August 2010

Chipper returns to Turner Field to see injury-ravaged lineup

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So far so good for Chipper Jones.  Now he can only hope that the next six months provided the kind of encouragement he’s gained in the 24 hours that have followed the season-ending surgical procedure that was performed on his left knee Saturday. 

Supported by crutches and displaying a heavily wrapped left leg, Jones returned to Turner Field for Sunday afternoon’s game.  He was planning to wait until Monday to return.  But a rough night of sleep led him to come back to the Ted with the hope of encouraging his teammates and providing himself some sanity.

As he expected Jones feels much better than he did in 1994 when his left ACL was repaired via an intrusive surgical process.  The arthroscopic surgery that he underwent yesterday allowed him to awake Sunday with the hope that he might be able to start riding a stationary bike as soon as Monday.

Jones said the pain pill he took before going to bed Saturday night didn’t knock him out like he’d hoped.  But this wasn’t too surprising.  I’ve got a feeling some of you might have also had trouble sleeping after watching the Braves offense struggle through the first two games of this series.

Without Martin Prado and Jones, this lineup has proven to be rather weak.  It was further weakened Sunday, when Jason Heyward was given a chance to further rest the sore right knee that sidelined him Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Heyward said he expects to be back in the lineup for Monday night’s series finale against the Dodgers. 

As for Prado, he took batting practice again on Sunday and seemed ready to play a rehab game for Triple-A Gwinnett Monday night.  While the All-Star second baseman has been sidelined since July with a fractured right pinky, the Braves have batted .217 and compiled a .302 on-base percentage.

This explains why the Braves are planning for Prado to play just one rehab game.  They are hoping that he’ll be ready to be activated for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Nationals.  

Ugly RISP stat: The Braves have managed to go 11-10 while hitting  just .182 (33-for-181) with runners in scoring position dating back to July 23.   

  

 

Prado encouraged by latest round of BP

Martin Prado provided some encouraging health-related news today when he was able to take batting practice without feeling the discomfort that was present 24 hours earlier.   He is hoping to play a rehab game with Triple-A Gwinnett Monday and then return to the Atlanta lineup within a day or two after that. 

Yesterday Prado said that he was somewhat concerned about the accuracy he would have while making throws from third base.  But now that his fractured right pinky has shown some signs of improvement, he doesn’t seem to concerned about this. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox said Saturday that he would allow Prado and Omar Infante to decide whether they want to be positioned at second base or third base. 

Prado has long been considered to be the best defensive option at third base.  But since the start of Spring Training, Brooks Conrad has given every reason to believe he’d be just as dependable at the hot corner. 

If the Braves want to keep Prado at second base, they could utilize both Infante and Conrad at third base.  This would at least allow them to continue gaining some of the value provided by Infante’s ability to be available to play multiple positions. 

Notes:  Eric O’Flaherty will make his second rehab appearance for Gwinnett Sunday.  O’Flaherty said that he felt strong while pitching a scoreless inning for the G-Braves Friday night…Chipper Jones had his torn ACL surgically repaired Saturday morning and then spent the rest of the day resting at his suburban Atlanta home…Billy Wagner entered Saturday five strikeouts shy of Jesse Orosco’s Major League record for left-handed relievers.  Wagner also needs just 10 more saves to match John Franco’s MLB record for left-handed relievers.  

Chipper still weighing options about his future

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When I sat down to write this blog, my plan was to take the angle that Chipper Jones will at least attempt to return next season.  But it appears to be too early to make this kind of assumption. 

Jones’ father Larry Jones told the Florida Times-Union, “Those people that are talking about him being done,he ain’t done.”  Those who know Chipper best realize that this isn’t the way he wants to say goodbye to his Hall of Fame-caliber career.  At the same time, I’ll count myself among those of you who believe he deserves a much more fitting goodbye. 

But before committing himself to the grueling six-month rehab process that he would face, Jones will first take time to talk to members of the Braves medical staff this afternoon to gain a better sense of what he is facing. 

Because this is the second time that Jones has torn the ACL in his left knee, it will be more difficult to find the graft needed to fix the ligament.   His left patellar tendon (kneecap) is no longer an option.  It was used to repair the ligament, when he suffered this same injury before the start of the 1994 season.

If they were to use his right patellar tendon, he would enter the 2011 season with two faulty knees and possibly set himself up to endure many more problems during his post-playing days.

