March 2010

Braves to face Halladay Tuesday night

This upcoming week should be an interesting one for the Braves, who are scheduled to meet the Phillies and Yankees in a span of three days. 

Tuesday night’s matchup against the Phillies at Disney will give the Braves to get their first look at Roy Halladay in a Philadelphia uniform.  Halladay, who replaced fellow former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee in the Phillies rotation, will be opposed by Kenshin Kawakami.

As you likely remember Kawakami began showing his “big-game” capabilities when he tossed eight scoreless innings and led the Braves to a 1-0 win over Halladay and the Blue Jays last year.

It seems safe to assume this will be the first of many matchups against Halladay, who has made just this one regular season start against the Braves in his career. 

Thursday night’s game against the Yankees in Tampa will pit the Braves against another former Blue Jay.  But the storyline following the matchup against A.J. Burnett will certainly be trumped by Jair Jurrjens, who could make his Grapefruit League season debut that evening.

The Braves have not announced that Jurrjens will start.  But if his live batting practice sessions go well on Sunday and Tuesday, there’s a good chance that he’ll be making his exhibition season debut against the defending world champions. 

Filling Jurrjens’ rotation spot, Kris Medlen will start this afternoon’s game against the Astros. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Troy Glaus didn’t make this cross-town trip to Kissimmee.  But Jason Heyward is once again in the lineup, batting third. 

Don Sutton and Jim Powell will be broadcasting today’s game which can be heard on MLB.com by clicking here.  If you’re in your car in Atlanta, turn the dial to 680 The Fan.    

Braves Lineup
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Heyward 9
Hinske 3
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Infante 5
Ross 2
Mitch Jones DH

Freeman can only laugh about his long single

As he sat at his locker after Friday’s 11-8 win over the Nationals, Freddie Freeman could laugh about a baserunning mistake that would have drawn widespread attention had it occurred amid a much more competitive setting. 

After appearing to hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning, Freeman was ruled out because he passed Joe Thurston, who who was preparing to tag up in case the ball did not clear the right field wall.

By the time the ball landed in the Braves bullpen, Freeman had passed Thurston and been ruled out.  Instead of being awarded a three-run shot, the 20-year-old first baseman was left with a two-run single. 

“Thurston was tagging and he didn’t have much room,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He went by him.  That should never happen, but it happens.”

Freeman simply said, “I can laugh about it because this is Spring Training.” 

Jurrjens update: Cox said Jurrjens will begin throwing live batting practice on Sunday.  It appears Jurrjens could make his Grapefruit League season debut on Thursday against the Yankees in Tampa.

Filling Jurrjens’ spot, Kris Medlen will start against the Astros tomorrow afternoon in Kissimmee.   

Bullpen watch:  Relievers are bound to have at least one bad outing during Spring Training.  But it’s safe to say Jesse Chavez didn’t want to have two in a span of his four days of playing games with the Braves. 

Chavez issued a pair of one-out walks and then allowed an Ian Desmond sixth-inning grand slam on Friday afternoon.   During the 2 2/3 innings he’s worked so far in Grapefruit League season, he has allowed six earned runs and issued four walks. 

While it’s not time to write Chavez off yet, there’s certainly reason to no longer consider him a favorite to win one of the final two available bullpen spots.  But the Pirates reporters who were here yesterday said the 26-year-old reliever also struggled during Spring Training last year before being a surprise addition to Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster. 

During tomorrow’s game against the Astros in Kissimmee, Craig Kimbrel and Kyle Cofield are scheduled to pitch.   Both are strong-armed relievers who could find their way to Atlanta at some point this year.  But for now, it appears both need to work on their control at the Minor League level. 

Earlier this week an American League scout said that Coffield has a lot of potential. 

“He doesn’t know where the ball is going, but I love his stuff,” the scout said. “He reminds me of John Smoltz. But he’s got to work on his control.”

   

McDowell taking superstitious approach with Jurrjens

Roger McDowell ended his playing career 14 years ago.  But as he enters his fifth season as the Braves pitching coach, it’s apparent that the old prankster hasn’t lost his belief in the superstitious element of the game.

