March 2011

Kimbrel gets back on track

Like many of the other members of the “A-List” Yankees, Cameron Diaz didn’t make an appearance at Disney this afternoon.  But a couple blasts from the past — Tom Glavine and Craig Kimbrel’s smile  — were spotted on the grounds at one point today. 

Looking back on this afternoon’s 5-4 loss to the Yankees, the most encouraging development was obviously the perfect ninth inning tossed by Kimbrel.  Yes, it was against three Minor Leagers and no, it wasn’t exactly picture-perfect dominance. 

But this was the kind of clean outing Kimbrel needed to gain some of the confidence he was unable to gather in his first three appearances.  Also in the process of the blanking the Yankees, the young reliever might have gained a feel for his curveball, which he struggled to command in his first three outings. 

Kimbrel threw just two curveballs and they came in succession to start Doug Bernier’s at-bat.  But it was obvious the young hurler was encouraged when he described the first pitch breaker to Bernier as “probably the best curveball that I’ve thrown all Spring.” 

Kimbrel’s fastball touched 96 and after missing the strike zone with his first three pitches, he found adequate command and finished the outing in clean fashion.

As long as he starts to consistently command his curveball, Kimbrel should be fine.  Jonny Venters is likely capable to handle the closer’s role. 

But to be at their best, the Braves need Kimbrel to take care of their late innings with the  dominant form he had last year. 

Jair Jurrjens certainly wasn’t impressive while allowing four earned runs and six hits (four in a span of six batters) in four innings today. But he and Fredi Gonzalez believe he might have been predictable with either his delivery or pattern of pitches. 

The Yankees recorded four stolen base attempts in Jurrjens’ four innings.   Jurrjens said he might have become too predictable by only throwing offspeed pitches with a 1-1 count.

Whatever the case, Jurrjens has plenty of time to make necessary changes, whether mechanical or strategical, to protect against the running game.  But he might need to make some changes to whatever has caused him to allowed nine hits and six earned runs in the seven innings that have encompassed his past two starts. 

Jurrjens said he the ball felt better coming out of his hand Tuesday and the radar gun seemed to confirm with readings that rested around 90-91 and topped out at 93 mph. 

There shouldn’t be much concern about Jurrjens.  When he needed to win a roster spot before the 2008 season, he was sensational in the exhibition season.  But about six months before he ended the 2009 season with the NL’s third-best ERA (2.60),  I remember seeing him get hit around the yard in a simulated game by a couple of 19-year-old kids named Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.

That’s all for today.  See ya tomorrow.     

Fredi sends Huddy to the mound to face his former Fish

Welcome back as Tim Hudson resumes his tour of Florida.  After making his debut on the Gulf Coast last week, Hudson has positioned himself just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean to start against the Marlins this afternoon. 

Of course, Hudson is essentially just a part of today’s undercard.  There’s a lot more attention being placed on Fredi Gonzalez, who will be matching up against the Marlins for the first time since the club fired him in June. 

But with Gonzalez saying he has no hard feelings toward the Marlins, today’s most interesting angle might center around the exhibition season debut of Julio Teheran, the highly-touted 20-year-old right-hander who ranks as MLB.com’s 10th-best overall prospect.

Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez is among the many who have been amazed at the command that Teheran is showing at such a young age. 

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, Perez says Teheran and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer are the two pitchers that have impressed him the most in camp.

It’s no surprise that he would pick these two hurlers, known for their pinpoint control. The man will always be able to say that he sat behind the plate more than any other catcher when Greg Maddux was standing on the mound.

Arodys Vizcaino, who tossed a scoreless ninth in yesterday’s win over the Nationals, has also made a good impression during the early portion of this Grapefruit League season.

Entering camp, it seemed Diory Hernandez was a lock to begin the season as one of the utility infielders.  But Ed Lucas has at least kept things interesting while recording six hits (all singles) in his first 13 at-bats.  Hernandez has been equally impressive, with five hits, including two doubles and a triple, in his first 11 at-bats.  <p> 

Lucas is at second base and Hernandez at short for this afternoon’s game.  This battle might come down to who proves more valuable from a defensive standpoint, especially at the shortstop position.