Once Jones learns of all of his options and the potential setbacks, he’ll have the opportunity to determine whether it’s in his best interest to attempt to continue playing. 

When he was talking about retirement in June, he said that he would walk away if he felt he was no longer an integral part of the lineup.  Over the past two months, he proved that he still had the capability to be a key ingredient to the Braves success. 

But you can’t blame Jones for wondering whether he’ll be able to return from this surgery and still be able to provide his desired production next year at the age of 39.

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What to do: When asked yesterday about how he planned to react to the fact that Chipper Jones won’t be available for the remainder of this season, Braves general manager Frank Wren attempted to soften the blow by pointing out that manager Bobby Cox can now put two All-Stars in his infield on a daily basis. 

“When we get Martin Prado back, it will mean inserting two All-Stars into the lineup, he and Omar Infante,” Wren said.  “I’m not sure we’ll find anything better than that on the marketplace.”

The Marlins are planning to sign Dan Uggla to a multi-year deal.  In other words, if they were to trade him to the Braves, we’d probably soon be seeing Julio Teheran sitting in the same starting rotation as Josh Johnson.

The Braves talked to the Mariners about trading for Chone Figgins before the July 31 trade deadline.  At the time, they were hoping Seattle’s Japanese ownership might be willing to deal their bad contract for the one that has padded Kenshin Kawakami’s bank account. 

With former manager Don Wakamatsu gone, Figgins is happy and proving to be productive at the plate once again.  At the same time, with Kris Medlen done for the rest of the season, the Braves are no longer in a position where they can trade the insurance that Kawakami provides.

There have been rumors linking the Braves to Orioles third baseman Ty Wigginton.  But early indications are that the Braves aren’t going to add an everyday player via trade. 

But with Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks now situated to serve as the only backup shortstops, it seems they do have a need to at least find a better option to fill this role that Infante has capably handled since arriving in Atlanta.

While hitting .366 (41-for-112) in the 32 games (24 starts) he’s played dating back to the start of July, Infante has provided further reason to believe he could be a reliable everyday player.  But the sole reason he was given this All-Star status was the fact that his greatest value comes from his ability to be available to play a number of different positions. 

With Prado playing third base and Infante playing second base during the season’s final six weeks, the Braves have reason to believe they would still have a solid infield.  But if either of these guys or Alex Gonzalez suffers an injury, there will be a gaping hole in the lineup.    

Jones says that he has a torn ligament

Chipper Jones has informed some close friends that he will likely miss the remainder of this season with a left knee injury. 

After undergoing an MRI exam in Atlanta this morning, Jones told a friend that he “tore” a ligament in his left knee.  When asked if it was a complete tear, the Braves third baseman revealed that it was “stretched” and that he would likely need surgery. 

Jones injured his knee while completing an acrobatic throw across the diamond during Tuesday night’s win in Houston.  After landing with all of his weight on his left leg, he remained on the ground before painfully limping toward the clubhouse. 

When Jones returned to Minute Maid Park Wednesday, he was optimistic that he hadn’t torn the left ACL like he had just before the start of the 1994 season. 

Jones’ agent B.B. Abbott will fly to Atlanta today to discuss the situation with the 38-year-old third baseman.

If Jones does need surgery, Abbott doesn’t believe he will simply retire without attempting to first rehab the injury. 

Jones indicated in June that he was leaning toward retiring at the end of this season.   But while hitting .307 with seven homers and a .907 OPS in the 44 games that have followed, he has gained reason to believe he could be productive beyond this season.

Minor will make Major League debut Monday

Mike Minor will make his Major League debut Monday night in Houston.  Braves general manager Frank Wren confirmed Thursday afternoon that Minor will fill rotation spot vacated by Kris Medlen. 

An MRI exam performed Thursday revealed that Medlen has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  Following standard protocol, the Braves will monitor him for a few weeks before determining whether he will need to undergo the Tommy John ligament transplant surgical process that would sideline him for close to a calendar year.

Wren also revealed that Kenshin Kawakami has agreed to spend the next few weeks with Triple-A Gwinnett.  Kawakami will be attempting to rebuild the endurance he’s lost while pitching just one inning since losing his rotation spot after his June 26 win over the Tigers. 

Minor will pitch two innings for Gwinnett during tonight’s game at Lehigh Valley.  The 21-year-old, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in the five starts he’s made since being promoted to Gwinnett.

