March 2010

The Grim Reaper destroys another vehicle

Welcome back to the world of ESPN where sports reign and vehicles become sitting ducks when Jason Heyward takes batting practice. 

Once again proving that he presents a greater danger to automobiles than a Toyota manufacturer, Heyward returned to Champion Stadium this afternoon and destroyed the mirror on the passenger side of  Braves media relations director Brad Hainje’s SUV. 

“He’s like the grim reaper,” Hainje said. “You know he’s going to get you.  You just don’t know when or how.”

During the early days of camp, Heyward destroyed the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s rental car.  

As mentioned yesterday, Braves president John Schuerholz said the club likely won’t construct a net to protect the cars the the executives park just beyond the right field wall here at the Disney complex.

“We’re just all going to drive convertibles next year,” Schuerholz said with a smile. 

McLouth update:  When I arrived around 1:30 p.m. ET this afternoon, Nate McLouth was in the indoor batting cages working to battle out of his maddening slump.  The 28-year-old center fielder  has just one hit and 12 strikeouts in his first 31 at-bats this year.

“It looks like he’s pressing a little bit,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who opted to give McLouth a night off on Friday night.  

While McLouth still has a little more than two weeks to get himself righted, he may not have enough time to convince the Braves that he is indeed the right man to serve as their leadoff hitter. 

Melky Cabrera has been utilized in this role numerous times and he’s back at the top of the lineup for tonight’s game against the Tigers.  The switch-hitting Cabrera found nearly equal success against right-handed (.277 BA and .332 OBP) and left-handed pitchers (.268 BA and .343 OBP last year. 

With this in mind, the Braves could opt to put him in the leadoff spot on essentially an everyday basis.  With this arrangement, he would spell the left-handed McLouth in center on days that the opponent is starting a southpaw.  On this days the left field position  would be manned  by Matt Diaz, who obviously needs to be in the lineup whenever the opposing team is starting a left-hander.

When the opponent is starting a right-hander, Cabrera could play left field and allow open the center field position for McLouth, who hit .269 against right-handers and .230 against lefties last year.

Braves manager Bobby Cox hasn’t said that he plans to utilize this arrangement.  But as McLouth continues to struggle, he at least has consider this to be one of his other options.

Since Troy Glaus signed with the Braves, Bobby Cox has never fully committed to saying that Glaus will definitely rest in the cleanup spot on an everyday basis.  Instead, he has often said something like “he’ll be somewhere around there.” 

With the Tigers starting Jeremy Bonderman tonight, Cox has his left-handed hitting catcher Brian McCann in the cleanup spot and Glaus hitting fifth

Glaus’ career numbers against left-handed pitchers include a .277 batting average, a .957 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 4.41 at-bats.  Against right-handers, he has hit .248 with an .822 OPS and struck out once every 3.77 at-bats.

NOTES:  The Braves still seem to be seriously thinking about having Jo-Jo Reyes begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.  But even if this arrangement is made, once Scott Proctor is deemed ready, there’s a chance Reyes could be moved back to Gwinnett to serve as a starter…Jordan Schafer took batting practice on the field today and felt little discomfort in his surgically-repaired left hand.  Schafer doesn’t believe he’ll be ready to be a part of Gwinnett’s lineup until the mid-to-latter part of April.

BRAVES LINEUP for Friday vs. Tigers

Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Kawakami 1      

 

Bobby Knight praises Bobby Cox

Bobby Knight isn’t going to get a chance to see Jason Heyward play against the Cardinals  this afternoon.  But the college basketball coaching legend did take advantage of the opportunity to express how much he respects Braves manager Bobby Cox. 

“I think he goes about things the way I would like to go about them,” Knight said before Thursday afternoon’s game at Roger Dean Stadium.  He’s tough.  He’s fair and I think he’s really smart. Are there any other superlatives you would like for me to use.” 

While catching up with his close friend Tony La Russa this morning, Knight into the Braves dugout wearing his Cardinals jacket to spend about 10 minutes with Cox.

Count Knight among those who aren’t sure that Cox will actually be able to walk away from the game at the end of this season.

“If his team is really good, this isn’t going to be his last season,” Knight said while simply offering an opinion. 

Check braves.com and MLB.com later to get more of Knight’s thoughts about the Braves manager.

Cox said that he is simply giving Heyward a chance to rest today.  I’m thinking he just didn’t want to upstage Albert Pujols in his home park. 