After revealing that Jair Jurrjens experienced another pain-free mound session on Friday morning, McDowell was asked whether the 24-year-old right-hander would now be cleared to begin throwing live batting practice. 

McDowell limited his response to “we’ll see” and then smirked when asked if he was simply choosing not to put the cart before the horse. 

Given the important role Jurrjens is expected to play during the upcoming season, it’s easy to understand why McDowell has chosen not to tempt the superstition gods. 

But further encouraged by the fact that his shoulder provided no discomfort while he threw all of his pitches during Friday’s mound session, Jurrjens expressed nothing but confidence when asked if he would be ready for his scheduled regular season debut on April 7. 

“I’m going to be ready,” Jurrjens said.  “I’ll definitely be ready.”

When Jurrjens reported to camp three weeks ago, he was dealing with inflammation that formed around his shoulder after he made an awkward throw to second base.  He has since showed steady progress and now finds himself solely bothered by some stiffness that is felt when he begins warming up.

Jurrjens said this stiffness usually subsides about five minutes into his warmup exercises.  He has continued to utilize some of the stretching exercises that were prescribed after he received the results of an MRI exam that was performed in Atlanta on Feb. 16. 

Heyward in the two hole: Jason Heyward will bat second again during this afternoon’s game against the Nationals.  While this essentially means nothing, it provides proof that Bobby Cox is at least toying with the idea of having his 20-year-old right fielder sit in front of Chipper Jones in the lineup.

During his Minor League career, Heyward has shown the ability to consistently put the ball in play and compile high on-base percentages.  Whether he is capable of establishing these trends at the Major League level remains to be seen.

But there’s certainly reason to understand why the Braves are looking at this as a possibility.

I’m not sure you’d necessarily want a pair of left-handers (Nate McLouth and Heyward) sitting in the first two spots against a left-handed starter. But they could always bat Yunel Escobar, Matt Diaz, Martin Prado or Melky Cabrera in the leadoff spot when pitted against a southpaw.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats

Prado 4
Heyward 9
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Cabrera 8
Ross DH
Clevlen 7

Derek Lowe gets the start today and as mentioned before both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are scheduled to pitch.  Even though he was pitched on Wednesday, Mike Minor is still listed among the available relievers.   

Moylan working on change with Garber

Before traveling back to his Pennsylvania farm, Gene Garber had the opportunity to watch Peter Moylan unleash a healthy dose of changeups during the scoreless inning he completed against the Mets on Wednesday afternoon. 

During his 19-season big league career, Garber made a habit out of baffling opposing hitters with the changeup he was able to throw with his sidearm delivery.  As Bobby Cox remembers, this was the pitch the old sidewinder used to end Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978.

“He had one of the best changeups in the game and that’s a pitch that I’m missing,” Moylan said.  “Any kind of advice he can give me with different grips and different releases is great.”

As a former reliever who utilized the same sinker-slider repertoire as Moylan, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell has helped the Australian reliever with his mental approach and also been able to aid him with the mechanics of his delivery. 

But with traditional throwing motion, McDowell doesn’t the experiences that Garber has utilized the past two years in his attempt to help Moylan develop this changeup that he plans to utilize in an attempt to improve his success against left-handers. 

Last year Moylan limited right-handed hitters to a .211 batting average and .271 on-base percentage.  Left-handers batted .309 and produced a .436 OBP against him. 

With this in mind, Cox was pleased that Moylan was able to face four left-handed hitters (including the switch-hitting Angel Pagan) on Wednesdy. 

“He threw some dandies,” Cox said, referring obviously to the changeups. 

QUICK HITS:

Should it surprise you that Cox once again sent praise in the direction of Jason Heyward during Wednesday’s postgame session?  The 20-year-old showed good range going back and coming forward on two fly balls during the first inning.  Then after slipping in the outfield grass the next inning, he kept his poise and snared a Fernando Tatis flyball while still on the ground.

“He’s getting great jumps,” Cox said. “It’s the little fundamental things that we’ve talked about. Instinctively, at 20-years-old, he’s way ahead of the game.”

