March 2010

Mother Nature provides Jurrjens a chance to pitch

(UPDATED WITH HANSON INFO)

Mother Nature cooperated long enough for Jair Jurrjens to complete his two scheduled innings in scoreless fashion.  But a second-inning rain delay forced Tommy Hanson to simulate his four-inning appearance in the covered batting cages here at Disney.

This morning it didn’t look like the Braves would have a chance to send Jurrjens to the mound to make his Grapefruit League debut against the Pirates.  But the rain that has pelted this area over the past two days subsided just long enough for the 24-year-old right-hander to complete his work in impressive fashion.

Having already gotten himself warm by the time play was halted with one out in the bottom of the second inning, Hanson went sent to the batting cages to complete this work that keeps him on his regular schedule.   He’ll attempt to complete at least four innings again on Wednesday, when he returns to the mound to face the Marlins in Jupiter.

Jurrjens opened his outing by getting Andrew McCutchen to look at three consecutive strikes and exited it having allowed just one hit  — Ryan Doumit’s second-inning leadoff single. 

The game was halted during the bottom half of the second inning after Yunel Escobar drilled that struck Ross Ohlendorf on the back his right leg, just above the knee.

During the bottom of the first, Martin Prado provided a leadoff single and advanced to third base when Nate McLouth’s well-placed bunt single drew a wayward throw from Ohlendorf.  But  Prado got caught in a rundown after Chipper Jones directed a grounder to first base and McLouth got picked off attempting to steal third base.    

BRAVES LINEUP
Martin Prado 4
Nate McLouth 8
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Esbobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Matt Diaz 7
Jair Jurrjens 1

Notes:  Bobby Cox said that Scott Proctor will pitch in his first game around March 19.  The right-handed reliever has impressed with the arm strength he has shown while attempting to return from Tommy John surgery…Tom Glavine will arrive in camp early next week and handle the broadcasting duties for Tuesday’s game against the Marlins.

Watching it rain

As rain continues to pelt the tarp here at Disney, it appears Jair Jurrjens might have to wait until Tuesday to finally pitch against batters who are not wearing a Braves uniform.

But the Pirates made their scheduled departure from Bradenton at 10 a.m. and for now they are still scheduled to play the Braves here at Disney at some point today.  According to weather.com, it appears the rain could subside between 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jurrjens’ scheduled debut was rained out last night and if Mother Nature continues to saturate the Disney area this afternoon, he will get his work in by simulating two innings in the indoor batting cages.  The Braves will want him to be ready to at least attempt to complete three innings during his scheduled start on Tuesday.

To stay on his schedule, Tommy Hanson, who was scheduled to work four today, would also simulate his workload in the batting cages.

If today’s game is played, the Braves will have Martin Prado bat leadoff and move Nate McLouth down to the two hole.  This is just an an example of one of the many ways Bobby Cox could  toy with his lineup mix during the exhibition season.

As mentioned before, there’s not much reason to be concerned about the fact that McLouth has recorded just one hit in his first 16 at-bats.  Really that simply amounts to a couple of bad games.  But the fact that he has struck out six times already certainly intensifies the reason to wonder if the Braves would be better off with somebody out in the leadoff spot.

Derek Lowe seems pretty confident that he will be able to make his start against the Nationals on Monday night.  When he took his sock off this morning, it was apparent that the blister on his right big toe wasn’t nearly as ugly as it was when he was forced to leave Wednesday’s game after just one inning. 

    

 

Cox clears Heyward and praises Kimbrel

Chipper Jones will be getting the night off and Melky Cabrera won’t be present to talk to Yankees reporters about how he’s doing now that he’s no longer wearing pinstripes.  But Jason Heyward will be in Tampa tomorrow night to do more than simply watch Jair Jurrjens make his Grapefruit League season debut against the defending world champs.

While Jones and Cabrera aren’t scheduled to travel to Tampa, Bobby Cox confirmed that Heyward will be back in the lineup against the Yankees.  The 20-year-old outfielder missed Wednesday’s game because the Braves wanted to give him a chance to rest the sore upper back that he encountered after running into the right field wall during Tuesday night’s game.

“He’ll be in there for sure, no problem at all,” Cox said.

Unfortunately the Braves can’t express the same level of confidence when asked about the odds of Derek Lowe making his next scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals.  But they are still optimistic that the blister on his right big toe won’t prove troublesome enough to prevent him from making his Opening Day start against the Cubs on April 5.