Showing respect to Kawakami has proven costly

Recognizing that he would be embarrassed in his native land and protecting their future interests in bringing other Japanese players to Atlanta, the Braves never aggressively persuaded Kenshin Kawakami to go to the Minors to continue serving as a starting pitcher.

Consequently they find themselves in a position where Mike Minor appears to be the only sensible option to fill the rotation spot that was opened when Kris Medlen suffered a potentially serious right elbow injury.

Once the MRI results are reviewed, we’ll learn whether Medlen will indeed need to undergo Tommy John surgery and be lost for a year. If that’s the case, then the Braves may have no other choice but to get Minor’s service clock rolling and throw him into the heat of a pennant race.  

If the Braves still had the seven-game advantage that they possessed over the Phillies two weeks ago, then maybe they could send Kawakami to the mound Monday night with the hope that he could work at least three or four innings. 

But if there was even an inkling to do this, you’d have to think they would have at least allowed him to pitch the final two innings of last night’s win against the Mets.   Yet with a four-run eighth-inning advantage, they provided further indication that have little confidence in his ability to be a reliable contributor to their pitching staff. 

It’s certainly not Kawakami’s fault that he has pitched just one inning since ending his days in the rotation with his victorious June 26 effort against the Tigers. Instead, this reality has now grown into an even greater problem for the Braves.

With the possibility that Medlen will be sidelined until at least August of next year, there may now be a need to put Kawakami in the 2011 rotation.  But with the assumption that Minor will be a part of it, the Braves may have to trade either Jair Jurrjens or Derek Lowe to open a spot for the Japanese right-hander, who is still owed a little more than $8 million through the end of next year.   

Given that Minor has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in the five starts he’s made since being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, there’s certainly a chance he will prove to be a reliable fifth starter.  But he has made just 24 starts since leaving Vanderbilt last year and just 20 of those have been completed above the Class A level. 

While some of you have expressed concern about the fact that Minor went 2-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Mississippi this year, I don’t think this should be viewed in a negative manner.  From what I have been told, the defensive support at Mississippi was shoddy at best. 

Mike Leake, who was taken one selection after Minor in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has proven to be a key piece to the Reds resurgence this year. 

The Braves now may have to hope that Minor provides similar value.

Minor will start for Gwinnett at Lehigh Valley tonight.  If he throws just a couple of innings, he could still be in line to fill Medlen’s rotation spot Monday when the Braves open a three-game series in Houston.

The Braves have recalled Cristhian Martinez from Triple-A Gwinnett.  He could be asked to throw a couple of innings Monday night as a starter or reliever. 

If the Braves decide to give Minor at least one more start at Gwinnett, Martinez and Kawakami could piggy-back each other during that series opener in Houston.   

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman  

 

Braves offense providing reminders of April

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Braves offense looked rusty while the club was splitting a four-against the Brewers.  A little more than two weeks later,  their offense alarmingly looks like the one that struggled through the early weeks of this season.  

The 8-10 record the Braves have posted since the All-Star break matches the mark they had when they won eight of their first 18 games to start the season.  Fortunately, their most recent inconsistencies were experienced while they already had gained a somewhat comfortable lead in the National League East race.  

But based on what you’ve seen over the past two weeks, can you really find much comfort in the fact that the Braves still own a two-game lead over the injury-depleted Phillies in the division standings?

Through the first 18 games of this season, the Braves hit .228, compiled a .683 OPS and averaged 3.8 runs.   Through their first 18 games after the break, they have hit .254, compiled a .749 OPS and averaged 4.2 runs.

So the offense hasn’t necessarily been as bad as the one that slumbered through April.   But it seems pretty apparent that the Braves couldn’t have picked a worse time to go through a 4-7 stretch that has been plagued by the fact that they’ve hit just .167 (18-for-108) with runners in scoring position.  

These squandered opportunities have come while the Phillies have managed to add to the star power of the club’s disabled list (Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley)  and simultaneously win 10 of 12.  Oh yeah, this stretch also coincided with their acquisition of front-line starter Roy Oswalt.

Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Braves this weekend when they attempt to break out of their offensive funk while facing San Francisco’s quartet of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.  

Lincecum, Zito, Cain and Sanchez all rank among the top 20 NL pitchers in ERA.  During the early portion of this season, Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey ranked at the top of this list.  

But as they head into tonight’s series finale against the Mets, the Braves have a chance to take advantage of a struggling Pelfrey, who has gone 0-3 with a 9.59 ERA in his past six starts.   Opponents have hit .446 and compiled a .504 on-base percentage against him during this span.  

