Hanson provided much-needed encouragement
Chipper Jones produced a couple key plate appearances and then solidified his role as the King of Quotes when he exited last night’s 5-0 win over the Marlins and said, “tonight was as perfect of a nine-inning game as we’ve played yet.”
It was certainly encouraging to see the Braves show some signs of life at the plate and dazzle with the glove. But the most important development centered around the fact that Tommy Hanson pitched with confidence and quite simply looked like the same Tommy Hanson the Braves were expecting to see entering this season.
Hanson wasn’t good during his season debut in Washington and he was only marginally better last week in Milwaukee. But when he returned to the mound to face the Marlins last night, he commanded each at-bat by consistently getting ahead in the count and confidently complementing his fastball with his changeup and slider – the breaking pitch he lacked against the Brewers last week.
There are times when first-pitch strike stats are meaningless. As a pitcher, you certainly don’t want to develop a detectable pattern. But at the same time, you can’t dispute the age old fact that a pitcher is at his best when he is consistently ahead in the count.
With this being said, Hanson needed to do what he did last night, when he threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the 11 batters he faced in the first three innings. The three strikeouts he posted after facing just five batters matched his combined total from his first two starts.
After tossing his seven scoreless innings against the Marlins, Hanson returned to the clubhouse and spoke with the confident tone that he lacked after his previous two starts.
With Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson off to great starts and Jair Jurrjens ready to make his season debut Saturday, Hanson seems to have righted himself just in time. It will be interesting to see how the Braves perform now that their starting rotation is at full strength.
Coming off Friday’s win over the Phillies and Cliff Lee, Hudson will try to improve to 3-0 tonight while facing the Marlins and Josh Johnson, who stands as one of the game’s most talented starters.
Opening Day starter Derek Lowe has been opposed by Livan Hernandez, Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hamels this year. After tonight Hudson’s first three mound opponents will have been Jordan Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson.
The Braves have totaled two runs in Lowe’s three starts and they were both tallied during his Opening Day victory. The 37-year-old hurler has allowed a total of three runs while losing his past two starts.
Speaking of tough-luck, Johnson has gone 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 14 career starts against the Braves. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of these outings.
Johnson allowed three earned runs in three consecutive starts against the Braves from Sept. 1, 2008-Aug. 31, 2009. In the four starts he has since made against Atlanta, he has gone 0-1 with a 1.57 ERA (4 ER, 23 IP).
Chipper Jones has hit .300 (9-for-30) with a double and seven strikeouts in his career against Johnson. The veteran third baseman needs just one more RBI to join Eddie Murray as the only switch hitters in Major League history to total 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs in a career.
It won’t be long before Jones joins both Murray and Mickey Mantle, the two most inspiring figures of his youth, in Cooperstown.
By the way, if you haven’t seen Jason Heyward’s long homer, some of last night’s impressive defense, or post-game comments from Fredi Gonzalez, Chipper and Hanson, click here.
Quick bullpen thoughts: Scott Linebrink’s scoreless ninth inning was another of the encouraging developments last night. His ability to get through the inning clean allowed both Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to enjoy another night to rest.
Linebrink isn’t the dominant reliever he was just a few years ago. But if he can prove reliable enough to eat some innings here and there, the Braves can afford to continue keeping his valuable veteran guidance in their bullpen.
If the Braves reach a point where they need to make changes in their bullpen, Stephen Marek, Juan Abreu, Jairo Asencio, Cory Gearrin and Scott Proctor are all ready to make the jump from Triple-A Gwinnett. Marek has impressed during the early portion of this season, allowing just one hit and recording four strikeouts in three innings.
Proctor isn’t eligible to join the Braves at the big league level until May 15. But the Braves will keep a close eye on the veteran reliever, whose fastball has sat at 94 mph during recent appearances for Gwinnett.