May 2010

McCann will start wearing glasses again

Out of the lineup for the second straight day on Friday, Brian McCann revealed that his early-season offensive struggles have been a product of the fact that he is once again experiencing vision problems. 

Having exhausted all other potential solutions, McCann will start wearing Oakleys fitted with prescription lenses again on Saturday, when he is expected to resume his duties as the Braves catcher.  

When McCann underwent Lasik for the second time in two years in October, doctors adjusted his left eye and hoped that his slightly blurred right eye would correct itself. 

McCann recognized a potential problem with his right eye vision during Spring Training and then became more alarmed when he began playing more night games during the regular season.

Check MLB.com and braves.com later for more details.

Braves attempt to get healthy in Philly

After suffering their ninth loss in their past 10 road games on Thursday night, the Braves players had a chance to gain at least an ounce of optimism.   As their train rumbled from Washington to Philadelphia, they passed through Baltimore and had the chance to think, “well things could be worse.”  

Sitting 13 games behind the front-running Rays in the American League East race, the 8-21 Orioles have already given the Baltimore fans reason to anticipate the kickoff of the NFL season.  Despite losing 11 of their past 15 games, the Braves still enter this weekend’s series in Philadelphia just five games behind the first-place Phillies.  

Given that they spent most of the season’s first month without their spirited leadoff hitter (Jimmy Rollins), their closer (Brad Lidge), and two-fifths of their projected starting rotation (Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ), the Phillies are thrilled to be approaching the regular season’s sixth week in a familiar spot atop the NL East standings.  
 
And as the hits keep coming (well, at least off the field), the Braves find themselves limping into this weekend’s series without their run-producing shortstop (Yunel Escobar), a projected co-ace( Jair Jurrjens) and the concern that they may need to wait a few more days before putting Jason Heyward (sore right groin) can do anything more than serve as a pinch hitter. 

Heyward has lived up to the expectations of those who boldly predicted that he could prove to be an immediate difference maker.   But as he enjoys a stellar rookie season , he is starting to understand what Michael Jordan felt before Scottie Pippin started running with the Bulls.

Through his first 27 Major League games, Heyward has compiled eight homers and 26 RBIs.   Simply referring to these stats as team-high totals provides just a portion of the story.
 
While primarily hitting in the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup, Heyward has compiled more RBIs than the combined totals of Brian McCann (9), Chipper Jones (7) and Yunel Escobar (8).   His eight homers match the combined totals of McCann, McLouth, Jones and Glaus, who have each gone deep twice, or two fewer times than Heyward has over the course of the past seven games.

Regardless of how the rest of the Braves fare over the course of this season,  the story of Heyward’s rookie season seems destined to be memorable.
  
But if McCann, Jones and Troy Glaus continue to combine for 31 RBIs over the course of 28-game stretches, the story of Bobby Cox’s final season will be one that Stephen King could pen.

Still while there has been plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the Braves recently, the makeup of a 162-game season still provides them the opportunity to exit Philadelphia on Sunday with the belief that they still have a chance to prevent the Phillies from winning a fourth consecutive division title. 

Given the benefit of not having to face Roy Halladay this weekend, the Braves could certainly at least take two of three and reduce their division deficit to four games. 

But with Kris Medlen making a spot start on Saturday and Kenshin Kawakami going up against a recently-rejuvenated Cole Hamels on Sunday, it feels like the Braves have to win tonight, when they send Derek Lowe to the mound to face Jamie Moyer. 

The 47-year-old Moyer has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first five starts and carries a 5.70 ERA into this series opener.   Further proving how anemic Cox’s offense has been,  Moyer’s only strong effort of the year came on April 22, when he limited the Braves to two unearned runs and four hits in six innings. 

Dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season, Moyer is 15-12 with a 5.06 ERA.    In three appearances against the Braves during this span, he is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA. 

But with Lowe on the mound tonight, isn’t the Braves offense due to erupt?
 
Uh, no. 

Yes the Braves have scored seven or more runs in four of Lowe’s first six starts this year.  But while he was allowing the Phillies on five runs  —  four earned —  in five innings a couple of weeks ago,  Moyer was helping limit the Braves to just three runs.
 
As I was leaving Nationals Park last night with the AJC’s Carroll Rogers, I was reminded of one of the best goodbyes I’ve ever heard in a press box. 

After watching the Braves blow a five-run lead for the second straight day in Philadelphia on July 27, 2008, Rogers drew the attention of  the  Philadelphia Daily News’ Paul Hagen and said “I’m sure glad that I don’t have to cover 81 games in this ballpark.” 

The quick-witted Hagen responded, “I’m sure glad I don’t have to cover your team’s bullpen for 162 games.”
 
As the Braves head into tonight’s series opener, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of you are hoping to spend the next five months following something different than what you’ve witnessed during this season’s first 28 games.   
 

Jurrjens to the DL, Kimbrel to the Majors

Jair Jurrjens’ strained left hamstring has provided Craig Kimbrel a chance to get his first taste of the Major League scene.  

