What was supposed to be a day off after what had been a long grind in the Minors turned into a day that Reid Gorecki will never forget.
After catching the ceremonial first pitch for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves on Monday afternoon, Gorecki found himself summoned into manager Dave Brundage’s office, where he was told that he had less than two hours to pack his bags and arrive at Turner Field to enjoy his first day as a Major Leaguer.
“This is a dream come true right here,” said Gorecki, a Long Island native who will have the opportunity to reunite with friends and family members while the Braves spend the next three days playing against the Mets at Citi Field.
When the Braves decided they needed to place Nate McLouth on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring, they immediately placed a call to Gwinnett. Gorecki received word around 1:40 p.m. ET and then made the short trip down I-85 quick enough to arrive at Turner Field at approximately 3 p.m., one hour before Tommy Hanson threw his first pitch against the D-backs.
“I was trying to stay as close to the speed limit as possible, but excitement took over a little bit,” said Gorecki, who had packed his suitcase on Monday morning with the thought that he’d be spending the next couple of days in Norfolk, Va.
After arriving at The Ted and getting a quick introduction to the Major League setting, Gorecki was once again selected to catch the ceremonial first pitch.
Two ceremonial first pitches within a span of approximately two hours at two different stadiums on the same day of a Major League debut . That’s a first that the Elias Sports Bureau likely could never verify.
Gorecki’s day became even more meaningful when the Braves inserted him into Thursday’s game in the top of the eighth inning. While he didn’t record a plate appearance, he did record an out with a ninth-inning catch.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Gorecki said. ” I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It felt good just to get out there, even just to catch a pop-up. That’s all I needed to get my feet wet…I hope.”
Gorecki, who hit .286 with nine homers and 14 stolen bases in 106 games with Gwinnett this year, will serve as Ryan Church’s backup while McLouth is on the disabled list. The 28-year-old right-handed hitter could find himself in the starting lineup if an opposing team is starting a tough left-handed pitcher.
“I’m just going to wait for my opportunity,” Gorecki said. “If something comes my way, I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
The Braves have placed Nate McLouth on the 15-day disabled list and purchased Reid Gorecki’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Gorecki received word around 2 p.m. ET on Monday and immediately packed his bags in an attempt to join the Braves in time for their 4 p.m. makeup game against the Diamondbacks at Turner Field.
McLouth experienced some more discomfort while testing his strained left hamstring on Monday morning. The 28-year-old center fielder strained the hamstring on Aug. 8 and then noticeably favored his left leg when he returned and attempted to play against the Phillies on Friday and Saturday.
With Martin Prado limited to pinch-hit duties until he determines what caused the dizziness and headaches he experienced this past weekend, the Braves were going to be severely short-handed if they’d waited a few more days to see if McLouth’s hamstring improved.
Gorecki has hit .286 with nine homers and 14 stolen bases in 106 games with Gwinnett this year. The 28-year-old outfielder has never previously played in the Majors.
While claiming a 4-3 walk-off win over the Phillies at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, the Braves lost Nate McLouth to a nagging hamstring injury that could sideline him for more than just a couple of days.
McLouth strained his left hamstring on Aug. 8 at Dodger Stadium and still seemed to be favoring it when he returned to the Braves lineup on Friday night. After doing so again on Saturday, the Braves decided it would be best to give him some further rest.
“We’re not going to disable him,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But it sure slowed him down. It was very noticeable even more than last night. He’s a center fielder and he’s limping. You’ve got to face the facts. But we’ll wait three or four days.”
If the Braves are forced to place McLouth on the disabled list, they’ll utilize Ryan Church in center field. While Church has proven to be a sound defender, he’s not capable of providing the speed that McLouth has provided the Braves since they acquired him in a June 3 trade with the Pirates.
“We’d miss him,” Matt Diaz said. “He’s a big reason for the turnaround we’ve had this year. When we traded for him, he changed our offense. He’s a big part of our team. Hopefully, he’s fine.”
McLouth was removed after drawing a fifth-inning walk just before Martin Prado took a swing that forced him to feel light-headed and dizzy.