Seriously though, the most interesting change to today’s lineup is the fact that Melky Cabrera is hitting leadoff and Nate McLouth is in the sixth spot.  While there wasn’t much reason to worry a week ago, the Braves now at least have to start exploring other options to utilize in the leadoff spot.

During the 28 at-bats he’s compiled entering today’s game, McLouth has recorded just one hit and struck out 10 times.  Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton is confident McLouth can fix some of his mechanical flaws before the start of the regular season.

Heyward spent this morning’s batting practice denting the Cardinals offices located beyond the right field wall.  As the 20-year-old phenom continued to launch shot after shot, Braves president John Schuerholz was asked if his club is ever going to put up a net to protect the cars that are parked beyond the right field fence at Disney.

This plan was discussed three weeks ago when one of Heyward’s batting practice blasts destroyed assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s sunroof.

“That’s probably not going to happen this year,” Schuerholz said regarding the installation of the net. “We’re just all going to drive convertibles next year.” 

As he watched Heyward this morning, Schuerholz said that during his long career in baseball he doesn’t remember ever seeing a prospect draw this kind of widespread praise from scouts, coaches, administrators and media members. 

“In my 46 years in baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prospect draw this kind of attention in terms of the admiration, appreciation and projection,” Schuerholz said.  “He’s done nothing to dissuade anybody from feeling that way at all.” 

Today’s Braves lineups vs. Cardinals
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
McLouth 8
Infante 6
Ross 2
Hudson 1 

Chavez and Dunn intensify bullpen battle

As the rain started to pelt Roger Dean Stadium this afternoon, Braves manager Bobby Cox gained the sense the game might be called after five or six innings.  Fortunately for Jesse Chavez and left-hander Mike Dunn, the entire game was played, allowing them a chance to improve their places in the battle for the final available bullpen spots.  

After his team’s 4-2 win over the Marlins, Cox said that he had just seen Dunn and Chavez provide their strongest efforts so far during the exhibition season. 

Dunn, who has allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings,  recorded a strikeout in a scoreless ninth inning.  During his perfect eighth inning, Chavez showed that he is able to command his fastball better than he had during his four previous outings.

“Chavez was better,” Cox said.  “He kept the ball down better.  He gave up two long flies, but at least he kept the ball down…He’s not wild, wild. He just gets it up.” 

While Chavez has now provided three consecutive scoreless appearances, it’s apparent that he isn’t producing the same kind of optimism that he did after the bullpen sessions he completed during the early days of camp.  It also doesn’t help that he allowed seven earned runs in the first 2 2/3 innings he worked this year. 

As mentioned earlier today, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have pushed themselves to the front of the pack in the battle to gain the final available bullpen spots.  They’ll both be available to pitch on Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals.

While visiting his former manager before today’s game, Marlins utility man Wes Helms had nothing but praiseworthy things to say about Kimbrel and Venters, who he had seen for the first time on Tuesday afternoon at Disney.  

NOTES:  Brian McCann kept his hot bat alive on Wednesday afternoon with a third-inning single that plated three runs.  But while going just 1-for-3 against the Marlins, the All-Star catcher saw his batting average dip to .500 (9-for-18).

“Mac is ready, I don’t know what to do with him the rest of the spring,” Cox jokingly said.

Speaking of batting average, Nate McLouth went hitless in his three at-bats and is now hitting .036 (1-for-28).  But if you’re once again stretching for the positives, you can take note of the fact that he hasn’t struck out in either of the past two games. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Jason Heyward singled in the sixth inning and went 1-for-3 to lower his batting average to .440 (11-for-25).  More importantly, the 20-year-old right fielder has now reached safely in each of the 11 games he has played this year.

“You’re never going to shut him down,” Cox said. “He’s either going to walk get a hit or do something.”  

  

Tight battles for final roster spots

The Braves will be going back to Atlanta in 15 days and as things currently stand there isn’t any way to confidently state who is going to win their final available roster spots. 

We entered camp with the belief that Mitch Jones, Brent Clevlen, Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad would battle for the one spot available for a position player.   Nearly a month later, it looks like this is a two-man race being closely contested by Thurston and Conrad.

Thurston and Conrad have enjoyed nearly identical success at the plate.  Both have hit .333 (8-for-24) with a .533 slugging percentage.   Thurston has hit one more homer (2-1) and Conrad has compiled the better on-base percentage (.448 versus .360) with the assistance he has gained through an advantage in the walk (5-1) department. 