Before Wednesday night’s game against the Nationals,  the Braves placed Jurrjens on the 15-day disabled list and purchased Kimbrel’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett.  

Kimbrel, the hard-throwing right-hander who is regarded as the club’s future closer, was attempting to get to Washington D.C. before or during Wednesday’s game.    

By the time the Braves made the decision to disable Jurrjens, Kimbrel was either traveling or preparing to travel with his Gwinnett teammates from Atlanta to Syracuse, NY. 
 
Kris Medlen will now make Saturday afternoon’s start against the Phillies.   Medlen completed a season-high three innings against the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon after Jurrjens was forced to exit after one inning because of the hamstring strain.  <p> 

Will the starting rotation live up to expectations?

After suffering his Major League-high fifth loss on Tuesday night, the still-winless Kenshin Kawakami actually used the word pathetic (or that was at least what was interpreted) while describing how he has pitched this season.
 
If you agree that the tough-luck Kawakami has been “pathetic” this season, then how would you describe the path that Derek Lowe has traveled on the way to winning four of his first 6 decisions?
   
Lowe   4-2,  5.18 ERA   .264 BA .350 OBP  .774 OPS  33 IP, 33 hits and 17 BBs
Kawakami  0-5, 5.47 ERA  .298 BA .342 OBP .852 OPS   26 1/3 IP  31 hits and 8 BBs

Lowe has been opposed by six pitchers who have combined to go 10-12 with a 5.74 ERA this year.   The five pitchers who have served as Kawakami’s mound opposition have gone 18-3 with a 1.94 ERA.

Even though he has been awarded more than a third of the 11 wins the Braves have recorded this season, should we say that Lowe been “slightly less-than-pathetic?”

Or should we simply look at the big picture and realize that the early-season offseason woes have overshadowed the possibility that this Atlanta rotation might not be as strong as we projected entering the season? 

Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson, who will combine to start the final two games of the current three-game series against the Nationals, have provided indication that they are capable of being the ace-like pitchers the Braves believed they would be.  

But entering Wednesday night’s game, the Braves starters ranked eighth in the National League with a 4.28 ERA and 13th with just 143 2/3 innings completed through the season’s first 26 games.   An Atlanta pitcher has completed seven innings just three times this season with Hanson, Hudson and Jair Jurrjens accounting for those outings.

In comparison, the Phillies have seen their starting pitchers complete at least seven innings nine times already.  Yes, Roy Halladay has accounted for six of these outings.  But with Cole Hamels going eight innings in two of his past four outings, can the Braves still confidently say that their starting rotation is better than that injury-depleted one that supports the lethal offense that exists in Philadelphia? 

While Joe Blanton made his return to the Phillies rotation on Monday, the Braves currently don’t know who will be starting the final two games of this weekend’s series in Philadelphia.   Jurrjens doesn’t believe his strained hamstring will allow him to pitch on Saturday and Kawakami is at least questionable for Sunday’s start because of the blister that formed on his right foot during Tuesday night’s fourth inning.

Less than a week removed from a nine-game losing streak the Braves now find themselves battling a lack of depth in the starting pitching department.  James Parr could make Saturday’s start.  But if he does can the Braves be confident that he would eat enough innings for them to not have to call upon either Kris Medlen or Jonny Venters, the relievers who could be asked to make a spot start on Saturday. 

The Braves knew they couldn’t complete an entire season with all of their starting pitchers healthy and at this point, they can at least take solace in the fact that neither Jurrjens or Kawakami will miss any significant time. 

But as fate would have it, the Braves find themselves battling this potential dilemma during a weekend that could provide them a chance to remain within striking distance of the Phillies. 

Still I guess things could certainly be worse for the Braves.  I mean it’s lot like they suffered a 43-point loss during the first game of a conference semifinal last night.  

Speaking of yesterday, a loyal Braves fan, James Reese, snapped this picture of Tom Glavine, Frank Wren and  Dr. Joe Chandler watching Class A Rome’s home game on Tuesday.

glavwren.jpg 

Just like with his previous trip to Rome, Glavine returned to Atlanta having not allowed a run. But this time, it appears that he will incur a different fate. 

As of 2:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there was no indication that the former hurler has since been told that he has been released from his duties as a broadcaster and special assistant to the president. 

Sorry Frank, it was too easy.

Wren and Glavine are spending some time in Rome this week evaluating some of the club’s young prospects and Jordan Schafer, who has gone 2-for-7 in his first two Minor League rehab games.  The young center fielder will continue to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand before joining Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster.  

The big league Braves will have the benefit of sending Hanson to the mound tonight to oppose Luis Atilano, who has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first three career starts.   The Braves selected Atilano with their first pick (35th overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and then traded him to the Nationals on Aug. 31, 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats 5/5/2010

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

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

  

Kawakami draws another tough assignment

If Kenshin Kawakami was currently on a Minor League rehab assignment, the odds are that he would have been the one opposing Stephen Strasburg on Friday night, when the Nationals young phenom makes his Triple-A debut in Syracuse against the Gwinnett Braves.  

