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.”