Both of these Minor League journeyman’s defensive versatility limits them to second base and third base.  If you’re looking for a current tiebreaker, it would likely come via the number of dazzling defensive plays Conrad has played at second base. 

“He has made more great plays than anybody else in the state of Florida,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. 

Entering camp it appeared there would be two available spots in the bullpen and during the early days Jesse Chavez emerged as a favorite for one of those spots.  But after struggling in his first two outings, Chavez fell back in the heat of a competition that could be won by a couple of underdogs. 

Chavez, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past two outings, Manny Acosta and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez are scheduled to follow starter Tommy Hanson during this afternoon’s game against the Marlins. 

While each of these hurlers still appear to be in the mix for one of the final two spots in the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters seem to be moving to the top of the list of candidates. 

As you know, Cox has routinely praised Kimbrel, who has allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings.  In addition, the veteran manager has continued to talk about the “super sinker” thrown by Venters, who has allowed just one earned run in his 5 1/3 innings.

This isn’t to say that Venters and Kimbrel have emerged as the definitive favorites in this battle.  But it seems pretty safe to say that both of these non-roster invitees are at least in the lead pack.   

NOTES:  Today’s game is being televised by MLB.TV, SportSouth and MLB Network. The folks at Fox Sports Net, which owns SportSouth, decided to have a split broadcast with Braves announcer Joe Simpson working in the booth with Marlins announcer Rich Waltz.

If everybody is in the sharing spirit down here in Jupiter, do you think the Cardinals could loan their first baseman when the Braves conclude their two-day swing in Jupiter tomorrow afternoon.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and yes this is why the Braves are wearing their green hats against the Marlins today.

Braves lineup for Wednesday’s game @ Marlins

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Hanson 1 
 

Coach Glav transforms into Glav the broadcaster

Tom Glavine has arrived and he’s ready to enter the broadcasting world.  The 300-game winner will  call this afternoon’s game against the Marlins with Joe Simpson.  The game can be seen on MLB.TV, MLB Network and SportSouth.

Thumbnail image for 031610 glavine.JPG 

This photo was taken about 30 minutes before Glavine was scheduled to be on the field for a pregame feature.  When asked if he was going to wear the uniform in the broadcast booth or make a quick change Glavine said, “yeah, like Superman.”

Showing the same calm, cool demeanor that existed throughout his career, Glavine didn’t exactly rush over to the main field to prepare for the broadcast.  Instead, he took time to watch Scott Proctor toss live batting practice for a second straight day.

With the back-to-back hurdle cleared, Proctor is looking forward to making his Grapefruit League season debut on Friday night against the Tigers.  The veteran reliever, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, could join the Atlanta bullpen some time in April.  

Glavine will travel south tomorrow when the Braves begin their annual two-game swing in Jupiter.  Wednesday’s game against the Marlins will also be televised and provided by the same aforementioned outlets.  But Thursday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals will not be televised. 

While in Braves camp this week, Glavine will get used to some of the broadcasting duties he will handle this upcoming season and also take advantage of the chance to don the Braves uniform and work with some of the club’s young pitchers. 

In other words, he’ll be preparing for some of the same duties he will possess this season.  While hit title is special assistant to the team president, Glavine will essentially be a jack of all trades this year as he attempts to determine what kind of role he would like to focus on in the future.

After sending this entry originally, I received an email from TBS that revealed John Smoltz will serve as one of their analysts for their weekly national broadcasts.  But more importantly, it sounds like he will team with Simpson to serve as an analyst for the Braves games carried by Peachtree Television this year.

There has been a wealth of pitching knowledge floating around Braves camp recently.  While broadcaster Don Sutton isn’t currently present, Phil Niekro arrived this morning and will stick around for the remainder of the week.

Glavine, Niekro and Sutton stand as three of the 24 pitchers in Major League history to notch 300 career victories.  

Today’s broadcast will allow you to watch Jason Heyward get his first look at Marlins ace Josh Johnson.  But the day’s storylines from a Braves perspective will focus on Takashi Saito’s attempt to rebound from two rough performances and Jair Jurrjens, who will look to duplicate the success he had on Friday, when he debuted with two scoreless against the Pirates 

Jurrjens hasn’t recently felt any discomfort in his shoulder and there isn’t really much reason to consume yourself with worry about him experiencing problems throughout the season.  But it will still be interesting to see how he feels after attempting to complete three innings (or throw approximately 50 pitches) today.