Prado was removed before the start of the next half inning with what the Braves termed “heat-related symptoms.” The Braves second baseman said that he simply didn’t drink enough water before the game and became dizzy after consuming an energy drink. <p>
While he still had a headache while talking to the media after the game, Prado said he’ll be ready to play during Sunday night’s series finale against the Phillies.
Mike Gonzalez was ready and somewhat expecting to pitch the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Phillies. He knew the situation would allow him to begin the inning against two left-handed batters and was also cognizant of the fact that Rafael Soriano had been battling some discomfort behind his right shoulder.
But after Gonzalez prolonged his recent success with an impressive eighth-inning escape act, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to stick by the book and insert his closer into the ninth inning of a tie game at home.
Four pitches later, Ryan Howard prolonged Soriano’s recent struggles against left-handed hitters with a game-winning leadoff homer.
When Soriano arrived at Turner Field on Saturday, he admitted that he’s been feeling some muscular discomfort behind his right shoulder. But the once-dominant closer wasn’t willing to use this ailment as an excuse to explain the fact that he’s now allowed three game-winning homers over the course of his past eight starts.
“He’s just tired,” Gonzalez said. “He’s been used a lot. I know how Soriano works and I think these couple of days are going to be great for him.”
The Braves wouldn’t say that Soriano wasn’t available for Saturday afternoon’s game. As for the right-handed reliever, when asked about his availability, he said that he thought he could pitch again as soon as Sunday.
Soriano was pitching on Friday night with five days rest. After he felt some fatigue after pitching for a fourth straight day last Saturday night in Los Angeles, he asked the Braves not to make him available during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games against the Nationals.
“He’s throwing 95 (mph) with every pitch,” said Cox in reference to Soriano, who did hit at least 94 with each of the five four-seam fastballs he threw during Friday’s ninth inning.
While he may have possessed his ability to maximize the velocity of his fastball, Soriano is still looking to regain the success he’d possessed while limiting left-handed hitters to a .179 batting average and zero homers before the All-Star break.
Since the break left-handed hitters have hit .435 (10-for-23) against Soriano and accounted for each of the game-winning homers that he’s surrendered. As for right-handed hitters, they have gone hitless in the 18 at-bats they’ve recorded against the stone-faced right-hander since the break.
“When he’s on, nobody hits against him,” Gonzalez said.
With the Phillies sending two left-handed hitters (Howard and Ibanez) to the plate to begin the ninth inning, Gonzalez admits he was among those who wondered if he’d be given a chance to make his third multi-inning appearance of the season. He hasn’t allowed a run during the previous two he’s completed this year.
“I was definitely ready to go and in that situation, I kind of thought that also,” Gonzalez said after being told many fans questioned why he wasn’t used. “But then again, it was the ninth inning and you know you’ve got to put your closer in there.
“I would have totally understood (going two innings) it if would have given Soriano another day. Another day is huge. I would have sacrificed two innings yesterday and then come back today to see how I felt.”
Howard, who has hit .193 and accounted for just three of his 28 homers against left-handed pitchers this year, took advantage of Cox’s decision to go with Soriano. The Phillies first baseman is now hitting .311 against right-handed pitchers.
Since July 1, Howard has hit .150 (6-for-40) with zero homers against left-handed pitchers and .337 with eight homers against right-handed pitchers.
Meanwhile Gonzalez has limited left-handed hitters to a .159 (7-for-44) batting average and just two extra-base hits (two doubles) since June 1.
Soriano rebounded from Howard’s homer by striking out the next three batters he faced, including Ibanez, a left-handed threat, who is hitting .289 with 17 homers against right-handed pitchers this year. But by then, the damage had already been done.
“(Soriano) didn’t have any trouble against Ibanez and he’s a much better hitter than most lefties,” Cox said.
Nothing will be won. Something could be gained and a lot could be lost.
This seems to be the easiest way to break down the consequences entering this weekend’s key series against the Phillies.
If the Braves can take two of three from the Phillies this weekend, they’ll trail the defending world champs by four games in the National League East and also prolong the momentum they’ve gained while winning seven of their previous eight games.
