August 2009

Chipper scratched with strained left oblique

Chipper Jones was scratched from Friday night’s game against the Dodgers because of a strained left oblique muscle that he suffered during batting practice.  The Braves third baseman will likely provide more information after the game. 

Jones strained his right oblique muscle while competing in this year’s World Baseball Classic.  After he aggravated the same ailment a few days later and returned to Braves camp, he returned to action within the next week.

Braves new lineup for Friday:

McLouth cf

Prado 3b

Anderson lf

McCann c

LaRoche 1b

Escobar ss

Church rf

Johnson 2b

Jurrjens p


Smoltz will forever be a Brave

This was truly a sad afternoon for the Braves.  While John Smoltz might have spent the past few months wearing a Red Sox uniform, he’s forever a Brave and arguably the most succesful athlete to ever play for one of Atlanta’s professional organizations.

When the Red Sox announced this afternoon that Smoltz had been designated for assignment, Braves general manager Frank Wren didn’t pump his fist or perform a celebratory dance. 

Instead like everybody else who has ever known the veteran hurler, he felt sympathetic to emotional battle that is waging within Smoltz. 

While Wren might have been correct in his assessment that Smoltz’s shoulder would prevent him from being an asset in the Atlanta rotation this year, Smoltz was anything but wrong to accept yet another great challenge in foreign territory.

Smoltz’s days as a starting pitcher are likely complete.  But after he takes some time to mull his options at his Atlanta residence this weekend, there’s a chance he’ll opt to go to the Minors and prepare himself to spend the final weeks of this season as a reliever. 

Smoltz sent me a text earlier this afternoon saying that he’d call later.  If that call doesn’t come until Sunday or Monday, I won’t be surprised.  For the first time since he struggled during the first half of the  1991 season, he’s in a position where he’s wondering if he is still capable of finding success at the Major League level. 

While I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that Smoltz would sign with the Braves and attempt to regain his form with Triple-A Gwinnett, I think it’s much safer to assume that he’ll return to the Red Sox and spend the next couple of weeks attempting to right himself with their Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket.

Right now, Smoltz doesn’t even know for certain whether he’d be capable of coming out of the bullpen as few as  three times in a week.  This is a question that can only be answered by him going to the Minors and testing the strength and durability of his shoulder.

The Red Sox seem to be open to this arrangement and the ever-competitive Smoltz would seemingly welcome the ability to accept yet another challenge. 

But if this was indeed the end of Smoltz days on the mound, Braves fans can shed a tear for one of their legends and then celebrate the fact that he at least now will be returning home with the opportunity to be a part of their organization for the rest of his life.

There’s no doubt that Smoltz has some hard feelings toward the Braves organization.  But hopefully his relationships with members of the club’s upper management can be mended qhick enough for him and Tom Glavine to soon have the opportunity to experience the same kind of joy that Greg Maddux found a few weeks ago,  when his Braves career was celebrated at Turner Field.   

Minor has signed’s Jonathan Mayo has learned the Mike Minor has officially signed with the Braves and will now receive his  $2.42 million signing bonus. 

When the Braves make this official, we’ll learn more about the immediate plans for the 21-year-old left-hander, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in this year’s First-Year Player Draft

Today’s Odds and Ends

Tim Hudson was thinking about throwing a bullpen session today.  But pitching coach Roger McDowell said that the right-hander has decided to push this session back a few more days because he’s still feeling some discomfort around the left groin muscle that he strained last Friday. 

Ryan Church said that he didn’t have any problems with his right elbow while recording two hits during Wednesday’s win over the Padres.  Church had missed the previous six games while allowing his hyper-extended elbow to heal.  During that span, he received a total of three cortisone shots. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem anymore,” Church said.

Omar Infante went 1-for-3 during his first two Minor League rehab games with Class A Rome this week.  While that is encouraging, Braves manager Bobby Cox indicated that Infante needs at least one more week and possibly longer to get reacclimated to the speed of the game.  The veteran utility player has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand.

Buddy Carlyle will be activated from the disabled list on Friday and optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to get some more innings over the next week or so.  The Braves haven’t set a timetable for the right-handed reliever’s  return to the Atlanta bullpen.

Singles jackpot: When the Braves recorded 14 singles in Wednesday’s win, it marked the first time since Aug. 19, 1993 that they had at least 14 hits in a game without an extra-base hit.   The Braves lost that game against the Dodgers.

The most recent 14-hit performance without a extra-base hit in a win had occurred on June 23, 1986, a game also played against the Dodgers.

