the Braves on Friday afternoon, LaRoche planned to catch an 8 p.m. ET flight to Boston, pack his truck and then catch an early morning flight to Atlanta.

But things have became complicated when weather delayed his flight out of Baltimore for approximately three hours.  Thus he’s now scheduled to arrive in Boston around 1 a.m. and then return to the airport for his 8:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta. 

“If Chipper (Jones) was a good teammate, he’d send his plane up here to get me,” LaRoche said.

When told about his close friend’s  remark after Friday night’s loss to the Dodgers, Chipper said, “Call him back, tell him to hold his breath and see how far that gets him.” 

While he certainly would have liked to have avoided this travel dilemma, LaRoche is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Jones and the other Braves that were with him while he spent his first three Major League seasons (2004-2006) in Atlanta. 

“It’s going to be fun,” LaRoche said. “It’s nice to go back to somwhere that you’re familiar with.  I’m really looking forward to it.  But I’d be also be lying if I told you I didn’t love my experience in Boston.  That was really a great week there.” 

After being traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox on July 22, LaRoche had the opportunity to renew acquaintances with his good friend John Smoltz.  The two only had one opportunity to share a round of golf together.    

LaRoche deal is completed

ATLANTA   —  The Braves have completed a deal that brings Adam LaRoche back to Atlanta to serve as their first baseman.   

Just before Friday afternoon’s Trade Deadline, the Red Sox agreed to send LaRoche to the Braves in exchange for Casey Kotchman.    

LaRoche, who was acquired by the Red Sox in July 22 trade with the Pirates, has hit .248 with 13 homers and a .446 slugging percentage this year.   He hit a career-high 32 homers with the Braves in 2006 and was traded to Pittsburgh during the following offseason in exchange for Mike Gonzalez.  

With LaRoche, the Braves receive the power that Kotchman wasn’t able to consistently provide until recently.     He’s hit eight homers since debuting with the Braves on July 30, 2008 and four of them have come this month.   

The Braves will receive cash considerations from the Red Sox.

Heyward making bid for promotion to Gwinnett

While assessing prospects, baseball’s talent evaluator often say that a player will tell you when he’s ready for the next level.  

With this in mind, Jason Heyward is certainly providing plenty of indication that he may not need to remain at the Double-A level much longer.  But for now, the Braves are simply keeping an open mind regarding his immediate future.

While it currently seems far-fetched to imagine Heyward would end this season in the Majors, there’s certainly a chance that he could at least make his way to Triple-A Gwinnett within the next couple of weeks.  

“We’ll continue to evaluate him and keep our options open,”  said  Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp who has spent the past few days watching Heyward and the other members of the Double-A Mississippi Braves.   

In the 21 games he’s played since being promoted from Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach to Mississippi, Heyward has hit .438 with three homers, 10 doubles, a .517 on-base percentage and a .753 slugging percentage.   

Still 19 years-old and just two years removed from his successful high school career in suburban Atlanta, Heyward is drawing comparisons to Andruw Jones, who broke into the Majors at 19 and two months later homered in his first two World Series at-bats.

Like Heyward did this year, Jones started the 1996 season in the Carolina League.  After 86 games at the Class A-Advanced level he played 38 games in Double-A  and then experienced a 12-game stint at the Triple-A level before getting his call to Atlanta.  

When Jones arrived in the Majors, he had amassed 1251 at-bats in 349 games at the Minor League level.  Entering Thursday, Heyward had compiled 776 at-bats in 209 Minor League games.  

With this in mind, Heyward could certainly benefit from more Minor League development before being asked to test his skills at the Major League level.  But within the next few weeks, there’s certainly a chance that he could be knocking on Atlanta’s door while helping Gwinnett continue its push toward an International League championship.  

This is the first year the Braves have had their Triple-A affiliate in suburban Atlanta and they could certainly increase their attendance by bringing Heyward home for the stretch run this season.  But before doing this, they have to make sure that he experiences the necessary development that will provide him the best chance to succeed when he likely gets his first taste of the Majors next year.