Check braves.com later to read about Teheran’s outing and Fredi’s thoughts about managing against the Marlins.  Former Brave and current Marlin Wes Helms said he felt getting fired last summer was the “best thing that could have happened” to Gonzalez. 

BRAVES LINEUP
Prado 5
McLouth 8
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Hinske 7
Freeman 3
Lucas 4
Hernandez 6
Hudson 1 

  

 

Odds and ends from Viera

With the rain clouds currently in the distance here at Space Coast Stadium, Jason Heyward is preparing to prove he’s no longer bothered by the left groin discomfort that sidelined him the last three games. 

In addition, Chipper Jones is prepping to clear his next hurdle by playing third base for a second straight day.  When the Braves travel to Jupiter tomorrow to play the Marlins, Jones will rest his surgically-repaired left knee.

After Tommy Hanson completes his scheduled three innings against the Nationals this afternoon, Arodys Vizcaino will throw at least one inning.  The 20-year-old right-hander’s fastball was clocked around 95-97 mph as he tossed two scoreless innings against the Red Sox last Wednesday. 

It’s remarkable that Vizcaino is registering this kind of velocity when just last summer he seemed destined for Tommy John surgery. 

Earlier this week, a National League scout said he feels Vizcaino will be a reliever at the Major League level.  It remains to be seen whether this proves to be a sound projection. 

But for now, the Braves will simply continue to count themselves lucky to have Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran at the same time. 

Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said Teheran will likely pitch in Monday afternoon’s game against the Marlins.  The 20-year-old right-hander, who is rated MLB.com’s top pitching prospect, has seemingly overcome the back spasms that bothered him last week.

While Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino get most of the attention, multiple coaches and members of management has spent the past couple weeks saying, “Don’t forget about Brett Oberholtzer.”

Oberholtzer really impressed with the control he showed while tossing a pair of scoreless innings against the Nationals Friday. 

During September’s Instructional League, Nationals phenom Bryce Harper victimized Delgado with an opposite-field homer that traveled an estimated 400-plus feet. 

One scout who watched Friday’s game said the left-handed Oberholtzer made Harper “look stupid” while striking him out. 

TODAY’S LINEUP

Prado 7
Schafer 8
Chipper 5
Uggla 4
Heyward 9
Gonzalez 6
Freeman 3
Ross 2
Hanson 1 

 

Chipper feeling expected day-after soreness

When Chipper Jones arrived at the park today, his surgically-repaired left knee was providing the kind of pain he expected to feel the day after playing defense for the first time in nearly seven months.

As for most of the rest of his body parts, they seemed to be much sorer. 

“I’m sore,” Jones said with a smirk and chuckle. “My hamstrings, my quads, everything.” 

Even while saying that his hamstrings were “really barking”, Jones planned to serve as the designated hitter in Friday afternoon’s game against the Blue Jays at Disney. 

While playing third base Thursday for the first time since tearing his left ACL on Aug. 10, Jones grabbed one pop fly and snared a grounder.  That was the only action he saw during his four-inning stint at the hot corner. 

But as his legs were reminding him Friday, they still felt the effects of him flexing his leg muscles with every pitch and pushing off either leg in reaction to every batted ball. 

“You can’t simulate playing a game,” Jones said. “You can go out and work out and do everything you think is going to prepare you for a game and it just doesn’t work….During the game, you’re doing squat after squat after squat.”

While he would have appreciated the chance to avoid this “sore muscle” pain, Jones was pleased that his knee seemed to fine when he awoke Friday.

“The knee is fine,” Jones said. “I didn’t have any more or less fluid in my knee than I have any other morning.” 

Jones will have a chance to watch Mike Minor pitch against the Blue Jays this afternoon. Meanwhile Martin Prado will be in Viera playing third base and getting a chance to see Brandon Beachy attempt to improve his positioning in the battle against Minor for the rotation’s fifth spot.

Earlier this week, Jones said he is among those who feel Beachy has a bright future.  He likes the right-hander’s command and makeup. 

Speaking of futures, the Braves have brought some of their top prospects over from Minor League camp to serve as extras in today’s game.