Saito’s problem during his first two outings stemmed from his inability to keep his pitches down.  The Braves don’t seem to be worried yet.  But a third consecutive rough outing from the 40-year-old reliever may provide even more reason to believe Peter Moylan could actually serve as Billy Wagner’s primary setup man for a majority of this season.  

NOTES:   After Tuesday night’s 5-2 win over the Nationals, Bobby Cox jokingly said, “Heyward has his worst game down here and still got on base two times.”   The 20-year-old right fielder recorded a broken-bat infield single in the first inning and later drew his seventh walk (28 plate appearances) of this exhibition season.

* Nate McLouth’s struggles continued last night as he went 0-for-3 and saw his batting average drop to .040 (1-for-25).  But if you’re stretching for a sign of optimism, he did put the ball in play during each of his three plate appearances. 

McLouth, who has struck out a Major League-high 10 times, has said that he has come to realize that something usually clicks during a certain at-bat during Spring Training. We’ll see Thursday if the ball he hit to deep center in the third inning on Tuesday night was a sign of better things to come.

*  TalkingChop.com’s Martin Gandy has prepared a book appropriately titled “Talking Chop 2010 Annual.”  This book reviews the 2009 season, previews 2010 and provides a comprehensive look at the organization’s most significant players.

Those interested in purchasing or learning more about this book can go to Gandy’s blog or just click here. 

 * The Braves will hold an Open House at Turner Field on Sat. March 27 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. ET.  Fans will have a chance to run the bases, throw in the bullpen, enjoy many of the stadium’s interactive entertainment options and view some of the seats available via season ticket packages.  They are advertising one full-season package that costs $249 ($3 per game).

Today’s Braves lineup vs. Marlins
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Ross 2
Hicks 6
Jurrjens 1
    

 

Minor and Ortegano sent to Minor League camp

With a limited innings available to fill during games, the Braves have sent 10 pitchers back to Minor League camp. 

Left-handed pitchers Lee Hyde, Jose Ortegano and Mike Minor, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in last year’s First-Year Player Draft,  headlined the list of players who learned Monday that they were part of the club’s first round of cuts. At some point during the past couple of weeks, Braves manager Bobby Cox said that each of these young hurlers will pitch at the Major League level.

The most notable position player affected was outfielder Cody Johnson, who was the club’s first-round selection in the 2006 Draft.  

With today’s cuts, Steve Marek, James Parr, Todd Redmond and Hyde  were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.  Ortegano and right-handed pitchers Juan Abreu and Kyle Cofield were optioned to Double-A Mississippi.

As non-roster invitees, Johnson, Minor, right-handed pitcher Chris Resop and Erik Cordier and catchers Braeden Schlehuber and Jesus Sucre were all re-assigned to Minor League camp.

Here is the lineup for tonight’s game against the Nationals.

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Cabrera 7
Hinske 3
Infante 5
Lowe 1

Kawakami pleased with performance on split-squad Sunday

While working primarily on the two-seamer that has drawn his primary focus throughout Spring Training, Kenshin Kawakami was cruising along before experiencing a misfortune-filled fourth inning that forced him to stare at a rather ugly line on Sunday afternoon. 

Kawakami’s line read:  3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts.  But what Braves manager Bobby Cox saw was a successful tuneup for the regular season.

“For me, he had one of his best days ever,” Cox said.  “I don’t know how you explain errors, broken bats and groundball base hits.  There was one hard-hit ball and that was a groundball.  I thought he had a great day.” 

While Cox has been known to attempt to cover bad performances by feeding the media with surprise of a complimentary evaluation, there certainly wasn’t any reason for him to be too concerned about this outing. 

A pair of two-out doubles by Kaz Matsui and Carlos Lee led to a pair of Astros runs in the third inning.  The six-run fourth inning produced by Houston started with Braves third baseman Donell Linares allowing Pedro Feliz’s grounder to slip under his glove. 

Linares’ error was compounded when Tommy Manzella followed with a bunt single.  Another single loaded the bases before Michael Bourn delivered a two-run single.  Kawakami then uncorked a wild pitch that set the stage for his day to end with an RBI groundout off Matsui’s bat.  

“The results weren’t good, but I thought I pitched well,” said Kawakami, who has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in the 8 2/3 innings he has pitched during the Grapefruit League season.