Heyward, who was named Baseball America’s top prospect through the first half of this season, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive prospects the Braves have produced.   Along with being an athletic outfielder with a powerful swing, this mature teenager displays both confidence and an obvious respect for the game and his surroundings.
 
When Heyward first arrived in Mississippi, it was believed that he may not make his Atlanta debut until June next year.  But all current indications provide reason to believe that he’s going to prove to the Braves that he’ll be ready long before that time arrives.  

Anderson rounding into form:  Braves manager Bobby Cox has been supportive of Garret Anderson throughout the season and his prediction that the veteran outfielder would round into form has proven to be valid.  

While hitting .355 over his past 34 games, Anderson has raised his batting average from .253 to .302 and his slugging percentage from .364 to .465.   He has hit four of his nine homers since the All-Star break.

Anderson’s good friend and former Angels teammate Casey Kotchman has also recently increased his production while hitting .307 with a .466 slugging percentage in his past 26 games.
 
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Kotchman’s debut with the Braves.   In the 129 games he’s played for Atlanta, the first baseman has hit .264 with eight homers and a .374 slugging percentage.  Four of those eight homers have come over the course of his past 21 games.  

 
 

Braves still quiet on the trade front

All remains quiet on the Braves trade front and there’s no reason to expect that the Phillies acquisition of Cliff Lee is going to force Frank Wren to feel like he has to make a deal before Friday’s deadline.
 
The Braves have spent the past couple days inquiring about some relievers and primarily found the ones that interest them aren’t available.   This isn’t to say Wren won’t pull the trigger within the next 48 hours.  But at this time, it appears that he’ll stand pat. 

While Lee will certainly upgrade the Phillies rotation, his presence in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly significantly alter the challenge the Braves face in their bid to advance to the postseason.   Entering Wednesday, they were eight games behind the front-running Phillies in the National League East race and understanding the reality that it would be wise to worry more about the 3 1/2 -game deficit they face in the Wild Card race.  

“You hate to see the team that you’re chasing get better,” David Ross said.  “But if you want to make the playoffs and reach the World Series, you’re going to have to beat the Roy Halladays, Cliff Lees and Josh Becketts.  In one sense, I wish the Phillies hadn’t gotten better.  But in another sense, I don’t think that he’s unbeatable.”

Obviously Lee’s presence presents the possibility that the head-to-head matchups against the Phillies will prove to be more challenging.  But the Braves have gone 20-15 against left-handed starters this year and they have won seven of the nine games they’ve played against the Phillies this year.

Braves starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of the nine games played against the Phillies this year.  If they can continue this success during the final nine games played against the defending world champs, Lee won’t have much of an effect on their hopes to at least gain entry to the postseason via the Wild Card.  

When Rafael Soriano entered Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins with the responsibility of protecting a one-run lead, it was easy to draw the same assumption that was present when the Braves used to send John Smoltz to the mound to close games.
 
The Braves had won 29 of the previous 33 games during which Soriano had pitched and he hadn’t allowed a run or hit during two of the four losses suffered during that span.    The only other blown save he’d experienced in 15 previous opportunities  occurred during the May 13 game that the Braves won when Martin Prado doomed the Mets with a 12th-inning homer. 

But while pitching with three days of rest last night, Soriano showed some signs of impending trouble when he issued Cody Ross a four-pitch, leadoff walk.   He hadn’t issued a walk to any of the previous 33 batters that he’d faced and during his previous five appearances, he’d thrown 53 of his 67 pitches for strikes. 

After Soriano recorded just three strikes in this 10-pitch appearance against the Marlins, Braves manager Bobby Cox complained about Jerry Meals’ strike zone.   But really the only thing that mattered at the end of the night was the fact that Soriano grooved a 3-1 fastball that Ross Gload turned into a two-run, walk-off homer. 

With Josh Johnson set to oppose Kenshin Kawakami tonight, this certainly wasn’t an opportune time for Soriano to prove to be mortal.  But at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry about how this one shaky outing will affect the stone-faced closer.  