Well Todd Cunninghman, who was selected in the second round of last summer’s First-Year Player Draft, was going to serve as an extra until Eric Hinske was scratched from the lineup (vs. Blue Jays) Friday morning.  Cunningham will make the start in left field.

One year after giving him a $1.6 million signing bonus, the Braves welcomed Edward Salcedo to the big league clubhouse to serve as one of the extras against the Blue Jays.  The 19-year-old shortstop experienced some growing pains while hitting .197 in 54 games with Class A Rome last year.

Other extras vs. Blue Jays are infielders Phil Gosselin, Joe Leonard and outfielders David Rohm and Kyle Rose.

Matt Lipka, the club’s top selection in last summer’s First-Year Player Draft, will serve as one of the extras in Viera.  Outfielders Cory Harrilchak and Adam Milligan and first baseman Joseph Terdoslavich fill out this group of extras.

There will be interest surrounding the battle Minor and Beachy are staging for the rotation’s fifth spot.  But it will also be interesting to see how Craig Kimbrel fares today in Viera.   The young reliever bounced back from a rough debut with a strong showing against the Red Sox Wednesday. 

Kimbrel showed a pretty good fastball against the Red Sox Wednesday.  But it appeared he’s still trying to find a feel for his breaking ball.

Braves general manager Frank Wren’s son Kyle has made good early impressions while serving as Georgia Tech’s starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter.  Check out this wall-jarring catch he recently made against St. John’s.    
 
TODAY’S LINEUP vs. Blue Jays

Mycal Jones 8
Alex Gonzalez 6
Chipper DH
Uggla 4
Cunningham 7
Mather 3
Ross 2
Clevlen 9
Hicks 5

TODAY’S  LINEUP @ Nats
Prado 5
McLouth 8
Freeman 3
McCann 2
Wilkin Ramirez DH
Schafer 9
Conrad 4
Diory Hernandez 6
Young 7
Beachy 1

  

Chipper set to play third today

To celebrate the start of  ESPN The Weekend at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has decided to put Chipper Jones at third base for this afternoon’s game against the Tigers, which will be aired on ESPN. 

OK, so that’s not exactly the reason.  In fact, Gonzalez might not even know that many of the folks from Bristol have arrived in the Disney area and stolen some of the thunder created by Kenshin Kawakami’s arrival. 

Essentially, Gonzalez simply felt Jones was ready to test his surgically-repaired left knee at third base today.  The veteran third baseman didn’t have a problem with the decision.  But until seeing the lineup in the clubhouse this morning, he was assuming he would wait until tomorrow to play defense. 

“It was the manager’s decision,” Jones said. “I’m ready. One day isn’t going to make any difference.  I could come in tomorrow with my knee blown up and be scratched.  I feel fine today.  I was actually going to talk to him about doing it today.  He made the decision for me.”

This will be the first time Jones has played third base since he tore his left ACL on Aug. 10.  He served as the designated hitter in exhibition games played Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

While Jones is in today’s lineup, Jason Heyward will wait a few more days before playing again.  The 21-year-old right field exited Wednesday’s win over the Red Sox with some discomfort in his left groin. 

Heyward said he felt some tightness Monday night and then felt some more discomfort while playing defense in Wednesday’s first inning. 

After being evaluated by members of the Braves medical staff Thursday morning, Heyward said they don’t think he’s dealing with anything that should cause concern.  He’ll likely miss at least a couple games. 

“It was good that I got out of there at the right time and didn’t make it any worse,” Heyward said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Kawakami is in Braves camp…for now

When Kenshin Kawakami arrived in Braves camp this morning, he introduced himself to manager Fredi Gonzalez and renewed acquaintances with a caffeinated Derek Lowe. 

Instead of greeting his former rotation mate with, “Don’t worry, they didn’t want me last year”, Lowe simply welcomed Kawakami back and playfully said something about how the Braves had to send Brett Favre’s jet to get the Japanese hurler. 

With his visa issues resolved Kawakami was able to leave Japan and arrive in Braves camp more than two weeks after pitchers and catchers staged their first workout.