Cox also had nothing but good things to say about Mike Minor, who worked a perfect eighth, and Jeff Lyman, a 22-year-old right-hander who recorded a pair of strikeouts in a perfect ninth.

“The two young kids, Minor and Lyman, pretty darn impressive,” Cox said. “Really impressive.  I was impressed so much with Minor and then here comes Lyman and he did just as well.   Those are two really good looking kids.”

Kenshin Kawakami will be making his Grapefruit League season debut on Thursday afternoon against the Pirates.  He’ll be opposed by our old friend Charlie Morton, who was traded to Pittsburgh last year in the deal that brought Nate McLouth to Atlanta.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 
     

Braves renew contracts of Escobar and Hanson

After proving unsuccessful in their attempts to reach agreements regarding salary figures, the Braves were forced to renew the contracts of Yunel Escobar and Tommy Hanson. 
 
The Braves made this announcement on Wednesday afternoon while revealing that they had come to an agreement with each of their other unsigned players who have not yet recorded enough service time to have their salaries determined through the arbitration process.   

Financial details of the salaries assigned to Hanson and Escobar were not made available.   Their salaries for the 2010 season will be based on the scale the Braves utilize for each of their unsigned players, who have recorded anywhere from 0-3 years of service time at the Major League level.

“It’s just part of the game and something that we won’t even think about tomorrow,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “It’s a procedural move that we make today to get everyone officially under contract and then we move forward.”  

Escobar, who has hit .301 and compiled an .801 OPS while serving as the Braves shortstop during most of the past three seasons,  said that he was not going to let this bother him.   He made $425,000 last year and will seemingly see a slightly higher figure this year.

“I’m not worried about my contract,” Escobar said with Martin Prado serving as his interpreter.  “I’m just worried about playing the game and helping the team make the playoffs.”  

Hanson, who was unavailable for comment, made the prorated portion of Major League Baseball’s minimum salary of $400,000.  After making his Major League debut on June 7, the 23-year-old right-hander went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA.   His third-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting factored into the salary the Braves offered for this upcoming season.     

“It’s one of those situations where you wish you could come to an agreement, but at the same time, we like every other club have a salary scale for our 0-3 players and we feel like we reward them more than most, maybe not as much as some for their service and their performance,”  Wren said.  “We also have additional bonuses we pay for guys getting awards, awards votes and all of those kinds of things.”  

Murphy arrives; updates on Jurrjens and Proctor

Dale Murphy has arrived in camp and had the opportunity to reunite with his former teammates Gene Garber and Glenn Hubbard.  If not for the grey hair and creaky knees,  there might be some who could draw memories from 1978, when each of these guys were part of the group that Bobby Cox assembled during his first Spring Training as a big league manager.   

Of course you might also want to ignore the chilly conditions that arrived in the Disney area during the late-morning hours.  My guess is that West Palm Beach seldom felt as wintry as these conditions, which greeted the cast of backups that the Mets brought north for this afternoon’s game.  

For the second straight day, the Braves pitchers will be facing a lineup that doesn’t include Jeff Francoeur, whose former No. 7 Braves jersey is now being worn by non-roster invitee Joe Thurston.

As for the Braves, their lineup once again includes Jason Heyward, who has been moved down to the fifth spot of the lineup to account for the additions of Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus, who didn’t play during Tuesday’s Grapefruit League season opener.  

BRAVES LINEUP
Melky Cabrera 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Jason Heyward 9
Yunel Escobar 6
Matt Diaz 7
David Ross 2
Brett Clevlen DH

Bullpen sessions:  Jair Jurrjens made another step in the right direction with a mound session that consisted of approximately 30 pitches this morning.  The 24-year-old right-hander mixed fastballs and changeups during this session that was described as “pain-free” by Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.  

“He had no problems,” McDowell said. “Everything went well.”     

If Jurrjens feels good tomorrow, he’ll be scheduled to complete a longer bullpen session on Friday.  While optimistic about the progress, McDowell still isn’t willing to place a particular timetable on his young right-hander, who reported to camp dealing with some discomfort caused by inflammation in his right shoulder.