Tonight’s lineup:
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Jones 5
McCann 2
Anderson 7
Escobar 6
Kotchman 3
Church 9
Kawakami 1

Optimism abounds in the Braves clubhouse

After losing the first three games of a four-game series at Turner Field last week, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that the Braves were the best team that he’d seen throughout the year.   Given that he’s already seen the  Dodgers nine times, that was certainly an encouraging compliment.  

Then while talking on Monday afternoon about the fact that he doesn’t see a glaring need to make a move before Friday’s Trade Deadline, Braves general manager Frank Wren said that he felt his club was playing better than it has in the past three or four years.  

These comments certainly weren’t expected to be heard on July 5, when the Braves lost a second straight game against the Nationals.  But while winning 12 of the 18 games that have followed, they have made believers out of a number of people, including Chipper Jones.  

“It doesn’t matter which pitcher we use, we are capable of beating any team that is going to make the playoffs this year,” Jones said before the Braves opened a three-game series against the Marlins on Tuesday night at Land Shark Stadium.  

While Jones wasn’t specifically asked if this comment pertained to Wednesday’s pitching matchup which pits Josh Johnson against Kenshin Kawakami,  it’s easy to deduce that there’s a sense of confidence that wasn’t present in the Braves clubhouse during the first three months of this season or last year, when Kawakami would have spent the final two months as the number one or two starter.  

Like every other Major League club, the Braves certainly have flaws.  But with a starting rotation that has produced a Major League-best 3.62 ERA, they possess the one area of strength that the Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees  and some of the game’s other top powers are still looking to improve.  

While we don’t know exactly what to expect when Tim Hudson returns, the Braves feel like his return in August will give them the same kind of benefit they would receive from making a blockbuster trade before this week’s  deadline.

Making his third Minor League rehab start on Monday night, Hudson allowed four hits over four scoreless innings against Triple-A Lehigh Valley.   After the 41-pitch effort, the veteran right-hander once again said that he was encouraged about the progress of his arm strength.   
Hudson, who is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, is essentially in Spring Training mode and thus will need to make at least six starts before being deemed ready to be placed in the Atlanta rotation.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox confirmed that Hudson will need at least three more starts and possibly a fourth.   If he is deemed ready after three starts, the 34-year-old right-hander could be ready by Aug. 16, which is nine days earlier than he was projecting before he began this rehab process.  

“We’re just looking at his next start to see how he progresses and then we’ll see where he is after that,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said.  “Looking down the line, based on what we’ve been through with other guys, we’re not putting the cart before the horse.  We’ll just see how he is after his next start.”  

Once Hudson returns, the most likely move would be to place Kawakami in the bullpen.  But for now, the Braves are simply addressing this question with the familiar adage, “these things always work themselves out.”
 
Other injury related notes:

Omar Infante has still been feeling some expected discomfort while taking batting practice the past few days.  But Infante, who has been out since May with a broken left hand, has shown enough progress to allow the Braves to believe he could begin a Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.  

When Eric O’Flaherty issued three walks during Saturday’s loss to the Brewers, he was fighting some of the discomfort created by the unfamiliarity of pitching with a taped ankle.  The left-handed reliever turned his ankle when he stepped on a ball during batting practice on Friday night.   The ailment isn’t believed to be serious and he was available to pitch on Tuesday night.

Ryan Church hyper-extended his right elbow when he attempted to avoid a collision with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard earlier this month.  He aggravated the ailment earlier in Milwaukee earlier this weekend, when he swung and missed a pitch.
 
When Cox asked his right fielder if he was healthy enough to play on Tuesday night, Church responded, “Yeah, I just have to make sure that I don’t swing and miss.”   

Looking back on Teixeira trade

Things are obviously much quieter along the Braves trade front than they were both of the past two years, when they were dealing with the acquisition and departure of Mark Teixeira.
 
Still with the Phillies still playing a lead role in the daily developments that surround Roy Halladay, these final days leading up to the trade deadline could prove to be interesting for the Braves and their fans.
 
Or if Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi does stick with his self-imposed deadline, this trade-deadline excitement might simply extend for another 24 hours.
 
