July 2010

Heyward does not expect to play Tuesday

Jason Heyward will not play a Minor League rehab game with Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday and the Braves 20-year-old right fielder doesn’t expect to play in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. 

After completing a pain-free batting practice session the Gwinnett club Saturday evening, Heyward said he didn’t experience any problems with his jammed left thumb.  But he and the Braves decided he is not ready to play in a rehab game Sunday. 

Because of this, Heyward doesn’t believe he will take advantage of the opportunity to serve as one of the National League’s starting outfielders Tuesday night.  He has been sidelined since June 26 with the thumb ailment he suffered while sliding into third base on May 14.  

“I haven’t played any games,” Heyward said told reporters when asked if he still planned to play Tuesday. “I would have liked to rehab in the game [Friday] and [Saturday]. But we figured this was the best timetable for it. It might have been rushing it a little bit.”

Heyward will travel to Anaheim on Sunday to begin enjoying the All-Star Game festivities.  He will likely take batting practice with his National League teammates on Monday and then be unavailable for Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic. 

“I’m just going to go and see what happens,” Heyward said. “We’ll play it by ear. What I’d like to do is be ready to play July 15, the first game of the second half for us. I’d also like to respect the National League team and give them the best chance to win the game. I don’t want to be selfish and play in the game, because this one does count.”

Heyward impressed during Saturday’s batting practice session, which consisted of 50 swings.

“I was able to take that high pitch up and away and stay on top of it and use my top hand to hit it,” Heyward said. “I couldn’t do that before, so that’s a sign it’s feeling better.” 

Thanks to Guy Curtright, a regular MLB.com contributor, for supplying Heyward’s remarks after today’s BP session. 

All is quiet on the Braves trade front

Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of TheJeff Francoeur Trade.  The Braves will  commemorate the event by spending this weekend playing against Francoeur and his Mets teammates at Citi Field.

Here at Bowman’s Blog, we chose to recognize the event Thursday, when we drew a steady wave of page hits courtesy of a player, who has previously drawn comparisons to Francoeur.

Once MLB.com’s Peter Gammons mentioned Mike Minor and Corey Hart in the same tweet yesterday, Braves fans buzzed with curiosity.  From all indications, Frank Wren and his lieutenants simply sat back and recognized the fact that we are indeed in the middle of July’s rumor season. 

If there is a group of untouchables within the Braves organization, Minor ranks near the top of that list.  The 22-year-old hurler will likely be projected to be part of the 2011 Atlanta rotation. 

Yes, somebody will likely have to be moved to create a spot for Minor next year.  But for now, we should just focus on the belief that he will stay with the organization unless the Braves are blown away by the offer of a young affordable position player that they could control for at least three years. 

In other words, Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado will be sticking with the Braves unless another club is willing to offer a Jason Heyward-type player.  Last time I checked, the Marlins (Mike Stanton) and Tigers (Brennan Boesch) aren’t going to be willing to do this. 

The direction the Braves take leading up to the July 31 deadline will be heavily influenced by what Heyward shows when he returns from the disabled list after the All-Star break.  If he proves to be healthy and capable of being as productive as he was during the season’s first two months, there will be less need for Wren to pursue and everyday outfielder.

If Heyward provides confidence about what he could provide down the stretch, the Braves may simply look to add a bat to a bench that has been recently weakened while Eric Hinske and Omar Infante have been in the lineup much more often than originally projected. 

Matt Diaz’s return has already solidified the outfield mix.  If Nate McLouth is able to return from his concussion and provide some indication that he will be much more productive during the season’s second half, the Braves would then have the option of using either Melky Cabrera or Gregor Blanco as a trade chip. 

Blanco obviously has more trade value than the more-expensive Cabrera.  But more importantly, his performance over the past couple of weeks has given every reason to believe he can capably handle the center field position if McLouth isn’t able to regain his health or show the promise that was expected when the Braves acquired him last year.

If the Braves reach a point where they are seeking an outfielder to play on an everyday basis, Hart won’t be high on their wish list.  While producing a career-best season this year, Hart is setting himself up to earn $7-8 million via arbitration next year. 

