Infante returns to face red-hot Nationals
Coming off a weekend during which Kris Medlen was one of the many players that proved to be huge at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are back at Turner Field to host the red-hot Nationals.
Do I get any kind of bonus Scrabble points for describing Medlen as huge and the Nationals as red-hot in the same sentence?
During my nine seasons on this beat, I’d have to say this past weekend’s four-game set in Los Angeles was one of the best series that I’ve witnessed. How many times do you see a team bounce back from a potentially demoralizing walk-off loss with consecutive extra-inning victories and then end up taking three of four against a team that entered the series possessing the best record in the Majors?
While their pitching staff has been weakened by injuries, the Dodgers still are one of the National League’s elite teams and this weekend, the Braves proved to themselves and everybody else that they have the potential to work their way into that same category.
But everything that was accomplished in Los Angeles will go to waste if the Braves aren’t able to prolong this successful run against the Nationals, who have posted a 3.88 ERA and compiled a .322 batting average during the eight-game winning streak that they carry into tonight’s series opener.
The Braves have lost 16 of their past 27 games against the Nationals and they realize that taking care of business during these next two days would put themselves in great position this weekend, when they welcome the Phillies to town and have the opportunity to directly affect how things look at the top of the NL East standings.
Chipper Jones seemingly understands the importance of these two games. When he arrived at his locker before Tuesday’s batting practice he was told that his name wasn’t in tonight’s lineup.
“It’s not in there?” Jones said. “Excuse me a second.”
A few minutes later after having a brief discussion with Bobby Cox, Jones returned and said that he was back in the lineup.
Jones strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice and was absent while the Braves won three straight against the Dodgers. The ailment bothered him while he was in Los Angeles, but when he awoke on Tuesday he felt no discomfort and was determined to play.
“If I can play at all right now, I’m going to play,” Jones said.
Jones’ return to the lineup led the Braves to shift Omar Infante from third base to second base. Martin Prado was positioned at first base because Cox opted to sit LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.
Since joining the Braves LaRoche has five hits in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. But he’s batting just .171 (7-for-41) against them since July 1 and is hitless in six career at-bats against Lannan.
When the Braves activated Infante from the disabled list, they optioned Diory Hernandez to Triple-A Gwinnett. With Infante’s presence, the Braves no longer needed to keep Hernandez around to serve as Yunel Esobar’s backup.
While Greg Norton has hit just .138 this year and .087 (4-for-46) from the left side of the plate, it still seemingly made more sense to keep him around with the hope that he’ll turn things around. It’s not as if Hernandez gave the Braves reason to believe he could be a valuable right-handed bat off the bench. He’d hit just .143 in the 42 at-bats he’d compiled dating back to June 28.
It was somewhat concerning to see Nate McLouth return to the bench during Tuesday’s batting practice and tell Bobby Cox that he was still feeling some discomfort in the same left hamstring that sidelined him for a week earlier this year.
McLouth, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday’s 10th inning, said he really doesn’t feel any discomfort until he attempts to push off while attempting to run down a fly ball.
Given McLouth’s blue-collar, win-at-all-costs approach to the game, it’s definitely in his best interest to wait a few more days before returning to regular action. If he were to push himself attempting to score from second base or while running into one of the outfield gaps, he could incur an injury that would certainly handicap the Braves during this stretch run.