Obviously sweeping the Phillies for the second time in a little more than a month at The Ted would truly increase the intrigue of the National League East race, within which the Braves would be just two games away from the top spot.
But if the Braves were to be swept and suddenly find themselves eight games back, it will be time for us once again to solely focus on the Wild Card race.
While winning seven of the first nine games they’ve played against the Phillies this year, the Braves starters have gone 5-1 with a 2.38 ERA. That’s more than a full run better than the ERA they’ve compiled against any of their other NL East opponents — Nationals (3.41 Mets (3.79), Marlins (5.74).
During these nine games against the Phillies, the Braves starters have allowed two earned runs or less seven times. The only game during which one of their starters allowed more than three runs against the potent Philadelphia offense occurred on May 8, when Jo-Jo Reyes was charged with four earned runs.
With Jair Jurrjens opposing Joe Blanton in tonight’s series opener, the advantage seemingly has to go to the Braves.
Blanton is 0-1 with an 8.74 ERA in three starts against the Braves. . Blanton surrendered 13 earned runs in his first 12 innings against Atlanta this year and then realized some improvement on June 30, when he was charged three earned runs and eight hits in five innings.
As for Jurrjens, when he last faced the Phillies on July 30, he allowed one hit over seven scoreless innings and that lone hit he surrendered was Paul Bako’s soft single to right with two outs in the seventh.
This dominant effort wasn’t exactly anything new for Jurrjens, who has blanked the Phillies during three of his six career starts against them. During his two outings against them this year, he has worked 12 1/3 scoreless innings.
All you loyal readers who have been reading this blog dating back to Spring Training should understand when I say that this seems to be a perfect spot to indicate there is no reason to believe that the law of averages won’t sneak up and bite Jurrjens tonight during this series opener.
Looking at the stats, it’s not hard to figure out how the Braves have found so much success against the Phillies this year. They’ve limited Jimmy Rollins to a .100 batting average (4-for-40) and a .143 on-base percentage. As for Shane Victorino, he has hit just .132 with a .195 on-base percentage against Atlanta this year.
And the always-dangerous Ryan Howard has gone homerless in his first 36 at-bats against the Braves this year. Entering this season, Howard had homered once every 9.75 at-bats against Bobby Cox’s club.
Since being swept out of Atlanta on July 2, the Phillies have gone 25-11, compiled a .263 batting average and hit 50 homers. They have averaged 5.47 runs per game during this span.
During this same span, the Braves have gone 22-14, compiled a .279 batting average and hit 41 homers. They’ve averaged 5.05 runs per game and managed to fall one-half game further behind the Phillies during this 36-game stretch.
There won’t be any need for the Braves to do any scoreboard watching this weekend. For the first time since 2005, it truly feels like a key series will be staged at Turner Field and by the time Sunday night concludes the city of Atlanta will have a much better idea about whether there’s truly a reason for them to believe the NL East title is a realistic possibility this year.
While discussing the different feeling that has existed in the Braves clubhouse over the course of the past few weeks, Derek Lowe said, “We believe that we’re going to win every day instead of just hoping that we’re going to win.”
During the first three months of this season, Lowe and the rest of the Braves rotation simply hoped that the offense could manufacture enough to support their efforts on the mound. But over the course of the past month, they’ve had the opportunity to toe the rubber with the confidence that their efforts won’t be wasted by a slumbering offense.
While there’s no disputing just how important it was for the Braves to take the three of four from the Dodgers this past weekend, it might be more appropriate to say that this season’s turning point actually occurred with the 2-1 win at Wrigley Field on July 7.
Coming off of three consecutive losses that had killed the momentum they’d gained by sweeping the Phillies the previous week, the Braves gained that one-run victory with a pair of RBIs from Brian McCann and Javier Vazquez’s ability to outduel Carlos Zambrano.
Dating back to that July 7 game, the Braves have hit .277 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .440 slugging percentage and 34 homers (1.10 per game). In the process of going 20-11 during this stretch, they have hit .302 with runners in scoring position.
In the 82 games they played leading up to that date, they’d hit .261 with a .331 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage and 66 homers (.80 per game). During this 39-43 stretch, they hit .266 with runners in scoring position.