“Thank God, it’s not his arm,” Cox said.  “You can miss one down here and still be fine.  “I just hope that he can start next time.  I’m sure he can. I think they can tape it up somehow or put Super Glue on it.  I’m just joking.  But I’m sure they can put something down there to toughen it up.  It’s about the nastiest blister I’ve ever seen. ”  <p> 

When Lowe removed his sock to show the blister to reporters, he managed to reveal something that was actually uglier than the one-inning stint that he had just completed against the Mets. 

Lowe felt the blister in the process of opening the game with a strikeout and then over the course of the next six batters he faced, he surrendered four singles, watched Chris Carter continue his recent home run tear and dodged one line drive that seemed destined to drill his forehead.

“Instead of worry about pitching, I was worrying about how to not drag my back toe,” Lowe said.  ” Then I almost took one off the melon there.  That would have been real fun. So it was a wasted day.”  <p>

Because he only threw 27 pitches against the Mets, Lowe will have to make up for this “wasted day”.  But even if he is unable to make his start against the Nats on Monday, he’ll still have an opportunity to make three additional starts, including one that would be scheduled to last five innings. 

Still this isn’t exactly what the Braves envisioned when Cox went against tradition and made the early announcement that Lowe will serve as his Opening Day starter.  The only other time I remember the veteran manager making this announcement this early was before the start of the 2004 season, when he bestowed the honor upon Russ Ortiz, who responded with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.510 WHIP.  

Ortiz’s selection was either based on the 20-win season he had notched the year before or more likely the fact that for the first time since the first George Bush was president he was unable to provide this honor to somebody named Glavine, Smoltz or Maddux.

Nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Cox will stay on the safe side of superstition and never again make an early announcement about his Opening Day starter.

Exiting sarcasm mode, Cox had nothing but good things to say about the way Craig Kimbrel looked while recording a pair of strikeouts and issuing a contested walk in a scoreless 10th inning against the Mets.

Cox said that plate umpire Jeff Kellogg admitted he missed a third-strike call that would have prevented Kimbrel from issuing his leadoff walk to Ike Davis.  But young fireballer, who has been called “the right-handed Billy Wagner”, seemed unfazed as he responded with consecutive strikeouts and then ended the inning with a harmless pop fly.

Kimbrel’s ability to make his fastball look like it’s rising has Cox raving about his ability to serve as a top-notch closer in the future.

“A scientist will tell you that it’s an illusion, but it does come up a little bit,” Cox said of this fastball that has been clocked in the upper 90s. “It looks like it’s going to be low and it’s not.”

Saito and McLouth prolong struggles:  Closer Billy Wagner bounced back from his shaky debut with an easy scoreless inning against the Phillies on Tuesday night.  His setup man Takashi Saito’s attempt to experience a similar rebound prove unsuccessful as he was charged with three earned runs during his one-inning appearance against the Mets. 

“He was up with everything,” said Cox of his 40-year-old reliever who issued a leadoff walk and later surrendered a two-run double to Carter and an RBI triple to Adams. 

Saito didn’t have the opportunity to blame this outing on the discomfort of his contracts.  The lenses he was wearing were different than the ones he was wearing on Friday, when he allowed the Pirates two runs in one inning. 

Former Pirate Nate McLouth had another rough afternoon and now has just one hit through his first 16 at-bats of the year.  It’s still way to early to be alarmed about results down here. But with that being said, you certainly have to hope that the six strikeouts he’s incurred so far don’t signal a trend.  
 

  

  

   

Heyward provided another day to rest

As Jason Heyward went back to the right field wall on Tuesday night to attempt to rob Jayson Werth of the two-run homer that he hit off Kenshin Kawakami, I was half expecting to see the young phenom leap to the top of the wall, make the catch and then perform a dismount that would have made Shaun White proud. 

Instead, Heyward proved mortal while running face-first into the wall and watching helplessly as the ball fell into the Braves bullpen.  In the process, the 20-year-old right fielder tweaked his upper back and led Bobby Cox to take the precautionary route by giving a chance to rest during this afternoon’s game against the Mets.

“It’s nothing, he could play easily,”  Cox said. “I told (our trainer Jeff Porter) that I’m going to make 10,000 people mad today.”   <p>

Heyward, who compiled each of his three plate appearances after running into the wall, is expected to be back in the lineup on Thursday night, when the Braves visit the Yankees. 

As this camp has progressed, it has been fun to hear writers, players and coaches compare Heyward to a number of different players from yesteryear.   Fred McGriff, Darryl Strawberry and Dave Parker have been popular choices. 

Cox provided an interesting comparison yesterday when he linked his young outfielder to Larry Walker, who arrived in the Majors with a large athletic frame and the same kind of five-tool talents possessed by the Braves young outfielder. 