Pelfrey surrendered a season-high 12 hits (all singles) and allowed four earned runs while lasting just four innings against the Braves one July 10.   He is 1-2 with an 8.18 ERA in the four starts he’s made at Turner Field since the start of the 2008 season.   The lone win came on May 17, when he limited the Braves to two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.

RISP struggles:  With the Braves once again squandering far too many scoring opportunities,  there has once again been a lot of chatter from fans who want to see Jason Heyward moved into the third spot of the lineup.   

Unfortunately for Heyward, he hasn’t been immune from the bug that has been afflicting his teammates in recent clutch situations.   The talented rookie has hit .333 (5-for-15) with runners in scoring position since returning from the disabled list.  But he has just two hits in his past 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  

Sitting in his customary third spot of the lineup, Chipper Jones has hit a respectable .303 with runners in scoring position.  With 11 more at-bats in these situations this season, Heyward has compiled a .310 batting average.  

Despite the fact that Jones has at least managed to produce a .449 slugging percentage since June 15 (retirement day), there is certainly reason to argue that Heyward is more suited to provide the kind of power potential a club would want from its three-hole hitter.   

If Heyward was providing the pop that was present when he was slugging .596 through May 30, there wouldn’t even be reason to debate whether he should bat in  the three hole.  But within the small sample size that accounts for what he’s done since he returned from the DL, he has slugged at a .443 clip (8 doubles, no homers).  

With the assumption that Heyward is going to start showing more power, there’s definitely reason to believe the Braves could benefit from flip-flopping him and Jones in the lineup.  But the present offensive woes have much more to do with the fact that Troy Glaus has recorded just four hits in the 28 at-bats he’s compiled w/ RISP dating back to June 22.

If you’re one of those people who actually enjoy being nauseated with Brett Favre’s retirement talk, then I suggest you allow yourself to once again read one of the countless stories that have recently been written about Glaus’ struggles.

TIDBITS:  Nate McLouth went deep again last night for Triple-A Gwinnett.  In the six games he’s played since being optioned to Gwinnett, McLouth has batted .375 with three homers…After seeming him hit just .119 in 17 games for Gwinnett, the Braves opted to release Willy Taveras.   They took a gamble by signing him last month with the thought he might provide insurance in the event that McLouth didn’t rebound.  Once they  acquired Rick Ankiel from the Royals Saturday, they no longer needed Taveras.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP:

Infante 4
Heyward 9.
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Hinske 3
Diaz  7
Ankiel 8
Gonzalez 6
Medlen 1

Prado placed on the 15-day DL

Instead of playing a man short over the course of the next week, the Braves have determined to place Martin Prado on the 15-day disabled list.  The All-Star second baseman fractured his right pinky finger while completing a head-first slide toward the plate in Friday’s win over the Reds. 

After examining Prado again Monday, the Braves determined that it would likely be at least another week before he was strong enough to grip a bat with his right hand again.   Thus they decided to disable him and promote Diory Hernandez from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as a backup infielder.

“If he was only going to be out a couple of days, we could wait,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But I don’t think it would be good if he’s going to be out for like 10 days.”  

Prado said his finger was feeling a little better Monday.  He took some swings off the batting tee using only his left arm and shagged fly balls during batting practice.    The Braves remain hopeful that he will be ready to return to action when he’s eligible to be activated on Aug. 15.  

While Prado is sidelined, Omar Infante will serve as the leadoff hitter and starting second baseman.   

Kawakami crowding Braves 25-man roster

The Braves are expected to make a decision regarding Martin Prado’s status later today.  But if there’s even the slightest reason to believe that he’ll be sidelined through Sunday, they almost need to place him on the disabled list. 

With Kenshin Kawakami’s presence, the Braves are already essentially operating with a 24-man roster.  As they attempt to rebound from a miserable road trip, they don’t need to be playing a man short on both their pitching staff and within their offensive mix.

Fortunately Omar Infante is around to soften the effects of Prado’s absence. While he’s not going to supply the same kind of power potential, Infante certainly has the ability to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup and a sound defender at second base. 

Now back to the Kawakami situation.   There’s no doubt that Kawakami’s three-year, $23 million deal falls into the “bad contract” category.  But it’s an even worse contract when you look at the fact that the decision to send him to the Minors could adversely affect the opportunity for the Braves to get other players from Japan in the future. 