“It feels like I was just in elementary school and I was sick the whole time and just came back,” Kawakami said through his interpreter.

At least Kawakami has managed to maintain a sense of humor as he prepares to enter a tough situation.

Kawakami is well aware that the Braves have spent the past four months attempting to trade him.  He also knows that if he stays within the Atlanta organization, he’ll likely begin the season pitching in either suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County or Pearl, Miss. 

But when asked, Kawakami refused to admit that he’s hoping to be traded.

“To be honest, I can’t think about that right now,” Kawakami said. “If anything, I’d love to be on this team.”

When the Braves attempted to deal him to some interested clubs from the Japanese League, Kawakami said he wanted a chance to pitch in the United States for at least one more season. 

Obviously, this was a right he earned when the Braves opted to give him a three-year, $23 million contract before the start of the 2009 season.  Since then, they’ve seen him go 8-22 with a 4.32 ERA in 50 appearances (41 starts).

Through the first two years of this deal the Braves have paid Kawakami  $1.79 million per win.  Considering there’s a good possibility that he never pitches again in Atlanta, that number will likely look even more Hampton-esque before it’s all said and done.

It’s believed there were some Japanese clubs willing to pay nearly half of the $6.77 million Kawakami is owed in the final year of his contract.  Major League clubs haven’t been willing to offer quite as much. 

The Pirates showed some interest and the Orioles were believed to have offered to pay the Braves $2 million for Kawakami.

Because the Braves waited to see if they could get more, Kawakami now prepares for a season without knowing exactly where he’ll be pitching.

Check MLB.com and braves.com later today for a complete story about Kawakami’s arrival.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman   

McLouth gains early confidence

There was some good hitting, bad pitching and shoddy defense during Monday’s 13-3 win over the Astros at Disney.  But for the Braves, the most important development came courtesy of the fact that Nate McLouth reached safely in each of his four plate appearances. 

No, that didn’t match the amount of times he reached base during the entirety of last year’s exhibition season.  It just seemed like it.  But if you’re counting, his two hits accounted for one-third of the total he collected in 51 exhibition season at-bats last year.

“My first hit was a bloop hit, but at least it didn’t take me nine games to get it,” McLouth said in reference to his first-inning bloop single to center. 

The fact that McLouth can at least attempt to poke fun at last season’s struggles seems to indicate that he’s much more relaxed than he was at any point last year.  Instead of trying to avoid his struggles, he’s accepted the challenge of overcoming them. 

Chipper Jones said he is looking forward to seeing if McLouth continues to take a more aggressive approach in the batter’s box.  As his confidence continued to take a beating last year, McLouth seemed far too indecisive at the plate. 

During Monday’s fourth inning, he looked at a hittable 2-0 pitch and then laced an opposite-field RBI double to left field.

“He’s made some adjustments at the plate,” Jones said. “He’s starting with some rhythm and getting something going, as opposed to starting from a dead standstill.  We’ve got to get him a little more aggressive than he was last year.  I don’t want to see him taking 2-0 and 3-1 pitches right down the middle, hoping for a walk.  I want him to do damage.” 

Now that the tarp has been removed here at Osceola County Stadium, McLouth and Jones will be among the Braves who will be taking their hacks at Astros right-hander Brett Myers. 

This is Jones’ third straight start as the designated hitter.  It will be interesting to see how his knee reacts once he starts playing the field and is forced to instinctively react to his right or left.  But for now, it appears his knee is passing all of the necessary tests and producing nothing more than expected discomfort. 

Kenshin Kawakami will arrive in the Orlando area tonight and be in camp for tomorrow’s workout at Disney.  It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about his future, or at least the club’s decision to remove him from the 40-man roster and put him on Double-A Mississippi’s roster. 

TODAY’S LINEUP:
Schafer 7
McLouth 8
Chipper DH
Uggla 4
Heyward 9
Mather 5
Freeman 3
Boscan 2
Hernandez 6

Tommy Hanson will start.  Jonny Venters, Stephen Marek, Michael Broadway, Jairo Asencio and Eric O’Flaherty are scheduled to pitch.    

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