Obviously the biggest difference in these stretches comes from the fact that they’re now generating homers and clutch hits with much more frequency.
During those first 82 games, Yunel Escobar hit .408 (31-fo-76) with runners in scoring position and over the course of the past 31 games, the talented shortstop has hit .450 (9-for-20) in these situations.
That rough early stretch was hindered by the fact that Kelly Johnson hit just .188 (9-for-48) with runners in scoring position before experiencing his Minor League stint. Since unseating Johnson at second base and becoming an everyday member of the lineup, Martin Prado has hit .370 (17-for-46) with runners in scoring position.
Jordan Schafer also obviously hindered the offense during the first two months in numerous ways, including the fact that he recorded just five hits in his 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Jeff Francoeur actually hit .250 with runners in scoring position during the season’s first 82 games. Still while that stat looks good compared to the .192 mark he compiled last year, it’s not the one you want to see generated from a guy who had 12 more at-bats in that situation than any of your other players during that span.
Since joining the Mets, Francoeur has hit .314 with runners in scoring position. But this is just one of the many of his statistics that look better than the ones he compiled in Atlanta.
In his first 33 games with the Mets, Francouer has hit .303 with five homers (equal to the mark he compiled in 82 games with the Braves) 20 RBIs and a .820 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
Still like Francoeur has proven to be better off away from the undue stress he placed upon himself in Atlanta, the Braves are certainly better in right field without his presence.
In the 85 games they played with Francoeur primarily in the lineup on a daily basis, the Braves saw their right fielders hit .255 with a .286 on-base percentage, a .355 slugging percentage, five homers and 37 RBIs.
In the 28 games that Matt Diaz and Ryan Church have shared the position, the Braves right fielders have hit .257 with a .348 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage, three homers and 15 RBIs.
There’s not a drastic difference in these numbers. But the improved on-base percentage has provided a greater flow to a lineup that has obviously been upgraded since those days when Schafer and Johnson were providing daily frustration.
McLouth update: Nate McLouth felt better while chasing down some fly balls during Wednesday’s batting practice and vowed that he’ll definitely be in the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Phillies.
McLouth was excited to tell me that he got a shipment of Michigan gear today and that Derek Lowe, another Wolverines fan, immediately dug into the box and dressed himself from head to toe in maize and blue.
It’s certainly nice to talk to somebody else that’s excited about the start of the college football season. But I guess McLouth forgot my feelings about Rich Rodriguez are on par with the way many of you feel about Bill Hohn.
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.
Tim Hudson tested his groin with a side session and some defensive drills on Monday night and came away confident that he’ll be able to make his scheduled rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night.
“It felt pretty good,” Hudson said. “I’m confident I can get my five innings in on Thursday with no problem.” <p>
Hudson is scheduled to pitch five innings during his next two rehab starts and then will likely make two more six-inning appearances before returning to the Majors after the rosters are expanded in September.
While there’s a chance the Braves would choose to use Hudson as a reliever, they’ll continue to stretch him out with the mindset that he’ll fit somewhere in a rotation that currently is filled with five healthy and effective pitchers.
Monday marked the first time that Hudson had thrown off a mound since straining his groin before his scheduled rehab start on July 31.
“Arm-wise and throwing- wise I think I’m pretty close,” Hudson said. “I just need to get used to getting used to pitching at game speed again.” <p>
When I got downstairs after last night’s game, one of the female Japanese reporters looked at me with one of those sarcastic smiles. Confident that I didn’t have a “kick me” poster sitting on my back, I simply responded with a “yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Seeing no reason to end a good thing, I don’t see any reason for me to allow one of the guttiest and impressive pitching performances provided by a Braves pitcher this year to stop me from casting doubt in Kenshin Kawakami’s direction.
I mean it’s not like that Dodgers lineup that he dominated for seven innings on Saturday night even leads the Los Angeles area in batting average. Last time I checked they rank second in the Majors in that category behind the mighty Angels.