If the Phillies were to land Halladay, there’s certainly reason to believe that a third consecutive National League East pennant will appear in Philadelphia.  But his acquisition seemingly would have more of an effect on the potential of a second consecutive world championship.
 
When MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki asked if the Phillies should continue their pursuit of Halladay, Cole Hamels responded:
 
“It depends on if you want to try to win the World Series the next two years because that’s what he’s going to be here for,” Hamels said. “Winning the World Series or at least attempting to win the World Series the next two years will please us, please the organization and please the fans. You can’t really complain about that. I think it would be a step in a good direction.”

It appears the Jays need a multi-player package that is headlined by both J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek.  The Phillies have balked at including both of these promising young pitchers.

But this certainly doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually opt to pull the trigger.  As Braves president John Schuerholz reminded me last week, he and his aides experienced a number lively debates before ultimately appeasing the Rangers with the five prospects that it took to bring Teixeira to Atlanta
.
With the Halladay trade talk in focus, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan wrote a story looking back on the 2007 trade that made Teixeira a Brave.

As the years progress, you can twist and turn the analysis of trades in many different directions.  But at the end of the day, I don’t think you can truly bash a trade unless it’s one you bashed at the time it was completed.
 
My initial thoughts were that the Braves had given up too much for Teixeira.  But two years later, I actually find myself feeling that Schuerholz made a calculated gamble that was worth taking.
 
As has been pointed out countless times, with Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann in place, there was no room in Atlanta for Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.   This analysis has proven to be even stronger as Escobar continues to develop into one of the game’s top shortstops.
 
Matt Harrison might have been a nice Band-Aid last year, when the Braves rotation was wrecked by injuries.  But scouts and others who have had a chance to watch the soft-spoken left-hander on a regular basis don’t seem to be too high on his future.

Obviously the most consistent knock about the trade centers around the fact that the Braves included a 19-year-old right-hander, who had recorded 28 strikeouts and allowed 18 hits in 27 1/3 innings for their rookie level Danville club that year. 

Two years later, that 19-year-old is now the 21-year-old right-hander that the baseball world knows as  the flame-throwing Neftali Feliz.  Still even with a fastball that has reached 100 mph, Feliz’s future success at the big league level is clouded by the fact that he’s struggled to find consistent command with a secondary pitch. 

Feliz, who has been moved into a relief role with Texas’ Triple-A affiliate, and Andrus still have the potential be superstars at the Major League level. 

But even if they both reach this status, wasn’t it worth taking the gamble on the acquisition of a first baseman, who would hit .295 with 37 homers in the 157 games that you placed him in your lineup.

Forgettable anniversary:  Today marks the one-year anniversary of when Teixeira’s career in Atlanta essentially came to a close.  One year ago today, the Braves blew a five-run lead against the Phillies for a second consecutive day.

With those consecutive losses, Frank Wren faced the reality that his club wasn’t a postseason contender and had to find a club willing to exchange a Major League-ready first baseman for Teixeira.

It’s still hard to believe that the return the Braves gained from the Angels in exchange for Teixeira was limited to Casey Kotchman and Minor League reliever Stephen Marek.

But while hitting .328 with three homers and a .492 slugging percentage in his past 19 games, Kotchman has at least contributed to the offensive awakening the Braves have realized this month.   In the 104 games he’d previously played for the Braves, he’d hit .254 with four homers and a .349 slugging percentage.  

With Kelly Johnson back in the mix and at least showing some indication that he got himself right during his Minor League rehab assignment, Martin Prado’s versatility could prove to be even more important.  

During those days that the Braves are facing a top left-handed pitcher, Bobby Cox could choose to put Prado at first base and give Johnson the opportunity to prolong the success he’s found while facing southpaws during the past two seasons.
 
When asked who has been the most valuable offensive performer for the Braves this month, it’s easy to determine the distinction belongs to Yunel Escobar, who has produced a team-leading four homers, 19 RBIs, .461 on-base percentage and .662 slugging percentage.   His .369 batting average has been bettered only by the .370 mark that Matt Diaz has compiled in 11 fewer at-bats.
 