Thoughts about Halladay: When Matt Diaz arrived this morning, he asked if Roy Halladay had been as impressive on Tuesday night as his line (3 IP, 3H, 0ER, 5 Ks) indicated.  My immediate response was “ask Martin Prado”. 

Halladay froze Prado with front-door cutters for called third strikes during the first and third innings.  It would have been great to see replays of both of these picture-perfect pitches to see just how identical they when they crossed the inside black portion of the plate. 

Four of Halladay’s five strikeouts came at the expense of Prado and Nate McLouth, who has struck out five times in the 12 at-bats he has recorded entering this afternoon’s game. 

Like it’s too early to begin worrying about McLouth, it’s also far too early for Troy Glaus to be overly excited about the fact that he has singled in each of his past eight at-bats. 

“It’s a positive reinforcement,” Glaus said. “But I’ve been doing this long enough that it doesn’t matter right now.  I’ve had good springs.  I’ve had bad springs.  I’ve had in between springs.  It doesn’t matter.”

Glaus’ hot streak will be delayed until Thursday.  Like Heyward, he has been given the day off.

BRAVES LINEUP
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Hinske 3
Cabrera 9
Diaz 7
Infante 6
Ross 2
Lowe 1

Lowe is scheduled to pitch three innings today.  Takashi Saito, Kris Medlen, Kyle Cofield, Mariano Gomez, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are scheduled to serve as the relievers.   

It sure looks like an Opening Day lineup

When a couple of national scribes look at tonight’s Braves lineup, they essentially said something that amounted to “tonight’s game must be televised because that certainly looks like an Opening Day lineup.” 

With Chipper Jones back in the mix to face Roy Halladay and the Phillies tonight, Braves manager Bobby Cox has indeed assembled a lineup that could very easily be identical to the one he constructs before the April 5 Opening Day contest against the Cubs. 

And yes, you will get a chance to see Jason Heyward and Co. on television tonight.  The game will be carried on CSS, MLB Network and online by  MLB.TV.

When asked if tonight’s lineup was an Opening Day lineup, Cox laughed and said, “We might not be able to keep Heyward down that low in the lineup if he keeps hitting like he has been.”

TONIGHT’S LINEUP
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Melky Cabrera 7
Kenshin Kawakami 1

Schafer and Jurrjens updates: The most important health-related news of the day might have been the fact that Jair Jurrjens completed another pain-free live batting practice session and is now ready to start against the Yankees on Thursday night in Tampa.

But given that was expected, the most important health-related development seemingly came courtesy of Jordan Schafer, who took batting practice in the indoor cages this afternoon and returned to the dugout with a smile on his face. 

“That’s the best that I’ve felt in 10 months,” said Schafer, who injured his left hand on during the fourth game of last year’s season and then dealt with frustration and discomfort until the ailment was surgically repaired in September. 

Because he was in a cast for an extended period following the surgery, Schafer found himself feeling weak while attempting to swing the bat during the early days of camp.  But it now appears there’s at least a chance he’ll be ready to begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Tonight’s pitchers:  Kenshin Kawakami is scheduled to pitch three innings and Billy Wagner will attempt to rebound from Friday’s shaky season debut. There will also be reason to keep an eye on Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever who has struggled during his first two appearances of the year. 

 

 

Heyward draws comparison to Pujols

When asked about the 450-foot homer that Jason Heyward bounced off the building beyond the right field wall here in Lakeland this afternoon, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was serious when he said, “He didn’t get all of it, but it went a long way.”

It’s widely recognized that Heyward will likely hit a number of home runs before his big league career is over some time around 2030.  But as the baseball world is coming to realize, his power is just a portion of his talents that set him up to be one of upper echelon talents who realize immediate success at the Major League level.

After watching Heyward battle back from an 0-2 count, spit on a 2-2 fastball that just missed the outside corner and then send Max Scherzer’s 3-2 fastball into orbit, Tigers manager Jim Leyland drew comparisons to the plate discipline and patience he saw from a young Albert Pujols nearly a decade ago.

“Obviously a young man that size, with the strength he has, he looks like a good-looking young player,” Leyland said.  “I was very impressed with his patience at the plate. That’s what I was impressed with more than anything. He didn’t chase any bad balls. That’s what impressed me. I was impressed with his at-bats. He didn’t even offer at anything unless it was a strike.  Pujols was the other guy I saw that was like that.”  <p> 

Braves manager Bobby Cox added, “I don’t think he has swung at a bad pitch yet.”

It will be years before Heyward could even be considered to be put in the lofty realm of Pujols.  But it’s still pretty telling that he’s already drawing comparisons to the Cardinals first baseman, who hit .329 with 37 homers while playing his 2001 rookie season at the ripe age of 21.

