Braves getting healthy as Opening Day approaches
Jason Heyward said that he hopes to return to action tomorrow and Craig Kimbrel now knows that he will begin the upcoming season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer.
As the Braves prepare to oppose CC Sabathia and the Yankees this afternoon, you can devour these mostly injury-related tidbits that were gathered during batting practice.
While Yunel Escobar’s back was healthy enough for him to return to return to today’s lineup, the Braves are going to give Heyward at least one more day to rest the shin splints that began bothering him on Sunday.
When I spoke with Heyward this morning he said, “I hope to play tomorrow.” But the 20-year-old outfielder added, “I know this is something that isn’t just going to go away immediately.”
While Bobby Cox said that there’s a chance Heyward might play tomorrow against the Astros, his tone provided indication that he might wait until at least Thursday before putting his 20-year-old phenom back in the lineup.
Having already compiled 49 at-bats during the Grapefruit League season, Heyward has made all of his necessary preparations for the season. Even if he rests for another day or two, he’ll still be able to get his timing back while playing the final games of the exhibition season.
Heyward took batting practice this morning and provided further indication that there isn’t any reason to think he won’t be ready for Monday afternoon’s Opening Day game against the Cubs.
Backup catcher David Ross still seems confident that he will be available on Opening Day. But Ross, who also experienced a pain-free batting practice session this morning, will spend the next couple of days testing the strength of the right groin muscle that he strained on Thursday.
Ross’ concerns were further diminished this morning, when he was able to run sprints and do striders without feeling any discomfort.
As for Jordan Schafer, he has recently started taking live batting practice and believes he could join the Gwinnett roster at the end of April. The 23-year-old center fielder said that he’s been able to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand and is no longer bothered by the fatigue that it presented earlier this year.
Kimbrel impresses: With 14 career appearances above the Class A level, Kimbrel arrived in camp as a long shot to win a bullpen spot. But the 21-year-old right-hander certainly made a strong impression before learning this morning that he will begin the season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer.
Based on what he saw, Cox said that Kimbrel already has the stuff to be a successful pitcher at the big league level. But the Braves want him to continue improving his command through the regular work that he wouldn’t receive if he began the season in the Atlanta bullpen.
Kimbrel will remain with the big league club this week and will likely make an appearance during one of the exhibition games played against the White Sox this weekend.
First time for everything: Having been involved in professional baseball since arriving in Dodgers Minor League camp in 1960, Cox has seen plenty of oddities the game can present But when the Yankees send Pat Venditte to the mound this afternoon, the Braves manager will see an ambidextrous pitcher for the first time.
Venditte pitched for the Venezuelan Winter League team managed by Eddie Perez this past winter. Perez said the young Minor Leaguer has good stuff from both sides of the plate, but is especially effective against left-handed hitters.
You can watch today’s game on MLB.TV and CSS. Brian Jordan and Mike Morgan will serve as the broadcasters.