Chipper Jones (.294) and Nate McLouth (.259) are the only Braves regulars who haven’t hit at least .300 this month.   Still Jones’ 15 RBIs rank as the team’s third-highest total and McLouth is one of five players who have hit three homers.  The others being Jones, Brian McCann, Kotchman and Garret Anderson.  

Braves looking for a reliever

As recently as a week ago, I would have thought there was a chance that Javier Vazquez would me making his final start for the Braves tonight.   

But while winning 14 of their past 20 games and six of eight since the All-Star break, the Braves have at least suspended thoughts of selling Vazquez or Rafael Soriano before next week’s trade deadline.  

Barring an utter collapse during the six games that will precede next Friday’s deadline, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever and explore the limited opportunities to add a bat to their lineup.  

There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from gaining more power potential at first base and their outfield trio.   But while compiling the second most runs in the National League this month, they’ve at least learned that they may already have the pieces that are capable of supporting their strong starting rotation.  

If the Braves do something before the deadline, the best bet is that they’ll add a reliever.  But while looking at a group of available options that include Danys Baez, Takashi Saito, Ron Mahay and John Grabow, it’s apparent that there isn’t much available.  

Still while working with the handicap of not being able to add to their payroll, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever, whose presence could at least create a better opportunity for Peter Moylan and some of their other relievers to stay fresh for the stretch run.

Peter Moylan leads the National League with 53 appearances, Eric O’Flaherty ranks third with 50 and Mike Gonzalez has already garnered 49 appearances, which is five shy of his career-high total posted in 2006, when he missed September while nursing the elbow soreness that likely led to the Tommy John surgery that he underwent the following May.

Because Manny Acosta hasn’t provided full confidence that he can handle some of the late-inning pressure situations, the Braves may need to continue steadily inserting Kris Medlen into their regular bullpen mix.  They also could gain some depth within the next week, when Buddy Carlyle is activated from the disabled list.

Forget what occurred when the Giants scored their four unearned runs while Moylan was on the mound during Thursday’s loss.  If you want to place the blame somewhere, you may want to point it in the direction of Casey Kotchman, whose lackadaisical lob toward first base allowed a sacrifice bunt attempt to equate to an infield single.  

Adam LaRoche made a similar mistake during the 2006 season and was publicly chastised for a couple days.  But that’s neither here nor there.  This was just a longwinded way of pointing out that Moylan has proven to be better since he was given the opportunity to gain some rest during the All-Star break.  

During his four appearances since the break, he’s worked four innings, allowed just two unearned runs, limited opponent to a .200 batting average, recorded five strikeouts and issued no walks.  

While making eight appearances during an 11-day span leading up to the break (July 2-12), Moylan worked 6 2/3 innings, surrendered  11 hits, allowed five earned runs,  issued three walks and registered three strikeouts.

In order to provide Moylan the opportunity to consistently display the promising form he displayed before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves could benefit from at least giving Bobby Cox another arm to call upon during late-inning situations.  

Halladay Watch hits Atlanta area:  The Roy Halladay watch will extend into Gwinnett County tonight, when a Blue Jays scout will watch Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco face the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
 
If the Blue Jays choose not to move Halladay, there’s at least some reason to believe the Braves might be able to get even more for Vazquez from a pitching-hungry club.
 
But as things stand now, it appears Vazquez’s future in Atlanta will be determined during the offseason, when the Braves decide whether they want to keep his $11.5 million cost or exercise  Tim Hudson’s  $12 million option. 
 
There doesn’t seem to be any way that they could keep both of them on next year’s payroll and even less reason to believe the Braves could make room for both by moving Kenshin Kawakami’s contract.

Who is that Wise guy?  If I’ve told this story before, I
apologize.  But with his tremendous catch to preserve Mark Buehrle’s
perfect game on Thursday afternoon, Dewayne Wise produced the reminder
of the first day that I saw him during Spring Training in 2004.  

As we were standing in the middle of the clubhouse just shooting the
breeze with Cox, Wise, a non-roster invitee who had previously been in
the Blue Jays system, approached his new manager to introduce
himself.  