Tonight’s Lineup:
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Garret Anderson 7
Matt Diaz 9
Adam LaRoche 3
Derek Lowe 1 

Time for the Braves to experience a prolonged winning streak

When I arrived at my Pasadena hotel this afternoon, I clicked on and had to laugh when I saw the image used to lead into the story about this weekend’s four-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox.
Standing in the middle of this image was John Smoltz, who while opposing Joba Chamberlain during tonight’s series opener, is going to have a chance to set the tone for what occurs over the next four days in the Bronx.
Nevertheless, it’s still quite odd to see Smoltz wearing that Red Sox uniform and suddently standing as one of the key figures in what is undoubtedly the game’s top rivalry.
Sure, you have the Cubs-Cardinals and the Dodgers-Giants.  The Interleague era has obviously allowed intrigue to follow some of the matchups between the Mets-Yankees.   But nothing beats the anticipation of what precedes those four-hour, epic affairs the Yankees and Red Sox are seemingly destined to encounter every time they oppose each other. 

With the Dodgers having to travel to San Francisco on Monday to begin a three-game series against the second-place Giants, can the Braves hope that Manny Ramirez and his mates will look beyond this weekend’s four-game series at Dodger Stadium?  Or did I simply spend too much time reading college football magazines on this morning’s cross-country flight?

Seriously though, while the Dodgers still own the best record in the Majors, they are currently in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season.  They’ve lost eight of their last 13 games and unfortunately for the Braves, two of the five wins notched during that stretch occurred last weekend at Turner Field. 

While splitting their first 20 games since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have experienced the same rollercoaster journey that has followed the Braves, who have won 16 of their past 26 games?   Or is it more timely to say that they’ve lost five of their past nine? 

Whichever way you want to view it, with 54 games left this season, the Braves can’t afford to experience any more extended stretches of mediocrity.  They’ll enter tonight’s series opener five games back in the Wild Card race with three teams in front of them (Giants, Rockies and the tied NL Central combo of the Cards/Cubs).  As for the Marlins, their 55-53 record is identical to Atlanta’s. 

The Braves have 13 games remaining against the Marlins and three against the Cardinals.   While they’re done playing the Giants and Rockies, they can hope that these two NL West rivals beat each other up in their remaining division contests.   The same line of thinking can be used when thinking about the Cubs and Cards, who are lining up produce a great battle to win the NL Central.

 There’s hope if the Braves win the games they’re supposed to against the likes of the Nationals and Padres.  But at the same time, they’ve put themselves in a position where they need to also find success against the game’s elite.

With pitching matchups of Derek Lowe vs. Randy Wolf, Jair Jurrjens vs. Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw vs. Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, the Braves certainly have a chance to win at least three of the four games played this weekend. 

Lowe beat Wolf last weekend.  Jurrjens pitched effectively before experiencing his forgettable two-out struggles during last Sunday’s loss to Billingsley.  I’ll take Vazquez against most any other Major League pitcher right now. 

And once again, we’re looking at Kawakami’s start as the one that draws doubt.    The Braves have lost each of the past four games started by the 34-year-old Japanese right-hander.  Those four losses account for half of the total they’ve compiled in 20 games since the All-Star break. 

Minor’s bonus:  As I write this Mike Minor is likely dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” to secure the $2.42 million signing bonus the Braves have offered him.    This is the highest bonus ever given to a player selected seventh in the Draft and the largest one in the organization’s history.
But at the same time, it’s a cost the Braves knew they were going to incur while provided their highest Draft selection since 1990.
While it would have been nice to get Minor into the system as early as possible, the fact that he was able to rest his left arm most of this summer could also prove to be beneficial.  The 21-year-old southpaw completed 110 2/3 innings for Vanderbilt this year and spent last summer pitching for Team USA.
If Minor proves to be a quick climber, there’s a chance he could move into the back end of the Braves rotation some time during the 2011 season.   Lowe will be in the final year of his contract and if they follow their current path, Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson will form a formidable 1-2 punch at the front-end of the rotation.  