But if Jurrjens continues on his current path, there’s certainly reason to believe he could make his first Grapefruit League start some time during the latter portion of next week.  

McDowell also reported that Scott Proctor looked strong during his 40-pitch bullpen session this morning.  The veteran right-handed reliever, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, will begin throwing live batting practice on Friday.   

It still seems optimistic to believe Proctor could break camp as a member of the Atlanta bullpen.   But the 32-year-old right-hander remains encouraged about the progress that has allowed him to reach a point where he is throwing with what he deems 90 percent of his effort.  <p>

“I keep taking steps in the right direction, not moving in the wrong direction, thank goodness,” Proctor said.  “I’m feeling really, really good.  I’m looking forward to at least getting a hitter in the box.”

In response to a comment from an earlier entry,  I want to thank you for providing me this opportunity to prove that I could prove capable of providing you an update that hopefully proved worthy of your expectations.  
 

A review of the Grapefruit League opener

One game into the Braves exhibition season, Tommy Hanson has provided the reminder that he’s a special talent and Martin Prado has already laced a couple of liners that provide indication that he can still hit with his slimmed-down frame. 

And of course, Mr Heyward took advantage of the opportunity to prove his game consists of much more than the power potential that fueled all of those batting practice stories that you read last week. 

Bobby Cox called Heyward’s third-inning single through the right side of the infield, ”  “the hardest-hit single you’ll ever see in your life.”   But just as impressive was the 20-year-old outfielder’s ability to draw a walk after falling behind with a 1-2 count in the first inning.  

After showing good bat control while fouling off an offspeed pitch that seemed to initially fool him, Heyward showed great poise while sitting on a 3-2 curveball.  Then two innings later wanting to increase Yunel Escobar’s options to drive him home with one out, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound outfielder easily swiped third base.

As Heyward slid into third base, I immediately thought about Chipper Jones saying that the phenom would earn a spot on the Opening Day roster once he proved that he has a grasp of the finer points of the game  — like knowing when to hit to the right side and knowing when to take an extra base.  

After the game, I caught up with Darryl Strawberry, who is in camp with the Mets as a special instructor.  The eight-time All-Star had some praise for the Braves outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to him.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself,” Strawberry said.  “That’s a big part of this game.  If you believe in yourself, you can excel.  He has a good idea about what the game is all about.  He’s going to go through some highs and lows.  That’s just what the game is all about for everybody.  If he stays focused and plays hard, he will be very special.”

Check out more of Strawberry’s comments within a story that should post shortly on MLB.com and braves.com.  

If Heyward isn’t deemed ready for the Majors at the conclusion of camp, the starting rightfielder’s job will go to Melky Cabrera, who laced a single the other way during the second inning and made an over-the-shoulder catch that drew attention from Cox.

“It wasn’t a great play,” Cox said. “But it was a (darn) good play in these conditions with the wind and you couldn’t see the ball.”

Cox also took time to send some praise in the direction of Kris Medlen, who allowed one hit and registered a strikeout in two scoreless innings.    

Tuesday’s negatives:  Nate McLouth experienced a rough debut with a pair of strikeouts, including one that was registered with a questionable call on a check swing.   Another former Pirate, Jesse Chavez also proved unable to provide the same kind of impression he had during the early days of camp. 

Chavez was charged with three runs  — two earned — three hits and one walk in just one inning of work.   His damage might have been reduced had shortstop Brandon Hicks not lost a liner in the sun.

“Chavez was just geeked up a little bit, just fastball, fastball, fastball,” Cox said. “He fell behind and got hit.  He didn’t really have a chance to pitch.”

Tomorrow’s game:  Tim Hudson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings of Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Mets at Disney.  Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty headline the cast of relievers who are scheduled to appear.  Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus should also be making their exhibition season debuts.   

 

Heyward set to make GL season debut

The heavy rains that pelted the Port St. Lucie area this morning have subsided and the sun is shining bright for this afternoon’s Grapefruit League season opener between the Braves and Mets. 