And staying true to his ability to make all of his players feel like
they’re wanted and important, Cox responded with a firm handshake, a
smile and, “Hey I’ve heard a lot about you, it’s great to have you
here.”   

Then as Wise walked away, Cox asked, “Who was that?”

While none of the surrounding reporters knew him at that particular
moment , the entire baseball world certainly now knows about Wise, who
even drew some attention during President Barack Obama’s speech in
Chicago on Thursday.

Wise hit .228 with six homers in 56 games for the Braves in 2004.  His
regular role with Atlanta was diminished when Charles Thomas hit the
scene in late June and proceeded to enjoy his dream season.

Johnson activated and Conrad optioned to Gwinnett

Kelly Johnson regained his swing with Triple-A Gwinnett and he returned to Turner Field on Thursday morning wearing the smile that had been absent at the beginning of this month.  

The Braves have activated Johnson from the 15-day disabled list and optioned Brooks Conrad to Triple-A Gwinnett.  

Johnson, who has been on the disabled list since July 3, is looking forward to serving as a role player for the Braves.  He knows that there will be some days when he’s given an opportunity to spell Martin Prado at second base.

And to prove he’s regained his sense of humor, Johnson said there may
be some days when he chooses to insert some eye drops in Prado’s
coffee  —  Wedding Crashers-style.

“I’m not worried about getting at-bats,” Johnson said. “Playing for Bobby Cox that’s something you never have to worry about.” 

Johnson, who had hit .191 in his previous 39 game before being placed on the disabled list, hit .308 and collected 16 RBIs in 12 games with Gwinnett.  

 

McLouth expects to play on Wednesday

Having never previously experienced the excitement of a chase toward the postseason, Nate McLouth certainly isn’t going to allow a little lower back soreness to prevent him from being a part of the excitement he and his Braves teammates have recently created.  <p>

With a secure lead during Tuesday night’s 8-1 win over the Giants, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to use some precaution by allowing McLouth to rest his back during the final three innings. 

But when reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum toes the rubber for the Giants on Wednesday night, McLouth plans to be the first Braves batter that he faces.  

“I’ll be in there,”  McLouth said. “I’ll be fine.”

McLouth said he felt a twinge in his back during his first-inning at-bat.  As he beat out a fifth-inning infield single, he showed enough discomfort to at least draw a quick visit from Braves manager Bobby Cox.

As he was receiving treatment in the trainer’s room, McLouth said he was thinking about how exciting the past couple of weeks have been.   With a 13-6 run, the Braves have put themselves in a position that the 27-year-old outfielder never experienced during his days with the Pirates.

“It’s been great the past couple of weeks,” McLouth said. “This is a feeling you want to continue.”

With Arizona’s win over Colorado on Tuesday night, the Braves moved to within three games of the lead in the National League Wild Card standings.  They’re tied with the Cubs and looking up at only the Giants and Rockies.

The Giants and Rockies will stage a three-game series against each other at Coors Field this weekend.   

“Right now, we’re playing all-around good baseball,” Brian McCann said. “We’re hitting great, pitching great and our defense has been unbelievable.   It seems like every night our middle infielders are making highlight plays and it’s rubbing off on everybody else.” 

While McCann supplied four RBIs during Tuesday night’s win, the top highlight was provided courtesy of the acrobatic double play turned by Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado.

“Prado made a great play and Esky the same thing,” McCann said. “They work on that during batting practice all the time.  When you put it to work during the game, it’s fun to watch.   I get the best seat in the house.  Both guys made an unbelievable play.” 

After diving to his right to rob Travis Ishikawa of a first-inning RBI single, Prado flipped to Escobar, who vaulted off the second base bag and made an accurate throw to first base that at least in umpire Tim Timmons’ view beat Ishikawa.

“Somebody said he was safe at first,” Prado said. “It was one of those plays where the umpire gives you that. It was a big play in that inning. I saw him coming to the bag and I just flipped it to the base. That’s the only thing I could do. It was  a reaction play. I just flipped it and he was there and he jumped and threw the ball.”

Prado said that Escobar routinely attempts to make these kinds of acrobatic turns during batting practice.