The Braves would be hesitant making this kind of commitment to a player, who combined to hit .265 with 32 homers and a .757 OPS during the 2007 and ’08 seasons.  But the primary reason they wouldn’t offer the Brewers a highly attractive packages stems from the fact that Hart will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2011 season. 

The Brewers have spent the past couple of years attempting to get the Braves to trade for Hart. Right now, it appears they’re still not ready to bite. 

Still the odds of Hart landing in Atlanta might actually be higher than those surrounding the possibility that Yunel Escobar will be traded before the trade deadline.   The Braves simply aren’t willing to sell low on a guy, who they still view as the game’s top defensive shortstop.

Manager Bobby Cox complimented Omar Infante the other day by saying he could be an everyday shortstop.  But it’s quite obvious that Infante wouldn’t bring the same defensive value as Escobar, whose presence strengthens the value of Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, who both rank among the top three NL starters in groundball/flyball ratio. 

While the Braves may not currently be major players on the trade market, they could see one of their former hurlers influenced if the Yankees conclude their current negotiations to land Cliff Lee. 

If the Yankees do land Lee (and it appears they will), they will likely trade Javier Vazquez. One scout told me this morning that he was hearing Vazquez would be dealt to the Phillies in exchange for Jayson Werth. 

But with Chase Utley sidelined until at least the latter portion of August, I find it hard to believe that the Phillies would be willing to trade another key piece of their lineup to strengthen their shaky rotation. 

NOTES: Julio Teheran was scratched from his latest start with Class A Myrtle Beach to allow him to be ready to pitch in this weekend’s Futures Game. Mike Minor is also scheduled to pitch for the U.S. team. The game will be shown live by MLB.TV and ESPN 2 at 6 p.m. ET Sunday…Highly-regarded, 18-year-old shortstop Edward Salcedo has hit .269 with two doubles and two triples in his first 26 at-bats since being promoted to Class A Rome. 

      

Times have changed since last visit to Philly

When Roy Halladay tossed his five-hit shutout against the Braves on April 21, he was the odds-on-favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award.  When the Braves left Philadelphia on May 9, they were five games below .500 (13-18) and six games behind a Phillies club that seemed destined to win a fourth consecutive NL East crown.

Oh, how times have changed. 

When Halladay takes the mound tonight, he’ll be aiming to halt his recent woes and close the gap on the first-place Braves, who are five games in front of the injury-depleted Phillies in the NL East race. 

The Phillies, who will be without Chase Utley until at least the latter part of August, have won just 14 of the 31 games they’ve played since coming to Atlanta on May 31 with a half-game lead over the Braves. 

Since tossing his perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, Halladay has gone 2-4 with a 3.27 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .302 against him.  During his last outing, he recorded 10 strikeouts over eight innings and held the Reds scoreless through five innings. 

Then while allowing four runs in the next three innings, Halladay saw Joey Votto and Jay Bruce prolong his recent longball woes. Seven of the 10 homers surrendered by the Phillies right-hander have been hit during his past four starts.  He allowed just three in his first 13 starts of the season.

Troy Glaus, who is one of the four current Braves who has one career homer against Halladay, will rest his sore left knee again tonight.  But it appears he could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday. 

Nate McLouth will be re-examined within the next two days and if it appears he is no longer bothered by post-concussion symptoms, he could be cleared to begin a Minor League rehab assignment later this week. 

McLouth was able to complete batting practice outdoors without any problem the past couple of days.  Hopefully, this was a sign that he is recovering.  But it also could have been a product of the less-humid conditions that were in Atlanta this weekend. 

One of the reasons the Braves signed Willy Taveras to a Minor League deal was to provide some insurance in case McLouth isn’t able to return and prove to be more productive than he was before he suffered the concussion after colliding with Jason Heyward. 

But for now, Gregor Blanco is providing reason to believe he can serve as a dependable option in center field.  The speedy outfielder has always been able to cover a lot of ground.  But this year, he seems to be taking better routes and cutting down on the mental errors that he displayed in the past.

Oh yeah, Blanco also hit .450 in the six games he played last week.