While the Mets opted to alter their starting lineup because of the soggy conditions, the Braves will be sending out most of their starters to play on what now appears to be a pretty dry field.  Don’t forget you can catch today’s game on MLB Network.

With Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus set to make their exhibition season debut tomorrow against the Mets in Disney, Jason Heyward will be batting in the third spot.   With the wind blowing out, could the legend of the 20-year-old outfielder grow even larger today?

BRAVES LINEUP
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Jason Heyward 9
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Melky Cabrera 7
Eric Hinske 3
Omar Infante 5
Mitch Jones DH

Tommy Hanson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings.  Kris Medlen, Jesse Chavez, Mike Dunn, Chris Resop, James Parr and Manny Acosta will serve as the relievers. 

Lowe draws the short straw

When I approached Tim Hudson this morning to ask him about the club’s plans to provide him an extra day of rest before his first few starts of the regular season, I was prepared for him to tell me that his arm feels great and that he’s fine with this arrangement. 

After providing this confirmation, Huddy asked if the Giants were going to have an offday before he makes his season debut against them in their April 9 home opener.  He was trying to figure out whether he’d get a chance to oppose his buddy Barry Zito, who had risen to prominence with him in Oakland. 

When I informed him that he’d more likely face Jonathan Sanchez, Huddy said, “Well tell their manager not to get any ideas about holding (Tim) Lincecum back for their home opener.”

Instead it looks like Derek Lowe will draw the short straw and match up against the reigning Cy Young Award winner. So within the season’s first five days Lowe will likely be opposed by Carlos Zambrano and Lincecum. 

And then to top things off it appears he won’t pitch during the early season series against the Padres.  Hey, but isn’t it great to have the honor of making yet another Opening Day start?

Grapefruit League opener:
  The Jason Heyward batting practice tales grew stale a few days ago.  It’s time to see what the kid can do against live pitching and MLB Network will provide you a chance to watch him make his Grapefruit League season debut against the Mets tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. 

The weather forecast for the Port St. Lucie area isn’t exactly promising.  But if the rain holds off, you’ll get a chance to see Tommy Hanson start and likely work two innings before handing the ball to the bullpen, which will consist of Kris Medlen, Jesse Chavez, Mike Dunn, Chris Resop, James Parr and Manny Acosta. 

Dunn and Chavez have put themselves in position to battle for the last remaining spots in the bullpen.  For now, I’d still have consider Acosta a long shot, who may draw attention from some pitching-needy clubs over the next couple of weeks. 

Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Matt Diaz are not scheduled to make the trip to Port St. Lucie.  They will likely make their GL season debuts when the Braves host the Mets on Wednesday afternoon.

Hudson is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game.  The relievers will consist of Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Mariano Gomez, Stephen Marek (the remains of the Mark Teixeira trade), Johnny Venters and Jeff Lyman.

Venters seems to be a long shot to begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen.  But the 24-year-old left-hander has caught Bobby Cox’s attention with his sinker.

“He’s got a good chance to do something with that kind of sinker,” Cox said. “He’s got to pitch in the big leagues with that kind of sinker.”

Chipper potential early retirement: I’ll admit that I have never given much thought about the possibility that Chipper Jones would walk away from the game if he struggles again this season.  But while talking to him again this morning for the story currently on MLB.com and braves.com, I will admit that there was definite sincerity in his voice and facial expressions. 

At the same time there was an excitement about the results he could realize after working with his dad to fix the mechanics of his swing.  While watching him last year, I thought he was being victimized by self-induced pressure to supply the club with power. 

But it was interesting to hear him say that he feels his bad habits developed over the previous five years while attempting to compensate for a variety of different injuries.   As the story mentions, he believes he might need to face live pitching for a few weeks before truly gaining comfort with these refined mechanics. 

No interest in Mateo:  One of our more knowledgeable bloggers inquired today about the Braves possibly having interest in Wagner Mateo,  a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican whose $3.1 million agreement with the Cardinals was voided last year because he failed a physical. 

But a Braves source have since informed me that they do not have any interest in Mateo.  

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