Nor is it like he’s even been able to match the 3.38 ERA that the heralded Jair Jurrjens has posted since the start of May. But I guess I will at least concede that the 3.46 ERA that Kawakami has posted during this span is at least better than the 4.42 ERA that Derek Lowe has compiled.
And seriously isn’t it still easier to put more faith in the surgically-repaired right elbow of Tim Hudson than it is that fatigued one that allowed Kawakami to end his 125-pitch effort with consecutive strikeouts with the bases loaded last night?
While I’ll attempt to continue to help Kawakami by continuing to doubt him, I’m going to have to end this sarcastic rant to provide you some news.
Hudson will throw a bullpen session on Monday and if all goes well, he’ll resume his Minor League rehab assignment by starting for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night.
As things currently stand, I would have to think Hudson likely won’t return to the Major League roster until it expands in September. At that time, the Braves will have to decide whether there’s a logical place for him in there rotation.
Before Saturday night, the logical assumption was that Hudson would simply replace Kawakami. But as long as the Japanese hurler is able to overcome his troublesome right shoulder every five days, can you really take him out of the rotation and replace him with somebody who hasn’t faced Major Leaguers for more than a year.
The Braves will say, “these things always work themselves out” and they often do. But for now, you have to at least wonder if the best course of action is to get Hudson stretched out to serve as a starter and then allow him to fortify the bullpen if there isn’t a logical spot to place him in the rotation.
McLouth sits during finale: While chasing down a seemingly uncatchable ball in right-centerfield during Saturday’s 10th inning, Nate McLouth tweaked his right hamstring. Thus Ryan Church made his second straight start in center field during Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium.
McLouth and Chipper Jones (strained left oblique) will both be evaluated when the Braves resume play at Turner Field on Tuesday.
Infante could return Tuesday: Braves manager Bobby Cox indicated that Omar Infante could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand, has spent the past week playing for Class A Rome.
Happy Birthday Heyward: Early indications show that Jason Heyward isn’t nearly as good as he was when he was a teenager. As I write this sentence, he’s gone hitless in his first four at-bats for Double-A Mississippi. This obviously isn’t the way the top prospect envisioned celebrating his 20th birthday.
In the 30 games he’d played for Mississippi entering Sunday, Heyward had hit .422 with five homers, a .504 on-base percentage and a .725 slugging percentage.
When told of these numbers, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said, “Is that all?”
Braves general manager Frank Wren spent the past few days watching Heyward and likely gaining a better sense about when it might be best to promote highly-regarded prospect to Gwinnett.
When he arrived at Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon to prepare to face the potent Dodgers lineup, Kenshin Kawakami could have taken one look at his lineup and wondered if he was back at Spring Training.
Already without Chipper Jones, who will need at least a few more days to allow his strained left oblique muscle to heal, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to give both Brian McCann and Nate McLouth a chance to rest on a night when Clayton Kershaw could have put their left-handed swings to sleep.
Heading into Saturday night’s start agaisnt the Braves, Kershaw had limited left-handed batters to a .174 batting average and .252 on-base percentage. Thus manager Bobby Cox opted to fill his lineup with as many right-handed hitters as possible and put both McCann and McLouth in position to bring their left-handed bats off the bench.
Filling in for McLouth, Ryan Church was given his first opportunity to start in center field for the Braves. McCann was obviously replaced with his dependable backup David Ross, who has actually hit right-handed pitchers better (.311 batting averge in 61 at-bats) than he has left-handers (.229 in 35 at-bats).
Entering this season, McCann had hit .282 in 465 career at-bats against left-handed pitchers and .303 in 1,167 at-bats against right-handers. This year there has been a much greater discrpency between this splits for the All-Star catcher.
McCann has hit .336 with 11 homers and a 1.020 OPS in 214 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year. But in 106 at-bats against left-handers, he has hit .189 with one homer and a .511 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
Jones, who strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice, said that he didn’t feel any discomfort while simply walking around on Saturday. But the ailment is still bothering whenever he attempts to move side-to-side.
While there’s still a chance the Jones might return to the lineup on Tuesday, he likely won’t truly know his status until he arrives at Turner Field that day to prepare for the series opener against the Nationals.