Through his first four starts this season, Kawakami has already been opposed by Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo No-No Jimenez and Jaime Garcia, who has posted a 1.13 ERA in his first five starts for the Cardinals.  

Thus it is only fitting that Kawakami will make his fifth start tonight against Livan Hernandez, who is the only National League pitcher with a better  ERA than Garcia or Lincecum.   The 0.87 mark that he carries into this start matches Jimenez for the league lead.
 
There was a time when the Braves had little reason to fear a matchup against Hernandez, unless of course Eric Gregg was calling balls in strikes for him in a National League Championship Series game. 

During his first 24 career regular season starts against the Braves, Hernandez went 3-15 with a 5.63 ERA.   In 15 starts that stretched from 2001-2005, he went 0-11 with a 5.95 ERA against this same organization that he dominated for the Marlins during the 1997 NLCS.  

But the 35-year-old Hernandez managed to go 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in the three starts he made against the Braves last year.
 
As you’ve likely already heard, Hernandez  and the rest of the Nationals pitching staff won’t have to deal with Yunel Escobar this week.   The Braves placed Escobar on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and promoted Brandon Hicks from Gwinnett to fill his roster spot.
 
Considering that Escobar is 5-for-10 with a double and a triple in his career against his fellow Cuban, the Braves might have benefitted from his presence in the lineup tonight.  But he certainly isn’t the only Atlanta player who has experienced success against Hernandez. 

This might be a good night for Chipper Jones to cure the swing that has produced just one hit in his past 24 at-bats.   The Braves veteran third baseman has hit .354 with 10 doubles and a homer in 65 career at-bats against Hernandez. 

Martin Prado, who enters the evening with the NL’s fourth-best batting average (.354) has four hits, including a double, in seven career at-bats against Hernandez.   On the flip side, the veteran right-hander may be able to prolong Nate McLouth’s struggles. 

McLouth has one hit and five strikeouts in 13 career at-bats against Hernandez.
  
This much-improved Nationals club has also experienced some offensive struggles since facing Jimenez.  In the 10 games that they’ve played dating back to that assignment against the Rockies righty, they have hit .218 and scored 2.9 runs per game.  

Just received word that Jason Heyward was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month.  I’ll post tonight’s lineups when I get to the park. 

 

Escobar placed on the 15-day DL

While attempting to build off the momentum created by this past weekend’s sweep of the Astros, the Braves will spend the entirety of their current nine-game road trip without Yunel Escobar.  

With Escobar’s strained left groin still ailing, the Braves have placed the 27-year-old shortstop on the 15-day disabled list and filled his roster spot by promoting Brandon Hicks, a talented defensive player whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday.   

Escobar, who is hitting .217 with eight RBIs, has been sidelined since straining his groin on Thursday.   In his absence, Omar Infante will continue handling the starting shortstop duties that he filled during this past weekend’s series against the Astros.   

While Escobar could be ready to play at some point this weekend, the Braves didn’t want to spend more time playing one man short.   The talented shortstop will be eligible to come off the disabled list on May 15.    

Braves manager Bobby Cox has said over the course of the past two years that Hicks is ready to serve as a Major League shortstop from a defensive perspective.  But the 24-year-old infielder’s offensive struggles have slowed his rise toward gaining a permanent spot on the Major League roster.  

While playing  128 games for Double-A Mississippi last year, Hicks hit .237 with 10 homers and 131 strikeouts.    He has hit .179 with one homer and 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats with Gwinnett this year.  

Hicks, who has never previously been on a Major League roster, traveled with the club to Washington D.C. and will be available for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Nationals.   

Braves looking to claim first sweep of the season

After being swept in two consecutive series, the Braves are hoping to be the ones pushing the brooms by the time they conclude this afternoon’s game against the Astros.

Whether the Braves have taken advantage of the schedule or shown signs of an offensive resurgence shouldn’t really matter.  Frustrated throughout a nine-game losing streak, they needed to right themselves in the manner that they have while winning the first two games of this weekend’s series. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox once again has Nate McLouth in the leadoff role for this afternoon’s game against right-hander Bud Norris. It appears Cox plans to utilize a platoon in the leadoff spot, with McLouth getting the nod whenever the opposing team is starting a right-hander. 

When the Nationals start left-hander Scott Olsen on Thursday night, Omar Infante could be back in the leadoff spot.  Yunel Escobar is still struggling to recover from his groin strain and Cox said on Sunday morning that the club could opt to put him on the disabled list within the next two days.

If Escobar is disabled, Infante would likely handle the shortstop duties and Brandon Hicks could be promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as a backup infielder.   Hicks is hitting just .163 this year.  But with limited options the Braves would likely still tab him because of his tremendous defensive skills. 

Jordan Schafer will begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Rome on Monday.  If Schafer’s surgically-repaired left wrist continues to cooperate, he should become a part of the Gwinnett roster in the near future. 

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Astros  5/2/2010 

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

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