This might sound odd.  But multiple Major League sources not affiliated with the Braves, have said that others in Japan would view such a demotion as reason for their players not to affiliate themselves with an organization that has sent somebody like Kawakami to the Minors.  

Now that Jesse Chavez is gone, Kawakami might actually pitch more often, or at least whenever an emergency or “mop-up” situation arises.  But I can’t see why he wouldn’t agree to the chance to keep his arm stretched out while making a few starts for Triple-A Gwinnett. 

Kawakami, who lives in Gwinnett County, has to see that his future in Atlanta appears to be bleak. So if he truly wants a chance to at least serve as a starter in the Majors beyond this year, wouldn’t it make sense for him to at least take advantage of the chance to pitch on a regular basis somewhere?

In case you’re counting, Kawakami has made one more appearance than you and I since being removed from the rotation after his June 26 win against the Tigers.

By the time next year arrives, Mike Minor will almost certainly be in Atlanta’s starting rotation, that will definitely still include Tim Hudson Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, unless the Braves are absolutely blown away by an offseason trade offer for Jurrjens.

It’s unlikely that Jurrjens will be moved and just as unlikely that the Braves would   
be able to move the $30 million still owed to Derek Lowe over the course of the next two years.

So as things currently stand, Kris Medlen and Minor will enter Spring Training as the top candidates to fill the final available spot in the rotation.  In other words, the Kawakami situation could definitely be problematic next year. 

The Braves attempted to trade Kawakami over the course of the past month.  There was seemingly some talk with the Mariners to see if they would be willing to move Chone Figgins’ bad contract for Kawakami’s. 

But with Figgins owed at least $26 million over the course of the next three seasons, it didn’t make much sense for the Braves to trade for a offensive player in decline simply to rid themselves of the approximate $8.8 million they still owe Kawakami through the end of the 2011 season. 

Kawakami is set to make $6.67 million next year.  With this in mind, the Braves might have a better chance to move him during the winter, especially if they are willing to eat at least a portion of the salary. 

TONIGHT’S LINEUP vs. Johan Santana

Infante 4
Heyward 9
Chipper 5
Diaz 7
Gonzalez 6
Glaus 3
Ankiel 8
Ross 2
Hudson 1

It’s interesting, but not surprising, to see Ankiel in the lineup against a left-handed pitcher.  He has struggled against them throughout his career.  But because he is regarded as a much better defender than Melky Cabrera, I don’t think Bobby Cox will be using a strict platoon in center field.

Stay tuned for updates regarding Prado. 

  

 

Farnsworth and Ankiel arrive for series finale

Now that Kyle Farnsworth has arrived, there’s probably much less chance that we’ll see a Braves pitcher get hit by a pitch in a third consecutive game. 

Obviously nobody has even hinted that they have the slightest suspicion that Kris Medlen and Jair Jurrjens were intentionally hit with pitches during the first two games of this series.  But if the Reds needed reason not to even attempt to jam Tommy Hanson with a pitch today, somebody might want to show them footage of Farnsworth slamming former Cincinnati pitcher Paul Wilson to the ground on June 19, 2003 at Great American Ball Park. 

After Farnsworth and Ankiel arrived around 11 a.m. ET this morning, they introduced themselves to their new Braves teammates, many of which still remember what happened to Wilson after he reacted to an inside fastball that Farnsworth threw during that game seven years ago. 

As Farnsworth was walking toward his locker, Eric Hinske mimicked Chris Farley’s Saturday Night Live skit by playfully asking, “Remember when you choke slammed that dude?” 

Farnsworth faintly smiled and continued walking while saying, “No, I don’t remember.”

Ankiel will start in center field during this afternoon’s series finale against the Reds.  Hinske will start at first base in place of Troy Glaus, who says he can’t blame any health-related issues on the fact that he has hit just  .160 in his past 30 games. 

BRAVES LINEUP:

Conrad 5
Heyward 9
Infante 4
McCann 2
Hinske 3
Gonzalez 6
Ankiel 8
Cabrera 7
Hanson 1

NOTES: The Braves will wait until Monday before deciding whether to place Martin Prado on the disabled list.  Prado said his right pinky finger was still “pretty sore” Sunday morning… Medlen said his right forearm, which was bruised by a Johnny Cueto pitch Friday night, was feeling much better Sunday.  He expects to complete his scheduled side session Tuesday. 

 

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