Jurrjens to face Yanks:  As originally reported, Jair Jurrjens is once again scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday against the Yankees.  But first the 24-year-old right-hander will test his shoulder one more time during a live batting practice session on Tuesday night.  

Huddy’s outing:  When Tim Hudson needed just 15 pitches to complete two scoreless innings against the Mets last week, he walked away wondering how he had gotten away a number of pitches that didn’t find their intended location. 

Hudson was once again dissatisfied with the fastball command he had while limiting the Tigers to one run and three hits in three innings on Monday afternoon.  But with his changup and sinker working, the 34-year-old right-hander walked away from the outing pretty satisfied. 

Jo-Jo as a reliever:  With yet another strong outing amid the setting of a Spring Training game, Jo-Jo Reyes once again drew some praise from Cox, who believes the left-handed hurler has improved both his sinker and slider. 

After Reyes limited the Tigers to one hit and recorded three strikeouts in two scoreless innings, Cox was asked if the left-hander might be considered for a relief role.

“More and more, it looks like he could,” Cox said. “My idea was always to have him start and be ready.  But if he throws like he’s throwing right now, he could go either way.”

Cox added that this possibility hasn’t been discussed.  Given the limited depth of starters that would be deemed Major League-ready at the beginning of the year, this might end up being an option that is never truly explored.

Odds and ends:  With two more hits on Monday, Troy Glaus has now recorded a single in each of his past five at-bats…Eric Hinske entered Monday with one hit in his first eight plate appearances of the year and exited with his own three-hit performance…You can watch Heyward and the rest of the Braves face Roy Halladay and the Phillies on CSS tomorrow night.   First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.    
    

Heyward hits the roof with his first blast

Given that this is Spring Training, I could tell you that Jason Heyward’s first homer of the Grapefruit League season came off Max Scherzer’s 100-mph fastball and traveled about 500 feet before piercing the roof of a building located beyond the right field wall. 

Truth be told, this account wouldn’t necessarily be deemed a drastic dramatization of what occurred during the first inning of Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. 

Heyward’s  first blast of the year did come at the expense of  hard-throwing Scherzer and did dent the metal roof that covers the batting cages located beyond the right field wall here in Lakeland.

Conservatively the ball traveled at least 420 feet bounced off the roof covering the batting cages and then shattered Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s sunroof yet again.

OK, the part about Manno’s vehicle incurring further damage courtesy of Heyward’s powerful bat was indeed further fabrication.  But as the legend of this 20-year-old outfielder grows, he continues to do things that seem too good to be true. 

Along with displaying the power of his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame with this homer, Heyward once again showed the kind of plate discipline that allowed him to draw four walks in the first 13 plate appearances he compiled this year. 

Before sending Scherzer’s 3-2 fastball into orbit, Heyward battled back from an 0-2 hole.

This more than the power led former Braves outfielder and current broadcaster Brian Jordan to approach me a few minutes later and say, “Are you impressed yet.” 

Quite frankly, it’s been easy to be impressed with something different about Heyward on a daily basis.   

   

Conrad and Thurston could stage a tight battle

If the battle to earn the last roster spot for a position play ends the way it has started, Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston are going to force the Braves to make a tough decision. 

Conrad has been displaying some power  (two doubles and a homer) while hitting .462 (6-for-13) during his first six games of the Grapefruit League season.  Thurston’s .500 batting average has come courtesy of the four singles he has recorded in his eight at-bats. 

“Conrad has been playing great and Thurston, the same thing,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

From a defensive standpoint, Thurston and Conrad possess similar skills.  Both have seen most of their playing time at second and third base and also shown the ability to play the outfield if necessary.

The starting lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers had Conrad at second base and Thurston positioned at third base.

NOTES:

Javy Lopez has arrived in camp this week to serve as a special assistant, which basically means he’s in town to have some fun, soak up the atmosphere and catch up with some old friends from the organization. 

Lopez made the trip to Lakeland this afternoon and immediately started talking to Miguel Cabrera about using some of the bats his company, Bones, manufactures.  The former Braves catcher also wants Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to test some of his bats. 

Chipper Jones wants to get an early look at Roy Halladay during tomorrow night’s game against the Phillies.  The Braves third baseman was hurt when Halladay faced the Braves last year and he has just two career regular season at-bats (with both coming in 1999) against the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

But Cox indicated that he may opt to show some precaution with Jones, who has been sidelined since jamming his right thumb on Friday.   

“We’ll see,” Cox said. “You know jams don’t go away that quickly.” 