Manny Acosta couldn’t share this same sense of optimism.  By the time he had thrown his sixth pitch of the fourth inning, the right-handed reliever had surrendered a two-run homer to Hunter Pence and a Carlos Lee solo shot that might have traveled a mile had it not been hit into the wind. 

While this group of Braves were suffering an 8-5 loss to the Astros, the Jason Heyward Braves were constructing an 8-5 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

Heyward began his two-double performance by drilling the first pitch he saw from Brandon Morrow into the right-center field gap.  The 20-year-old outfielder, who had recorded just one unofficial at-bat (during Friday’s rainout against the Pirates) since Tuesday night, is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with a .600 on-base percentage that has been aided by the six walks he’s drawn in 25 plate appearances. 

Before Sunday’s game, Chipper Jones mentioned that Freddie Freeman was swinging the bat better than his stats might indicate.  A short time later across the state, Freeman completed a three-hit performance that improved his batting average to .350 (7-for-20).

Roster battle: Brooks Conrad improved his odds of earning the final available roster spot for a position player by going 1-for-2 against the Astros and producing his third spectacular defensive play of the week behind the second base bag.  His chief competition Joe Thurston went 1-for-4 with a homer in the game against the Blue Jays. 

McCann’s blasts: Brian McCann began the 2009 season by homering in his first at-bat against Brett Myers, who was then with the Phillies.  The Braves catcher again victimized Myers on Sunday by sending his first homer of this exhibition season over the right center field wall. 

As impressive as McCann’s second-inning shot was, it paled in comparison to the one he hit in the fifth inning against Astros right-hander Tim Byrdak.  This no-doubt blast found its way into the small pond located beyond the right field wall at Osceola County Stadium.

Notes: Nate McLouth struck out in his last two at-bats against the Astros and is now hitting .045 (1-for-22) with 10 strikeouts… With starters (all but Jair Jurrjens) now scheduled to work at least four innings, there are a limited number of innings available for all of the pitchers in camp.  So expect to see a number of young pitchers included in the first round of cuts that will be announced on Monday…James Parr surrendered five runs during his first inning against the Blue Jays and then found himself credited with a win after holding them scoreless during his next two innings…Omar Infante’s three-hit game against the Astros improved his batting average to .250 (5-for-20). 

First round of cuts to be announced Monday

Jason Heyward isn’t the only young player who has made a solid impression during this year’s camp.  Braves manager Bobby Cox has obviously taken a liking to Craig Kimbrel,  a 21-year-old right-handed reliever who will make an appearance during this afternoon’s game against the Astros here in Kissimmee.
 
Regardless of today’s results, it appears that Kimbrel will escape the first round of cuts, which the Braves will announce on Monday.  

“We’re going to keep him around for a little while,” Cox said. “We like him a lot.”  

Check braves.com after today’s game to view more of Cox’s thoughts on Kimbrel, who could make a rapid rise to the Majors when he proves that he can consistently avoid some of the control problems that have occasionally plagued him during his two professional seasons.  

This year will mark the last time that Cox is forced to tell some Minor Leaguers that their dreams of finding a spot on the Opening Day roster have come to an end.   It’s a responsibility that he’s held during each of the past four decades and to this day he still hates having to tell a player that he’s been cut.  

“There’s no easy way to do it,” Cox said. “Some of them are obvious, but some of the later ones are tough to do.”

BRAVES LINEUP vs. ASTROS
McLouth 8
Conrad 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Hinske 7
Infante 6
Clevlen 9
Kawakami 1

BRAVES LINEUP vs. BLUE JAYS
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Heyward 9
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Freeman 3
Cody Johnson DH
Ross 2
Joe Thurston 5

Kris Medlen will start for the split-squad team that is playing the Blue Jays in Dunedin today.

Another Saturday, another shutout

Two weeks into the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have incurred their only shutout losses during the two Saturday games that they’ve played.  Suddenly, I know how some of those University of Virginia beat writers felt during those many Saturdays that Al Groh spent on their campus.

But seriously how did the Braves expect to score today while Jason Heyward was enjoying a chance to rest under this sunshine that finally arrived in Florida today.  As mentioned earlier, Heyward will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon with the split-squad that is going to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. 

There really wasn’t a lot to report from today’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.  Tim Hudson allowed three runs (two earned) and seven hits in four innings.  But he came away feeling even more confident that his splitter and changeup are better than they were before he underwent Tommy John surgery and was unable to consistently find the high arm slot that he is currently displaying. 