Heading down to the clubhouse.  I’ll let you know if Omar Infante heads over to the Phillies dugout to give Charlie Manuel a big hug.   

Infante gains surprise selection

When we awoke this morning, I think it’s safe to say most of us expected Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and Tim Hudson to be named to this year’s All-Star team.  There was also little shock when the players provided Brian McCann his fifth consecutive All-Star selection.

But the biggest surprise and thrill of the day came when it was learned Omar Infante was granted his first All-Star selection.  It’s obvious that the Braves aren’t the only ones who have recognized the value he brings with his dependable versatility as a utility player. 

“I’m so happy for him,” Hudson said. “I was just thrilled when I learned that he made it.  That’s just great.”

The fact that Infante has hit .353 against the Phillies this year likely aided his cause when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel began looking at options to strengthen his bench.

The .345 batting average Infante has compiled with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2008 season ranks fifth among all Major Leaguers who have compiled at least 200 plate appearances in this situation. 

“We feel like we got a good player there, who  is a contact hitter, who can handle the bat,” Manuel said during TBS’s Selection Show.

Making his third All-Star selection and first since 2004, Hudson said he is looking forward to taking his son Kade down on the field to be surrounded by the game’s other greats during the Home Run Derby on July 12.

Prado will start at second base in place of the injured Chase Utley.  Heyward has said that his injured left thumb will likely keep him from playing. 

The five All-Star selections are the most the Braves have totaled since sending seven players to the 2003 Midsummer Classic.

UPDATED:  Billy Wagner is part of the Final Vote Ballot.  You can help the veteran closer make his final All-Star appearance by casting your votes through Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.    
 

Where is Mark Cuban when you need him?

This would have been a good weekend to have Mark Cuban calling the shots here in Braves land.  I think it’s safe to say that he would have attempted to create some fireworks or simply have some fun by using today to announce Fredi Gonzalez as the newest member of the Braves organization.

In fact, Cuban would have likely done something like stage a press conference to be shown on the big screen in center field while the Marlins are taking batting practice tonight.

But with Cuban worrying about Dirk Nowitzki’s future in Dallas, the Braves will likely wait at least another week or two before revealing that Gonzalez will serve as some kind of advisor for the remainder of this year. 

Admittedly, I rolled my eyes when some of you said adding Gonzalez to the organization would hurt the feelings of guys like Eddie Perez or Terry Pendleton, who at one time may have been in line to serve as Atlanta’s next manager.   I mean this is the big leagues and they are big boys, who entered this season knowing that Gonzalez would become a favorite for the managerial job if he became available.  

But I do get the sense that there are members of Braves management who share this concern.  Thus if they do eventually give Gonzalez a role where he can spend the next few months evaluating the organization’s talent and personalities at both the Major and Minor League levels, they’ll do so much more quietly than Cuban would have. 

While resting yesterday, the Braves gained a half-game on both the Mets (2 games back) and Phillies (4 games back)    Before going to Philadelphia on Monday to compete against what’s left of the injury-ravaged defending National League champs, the Braves will receive a stiff challenge this weekend from three of Gonzalez’s former pitchers.

During tonight’s series opener, Kris Medlen will be opposed by Josh Johnson, who has recently been the game’s top pitcher and quite honestly it wouldn’t be hard to argue that he has been every bit as impressive as Ubaldo Jimenez throughout this entire season. 

In his past nine starts, Johnson has gone 5-2 with an 0.83 ERA and limited opponents to a .183 batting average and  .226 on-base percentage.  Within the 65 innings that have encompassed this span, he has recorded 60 strikeouts and issued 11 walks.  

Jimenez is still considered widely considered the midseason choice to win the NL Cy Young Award.  But his league-leading marks in ERA (1.83)  and quality starts (14) have been matched by Johnson, who leads the NL in WHIP (0.96) and opponents OPS  (.544).  The .199 batting average he has surrendered has been bettered only by Mat Latos (.197). 

In attempt to regain an optimistic tone, I’ll let you know that Medlen ranks fifth in the NL with a 4.15 strikeouts-to-walk-ratio, one spot ahead of Johnson’s 3.96 mark. 