There might be another change in the schedule for Jair Jurrjens.  Cox now says the 24-year-old right-hander will throw his second round of live batting practice tomorrow.   This was the projected schedule until Sunday, when the Braves revealed he would wait until Wednesday to throw again.

Check back after the game to get clarification about Jurrjens’ schedule.

BRAVES LINEUP for Monday’s game
Infante 6
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Glaus 3
Hinske DH
Diaz 7
Ross 2
Conrad 4
Thurston 5
 

 

Jurrjens throws while Chipper and Heyward sit

MLB.com’s Peter Gammons arrived in Braves camp today just in time for Jason Heyward’s first day off since the Grapefruit League season began. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox said he selfishly wanted to put Heyward in the lineup for the sixth straight day, but was persuaded by his bench coach Chino Cadahia a day to rest.

Chipper Jones will also miss this afternoon’s game against the Astros because of a jammed right thumb that he incurred when he got jammed with a pitch on Friday.  Not wanting to aggravate this ailment that he has occasionally battled in the past, Jones plans to rest at least one more day before possibly returning to the lineup on Tuesday night against Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

Jair Jurrjens’ 24-pitch live batting practice session was completed in a pain-free manner this morning and the 24-year-old right-hander will likely repeat this exercise on Wednesday.  It now appears that his first Grapefruit League start could come Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Scott Proctor also impressed Braves manager Bobby Cox with the live batting practice session he completed this morning.

“He’s really firing the ball,” Cox said of the right-handed reliever, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Proctor could begin pitching in games within the next week to 10 days.  Once he does, the Braves will gain a better sense about when he could be added to their outfield mix.  While possible, Opening Day still seems to be a rather optimistic projection.     

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Astros

Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Melky Cabrera 9
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Matt Diaz 7
Brooks Conrad 5
Tommy Hanson 1

Heyward still impressing

Despite the fact that he struck out for the first time this year, Jason Heyward enjoyed another productive day during Saturday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to the Astros at Kissimmee.

When Heyward struck out against Jeff Fulchino in the third inning, it marked the first time he had done so in 14 Grapefruit League at-bats.  But two innings later the 20-year-old right fielder showed off his legs while hustling into second base with a double to right field.

More impressive was the patience that Heyward showed when he spit on Roy Oswalt’s 3-2 breaking ball in the first inning.  Through his first 15 plate appearances this year, the Braves phenom has hit .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles, drawn four walks and damaged the baseball that hit him after being thrown by Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton on Friday. 

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk returned to Florida on Saturday morning and said that everywhere he goes in Atlanta people are talking about Heyward. 

While there are those who may still argue that the club could benefit financially by sending him to the Minors to begin the season, the club continues to provide no reason that they will go this route unless he gives them a sense he is not ready for the Majors. 

So far, that hasn’t happened and if you want to argue this from a financial standpoint, he is the one guy in the organization that could influence the attendance totals at Turner Field. 

Medlen’s control:  Kris Medlen worked two scoreless innings on Saturday afternoon, dented the backstop with a couple of wayward warmup tosses and kept the Astros off balance while throwing 15 of his 35 pitches for strikes. 

Medlen issued consecutive walks to load the bases in the second inning with nobody out in the second inning and then induced a popout before escaping unscathed with a double-play groundout.

“With the bases loaded, I just decided I would grip it and throw it,” Medlen said. 

Medlen said that he over-corrected the delivery of his four-seamer after it cut on him a couple of times in the bullpen. After developing a two-seamer last year, he went away from throwing the traditional fastball as often as he had in the past.

“I made pitches when I had to,” Medlen said. “It’s Spring and it’s early and my arm feels fine.  It was just the over correction and the whole mental part of it.”

While Medlen has a bullpen spot that will be secured as long as he has a decent Spring, Manny Acosta is still a part of that bullpen battle that has been altered with the early struggles incurred by Jesse Chavez. 

Acosta seemed to aid his cause on Saturday, allowing one unearned run and recording three strikeouts in two innings. 

“You can’t throw any better than that,” Cox said. “He was really impressive today.”

Another pitcher that caught Cox’s eyes was the hard-throwing Kyle Cofield, who allowed a hit and recorded a strikeout in his one scoreless inning.  The 23-year-old right-hander will quickly rise to the Majors if he consistently shows the kind of control that he did against the Astros.

As you may remember, earlier this week an American League scout said that Cofield reminded him of John Smoltz.

Tommy Hanson will be back on the mound tomorrow afternoon when the Braves host the Astros.  Peter Moylan highlights the list of relievers scheduled to appear.     
 

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