Traveling to the park in style

buck commander.jpg

If you saw the Buck Commander bus heading toward Turner Field early Saturday afternoon,  there’s a chance you saw all of the bearded men pictured on the side and simply assumed that you’d just seen ZZ Top’s new tour bus.  
But I’m going to have to guess that there weren’t too many of you, who realized that Chipper Jones was on board and simply allowing his good friend and business partner Willie Robertson to give him a lift to the park
Robertson, who was in Atlanta this weekend for a hunting-related convention, is the founder and president of the Buck Commander company that is financially supported by a handful of Major Leaguers, including Jones and Adam LaRoche.
After making his debut with the Braves during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Dodgers, LaRoche jokingly said that he was going to spend the next two months living in the bus and keep it parked in Jones’ driveway.
When told of LaRoche’s plan, Jones provided his best Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson impersonation by simply raising his eyebrow.
Still LaRoche was given the opportunity to drive the bus back to Jones’ residence on Saturday night and in the process, he thinks there’s a chance that he might have caused Jones’ wife, Sharon, some aggravation.
“I think I ran over some of Sharon’s plants or flowers  pulling it in there,” LaRoche said.

Escobar update:  While taking batting practice in the indoor cage this afternoon, Yunel Escobar had some trouble getting his bat around on the inside fastball.  The swelling around his right wrist has subsided.  But he likely won’t know if he’ll be able to play during Monday’s series opener in San Diego, until he has the opportunity to take some swings and make some throws during the afternoon hours.  <p>
Hudson update:  Because he believes there’s a chance he could resume his Minor League rehab assignment next weekend, Tim Hudson won’t accompany the Braves on their trip to Southern California.  Instead, he’ll stay in Atlanta and continue to rehab the mild left groin strain that he suffered before Friday’s schedule rehab start.  
Hudson remains hopeful that this ailment won’t prevent him from rejoining the Atlanta rotation some time this month.

Norton’s rainbow:  While Greg Norton was certainly due to record pinch hits on both Friday and Saturday, there wouldn’t have been much reason to believe this would be the time he’d break out of this slump if you would have seen the multi-colored bruise he gained on his calf courtesy of a foul tip on Thursday night.
Initially Norton didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t really realize any swelling until the Braves charter flight left Ft. Lauderdale and was en route to Atlanta.   The Braves medical staff drained some of the blood out of his calf on Saturday and the veteran pinch hitter has spent the past couple days limping around with his leg heavily wrapped.
The bruise extends from ankle to knee and I’d detail some of the colors present if I’d actually seen them before.   Believe me when I say it’s harder to look at Norton’s calf than it was to watch Jeff Bennett attempt to keep inherited runners from scoring.
Minor League Rehab stints:
  Both Omar Infante and Buddy Carlyle will play for Class A Rome on Tuesday night.  Carlyle, who believes he could return to the Atlanta bullpen soon, will pitch the first two innings.  This will mark the beginning of a Minor League rehab assignment for Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand.  

LaRoche has arrived

After enduring quite a wacky travel experience, Adam LaRoche finally arrived at Turner Field at 2:55 p.m. ET or 65 minutes before he prepared to play first base and bat sixth against the Dodgers. 

Carrying a Boston Red Sox bag and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, LaRoche walked into the Braves clubhouse and immediately started receiving playful jabs from his teammates and coaches. 

Chipper Jones came around the corner and greeted his close friend with, “I can deal with the frayed jeans, but a t-shirt?   Then the veteran first baseman added, “You spend five whole days and they give you a bag?” 

After he was traded by the Pirates to Boston on July 22, LaRoche played six games with the Red Sox and then learned on Friday afternoon that he’d been dealt back to the Braves, who had employed him for his first three Major League seasons (2004-2006). 

“Does this mean we all get free deer now,” Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said while playfully making reference to LaRoche’s passion for hunting.  

After hitting a career-high 32 homers in 2006, LaRoche was dealt to the Pirates in exchange for Mike Gonzalez. 

When Gonzalez greeted LaRoche with a handshake and man hug, the first baseman smiled and said, “I never thought we’d be together.” 

When LaRoche learned of this latest trade, his plan was to fly from Baltimore to Boston to quickly pack a few items in his truck and then fly to Atlanta this morning. 

His travel problems began when his 8 p.m. ET flight out of Baltimore was delayed for three hours.  They were prolonged this morning, when the bomb scare at New York’s LaGuardia Airport caused his flight out of Boston to be delayed. 

But LaRoche eventually arrived at Turner Field and donned the No. 22 jersey that had been previously worn by Casey Kotchman, whom the Braves traded to the Red Sox in exchange for LaRoche.

Barbaro Canizares was optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett to create a roster space for LaRoche. 

Nate McLouth 8
Martin Pado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Garret Anderson 7
Matt Diaz 9
Adam LaRoche 3
David Ross 2
Diory Hernandez 6
Derek Lowe 1

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