Anibal Sanchez, who has gone 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA in his past nine starts, will take the mound for the Fish on Saturday afternoon to oppose what should be a rather determined Tommy Hanson.  Based on his mood, there hasn’t been any indication that Hanson has been mentally scarred by his past two outings. 

When Ricky Nolasco opposes Tim Hudson in Sunday’s series finale, it will be the first time he has stood on the Turner Field mound since Sept. 30, the night that he recorded 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. 

By the time Hudson toes the rubber Sunday night, he will have likely learned that he has gained his third career All-Star selection and first since 2004.  Considering there are a number of deserving candidates, that previous sentence might have been a bit presumptuous. 

But it’s hard to imagine Hudson won’t find a place on this year’s NL pitching staff.  He ranks fifth in ERA  (2.37) and his 13 quality starts are just one off the league-leading mark posted by Jimenez, Johnson and Adam Wainwright.  In addition, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts. 

While converting 16 of 18 save opportunities and posting a 1.15 ERA, Billy Wagner has also made himself a solid candidate for this year’s All-Star roster.  His ERA is better than the marks posted by any other NL closer. 

But when attempting to fill a 13-man pitching staff will there be room for Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton and Brian Wilson?  Heck I didn’t even mention Francisco Cordero or Matt Capps, who have posted the NL’s top two save totals while compiling higher ERA than any of the aforementioned deserving candidates.

There are also a number of deserving starting pitchers that could bump Hudson out of the equation.  If Michael Bourn isn’t selected to serve as an outfielder, Roy Oswalt might end up being Houston’s representative.  The only other clear possibility would be Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, who could further diminish the odds of Wager gaining a selection. 

Martin Prado, who will likely start at second base in Chase Utley’s absence, and Jason Heyward seem to be the only Braves who should expect to hear their names announced during Sunday afternoon’s selection show (noon on TBS).  I will be surprised if Hudson and Wagner don’t gain selections and there’s still a good chance the players will once again give Brian McCann a selection. 

But some time Sunday afternoon, I think we’ll be looking at Troy Glaus as one of the deserving players who were not selected.  Albert Pujols will start at first base and Reds first baseman Joey Votto will most definitely gain a reserve spot. 

I heard Peter Gammons jokingly say Phillies manager Charlie Manuel won’t go to Anaheim to manage the NL team if it doesn’t include Roy Halladay.  Well the same can be said about Ryan Howard, who along with Adrian Gonzalez will almost definitely gain a selection before Glaus. 

Trade front:  As you know the Braves are looking to add a bat before the July 31 trade deadline.  But right now, I don’t gain the sense that they are actually targeting specific players or even have a preference whether they gain a right-handed or left-handed bat. 

The most popular names linked to them have been David DeJesus, Corey Hart and Jose Bautista. Right now, the sense is that the Royals want too much in return for DeJesus.  But who could blame them.  Last time I checked, I think he was rumored to be on the wish list of 29 Major League clubs and part of the entourage that will be playing with LeBron James next year.

Bautista was simply ridiculous while compiling 12 of his 20 homers in May.  But how much are you going to give up for a career .237 hitter, who has batted .229 this year and just .204 in the 42 games he has played outside of Toronto.  

Just a few months ago, Hart was drawing negative comparisons to Jeff Francoeur.  Like Francoeur, Hart has turned things around this year and in a much more impressive manner.  In the 44 games he has played dating back to May 15, the Brewers outfielder has hit .299 with 15 homers and a .999 OPS. 

In other words, Hart spent the past six weeks living up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded him since he established himself as a 20-20 player in 2007 and ’08.  If he’s available and the price is right, he’s the guy the Braves should target.

It was interesting to see Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley throw B.J. Upton’s name into the mix the other day. During the 2008 postseason, there wasn’t a player that I enjoyed watching more than Upton. 

Though he has struggled in the two years that have followed, the potential is certainly still there for Upton.  My guess is that he won’t be available at this time of the year. But if the Rays grow impatient with his development and attemp
t to cut costs by moving him in the offseason, he should be at the top of Frank Wren’s wish list.     

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