“Escobar is one of those guys in batting practice that wants to practice those kinds of plays,” Prado said. “That happens once in a while. It happened tonight and he was like ‘You see? I told you it would happen.’ We have a great friendship and he’s a great player. He makes us play harder every day.”

When asked where he would rank this turn among the other turns he’s completed during his young career, Escobar responded  “Numero Uno.”

Then with Jair Jurrjens serving as an interpreter, Escobar added, “You practice how you play.”
       
 

Braves may have made all their significant moves

Braves general manager Frank Wren has never been accused of being a procrastinator and with the trade deadline resting a little more than a week away, there’s a chance that he’s already made all of his significant deals.
 
This line of thinking could be altered if the Braves were to struggle during this week’s four-game series against the Giants.  But at the same time, this belief could be strengthened if they were to claim at least three of these four games against the National League Wild Card leaders.
 
Having won 12 of their past 18 games, the Braves entered Monday night’s series opener trailing the Giants by 4 games.   Seeing how the Phillies have become immune to losing since they were swept out of Turner Field earlier this month, the Wild Card race has become much more intriguing from a Braves perspective.
 
There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from another power bat and another veteran reliever.  But as the season’s second half enters its first full week, it’s apparent that the makeup of their roster is much stronger than it was a month ago.

“We like our club the way that we’re situated right now,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We like the balance we have in our lineup.  We’ve liked our pitching really from the beginning.  I think we’re observing and if there are ways to improve, I think we’ll at least look at them.  But right now we like our club.” 

Wren improved two of his three outfield spots with the trades that brought Nate McLouth and Ryan Church to Atlanta.  The left field position has been improved as Garret Anderson has provided the offensive consistency that negates some of the defensive deficiencies that come courtesy of his suspect range.

This month, the Braves lead the National League with a .292 batting average and rank second in both on-base percentage (.366) and runs (84). 

Yes, the Braves are just five of 16 NL teams to have played 16 games so far. But the 5.25 runs they’ve score per game this month, look a whole lot better than the 3.57 runs per game that they scored in June.   In April they scored an average of 4.04 runs per game and in May they improved that mark to 4.66. 

“Up and down our lineup, I think we’re getting more quality at-bats, which we think will translate into more runs and more wins,” Wren said. “(Offense)  has been the area that has held us back.”

If the Braves truly believe they are in the thick of the postseason race, they’ll likely look to keep Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.  As Type A free agents, Soriano and Gonzalez will only be moved for a significant return. 

Of course if they were to fall out of the race, the Braves could utilize each of these hurlers to help them begin building for the 2010 season and beyond. 

While Vazquez could be moved to provide the financial flexibility to gain another bat for the season’s final two months, the Braves are providing more indication that they’d like to keep the impressive right-hander around throughout the remainder of this season and possibly beyond. 

But  it doesn’t appear that they will have the financial resources that would allow them to keep both Vazquez and Tim Hudson around for the 2010 season.  Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Hudson won’t rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25.  

If the Braves continue to win, the most likely candidate that they’d move before the trade deadline would be Kelly Johnson.  But as they found while attempting to deal Jeff Francoeur, there aren’t a lot of clubs lining up to acquire Johnson’s services.  

Johnson’s Minor League rehab assignment expires on Saturday.  So sometime within the next week, the Braves will have to trade him, place him back on the big league roster, or activate him from the disabled list with the intention of optioning him back to Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster. 

With Martin Prado manning the everyday role at second base and Omar Infante just a couple weeks away from being activated from the disabled list, there is limited need for Johnson in Atlanta.
  
Since becoming an everyday member of the lineup on June 30, Prado has hit .400 with two homers, a .458 on-base percentage and a .759 slugging percentage.  The Braves have won 11 of the 17 games played during that span.

“There’s a certain chemistry and feeling that every team has and when you feel like you’ve reached that right balance, you are a little hesitant to make a change,” Wren said.  “I know the guys on this club feel good about this team right now and that’s a positive.  That doesn’t stop you from inquiring and seeing if there are other things that you can do.  But we’ve done quite a bit already.”  

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