Billy Wagner worked a perfect fifth inning and Peter Moylan found greater comfort with his changeup in a scoreless sixth that a pair of strikeouts, a walk and one hit.  Eric O’Flaherty verbally allowed the whole stadium know he was upset after issuing one of his two walks in a scoreless seventh inning and Jesse Chavez surrendered two hits before completing a second consecutive scoreless outing. 

It was a rather productive day for the Braves pitchers and quite a quiet one for the offense, which was limited to five singles, two of which came off Melky Cabrera’s bat.

This morning Nate McLouth explained his vision isn’t to blame for his early struggles.  Then while going 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts against the Blue Jays, he prolonged them.  He now has eight strikeouts through his first 19 at-bats this year. 

McLouth began Friday’s game with a bunt single that was erased from the statistics because the game was called after three innings because of rain.  He nearly beat out another bunt single in the first inning of Saturday’s game and then found nothing but more frustration in his next two at-bats.

“I thought he saw the ball much better today,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said on Saturday.  “He aired out the swing much better, instead of trying to read every pitch.”  <p>

I still think it’s far too early to put too much stock in the statistics that have been compiled so far during the Grapefruit League.  But given that he’s the projected leadoff hitter, McLouth’s strikeout totals become more concerning when you view them as a continuation of the trend that started last year.

McLouth struck out 93 times in 597 at-bats with the Pirates in 2008.  His strikeout total rose to 99 while compiling  90 fewer at-bats with the Braves and Pirates last year.

On the bright side:
  After completing his bullpen session without having any trouble with the blister on his right big toe, Derek Lowe said something like, “Everything went great.  I got everybody out. I felt sexy. My hair was parted and I can’t wait until my Michigan Wolverines get another football coach.”

OK, Lowe said all of that minus my inclusion of the Rich Rodriguez reference.  In summation, he appears ready to make his scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals in Viera.  In case you forgot, he exited Wednesday’s outing against the Mets after one inning because this blister had formed around his right big toe. 

Cox visited the back fields this morning to watch Takashi Saito throw live batting practice and came back happy to report that the Japanese right-hander had shown better command than he had while allowing five earned runs in his first two games of the season. 

“He was in the strike zone down the whole session,” Cox said. “He really looked good.” 

Fantasy Advice:
  Those of you who are preparing for your fantasy draft may want to take a look at Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, who proved effectively wild while pitching around four walks and limiting the Braves to two hits in four scoreless innings today. 

“That Romero kid is real good,” Cox said. “When he’s right, that slider is a (Steve Carlton) slider.”

Braves team of the decade: If you guys haven’t seen it, check out this story that was written after I sat down with Pete Van Wieren, Mark Lemke and Braves media relations director Brad Hainje to select the first Braves all-decade team of this century.   

   

Heyward gets another day off

When Jason Heyward arrived at the stadium this morning he was surprised to see that his name wasn’t in the lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Blue Jays. 

Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton quickly chimed in with, “Don’t worry kid, you’re going to have plenty of chances to play for a long time.”

Given that two rainy days and one very minor back ailment have limited Heyward to three innings since the completion of Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies, there was certainly reason to believe the 20-year-old right fielder would have been back in the lineup for this afternoon’s contest. 

But because Heyward is scheduled to travel to Dunedin tomorrow and to Viera on Monday night, the Braves opted to give him a chance to enjoy this bright sunny day in the Disney area. 

If the Braves were still seriously debating whether Heyward was going to be on their Opening Day roster, I think it’s easy to assume he would have played Saturday under the watchful eyes of Bobby Cox, who won’t be making the trip on Sunday to see the split-squad team play in Dunedin. 

Cox will instead be with the split-squad team that will send Kenshin Kawakami to the mound to face the Astros in nearby Kissimmee.  The ever-versatile Kris Medlen will start Sunday’s  game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

SATURDAY’S BRAVES LINEUP
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Jones 5
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Cabrera 9
Ross 2
Hudson 1

NOTES:  Derek Lowe completed his bullpen session in pain-free fashion this morning and was happy to report that he “got everybody out.”  With the blister on his right toe once again covered by tape, Lowe will likely make his scheduled start on Monday night against the Natoinals…Before today’s game, the Braves will introduce Edward Salcedo, the highly-regarded Dominican shortstop that they signed a few weeks ago…Cox was pleased with what he saw while watching Takashi Saito complete a live batting practice session this morning. Saito has had trouble keeping his fastball down during his first two appearances this year.  

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