April 2011

Braves look to revive offense against Estrada

While the Braves were being frustrated by Yovani Gallardo Tuesday night, three of their former teammates were playing key roles in walk-off victories and another was simply walking out without talking to the media.

Yunel Escobar drilled a walk-off homer for the Blue Jays.  Melky Cabrera’s chopper through the infield allowed the Royals to enjoy another walk-off celebration and Omar Infante scored the winning run in the Marlins’ walk-off win over the Nats.

Meanwhile the Braves were recording just two singles and proving unsuccessful in their attempt to score against Gallardo. But it was quite obvious they didn’t feel nearly as frustrated as Rafael Soriano, who avoided the Yankees’ media after blowing a four-run, eighth-inning lead in what became a 10-inning loss to the Twins.

“It’s just one of those ones where you don’t spend much time fretting about tonight because  Gallardo was tough,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said.

Since tallying 11 runs and 12 hits in Sunday’s win over the Nationals, the Braves have come to Milwaukee and seen their offense go ice cold.  Through the first two games of this series, they haven’t recorded an at-bat with a runner in scoring position.

While some Braves fans might be wondering what has happened to the offense, Brewers fans should be wondering how they could pitch so well in these two games and win just one of them.

The Braves simply ran into two very good pitchers.  Many of you already knew about the potential of Gallardo, who is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA in five career starts against the Braves.   Based on what was seen Monday, you’ll soon start hearing much more about Chris Narveson, who has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts.

If Thursday’s scheduled starter Shaun Marcum’s right shoulder remains healthy and Zack Greinke and Corey Hart return from the disabled list without any problem, this Brewers team will live up to preseason expectations and win the National League Central.

Fortunately for the Braves, the optimism in Milwaukee doesn’t center around Marco Estrada, a 27-year-old right-hander they have promoted from Triple-A Nashville to start tonight’s game. He is 0-1 with an 11.81 ERA in two career starts and opponents have hit .276 with a .362 on-base percentage in his 22 career appearances.

The Brewers were so high on Estrada that they didn’t even include him as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year.  But as the Cactus League progressed, he started to prove he was the best option to temporarily fill Greinke’s spot in the rotation.

Estrada, who was claimed off waivers from the Nationals last year, will be matching up against Mike Minor, who is making what appears will be his only start in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens, who was scheduled to complete a simulated game with Triple-A Gwinnett this afternoon.

When we last saw Minor, he was struggling to find consistency with his curveball and changeup.  He seems to be encouraged with the results he’s realized the past couple weeks.

Minor deserves to be credited for the professionalism he’s shown since the Braves decided to give Brandon Beachy the final spot in their rotation.   Through words and actions, he has supported Beachy and remained confident that he will soon have a chance to display the skills the Braves saw when they took him with the seventh pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and gave him a$2.4 million signing bonus.

When the Braves informed Minor of their decision, he grabbed his gear and immediately went to the back fields to begin working out with the other Minor Leaguers.

“I was fine with the decision,” Minor said. “I didn’t really care. I just want to pitch and compete out there, no matter who it is against.”

Odds and ends:  The Braves announced they have put standing-room-only tickets on sale for Friday night’s home opener against the Phillies.  These tickets are $15 (4 tickets per person max) and can be purchased on braves.com.  If you don’t have a parking permit for one of the Braves’ lots, you are advised to use MARTA.

There are still tickets available for Saturday and Sunday.  The Avett Brothers will provide a concert after Sunday’s game.

The Braves have revealed Friday’s pregame ceremonies will include a “very special first pitch.”   I’ve got my guess who will be delivering that pitch and I’m sure many of you are thinking along the same lines as Fredi Gonzalez prepares to introduce himself to the city of Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

Kimbrel justifying comparisons to Wagner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I think I’ve figured out why this posted elsewhere today.  Sorry for the confusion.)

When Braves general manager first described Craig Kimbrel as a right-handed Billy Wagner, it seemed appropriate to simply smile and nod.  This young Kimbrel kid had just proven dominant in his first full professional season and he just happened to be getting ready to be introduced to Wagner, who had recently signed with the Braves.

There are countless comparisons made every day in the baseball world and they oftentimes prove comical a few years down the road.  When Kelly Johnson was adapting to the second base position, Bobby Cox said something like “he looks like Maz (Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski) out there.”  Sparky Anderson once described Barbaro Garbey as another Roberto Clemente.

Well it’s still far to early to say Kimbrel is Wagner’s right-handed equal.  But the Braves 22-year-old closer has obviously already proven the comparison won’t be deemed as ridiculous as the two mentioned in the above graph.

Any lingering doubts about Kimbrel should have been erased when he notched four strikeouts in the two perfect innings he tossed in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series against the Giants.  The kid showed nerves of steel while pitching in enemy territory that night.

In a far less stressful setting in front of Milwaukee’s home opener crowd yesterday afternoon, Kimbrel completed yet another jaw-dropping inning.   He needed just 15 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect ninth that resulted in his second save of the young season.

Kimbrel opened the first of this year’s two perfect innings by getting Adam LaRoche to end a seven-pitch at-bat with a weak fly ball to left fielder Martin Prado.   He has since struck out each of the five batters he’s faced within a span of 26 pitches.

It might not mean a lot to simply say just one of the 33 pitches Kimbrel has thrown this year has been put in play.   But I think the sample size is large enough to at least be impressed that just 7.9 percent of the 417 pitches he’s thrown in his career have been put in play.

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol set a record for all Major League pitchers in 2008, when just 12.4 percent of his pitches were put in play.

Because Kimbrel has made just 23 career appearances, it’s still a little too early to anoint him with greatness.  But while limiting opponents to a .115 batting average and allowing just one earned run, he’s certainly moving in that direction.

Kimbrel has recorded 17.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his young career. Since being rejoining Atlanta’s roster in September, he has struck out 28 of the 48 batters he’s faced and this doesn’t account for the fact that he struck out seven of the 13 batters he faced in the NLDS.

Marmol set a Major League record for relievers last year when he struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings.  Eric Gagne ranks second with the 14.98 mark he posted in 2003.  Wagner owns three of the top seven marks  –  14.95 in 1999, 14.55 in 1998 and 14.38 in 1997.

With his career now consisting of about a quarter of a third of a normal season, Kimbrel has struck out 47.9 percent of the batters he’s faced.  He’s struck out 58.3 percent of the batters he’s faced since rejoining the Braves in September.

Wagner set a Major League record for relievers in 1999 when he struck out 43.4 percent of the hitters he faced.  Gagne bettered that mark in 2003, when he retired 44.8 percent of the batters he faced via strikeouts.

Who knows what the future holds for Kimbrel.  But the present is telling us it’s at least fair to label him as a “right-handed Billy Wagner.”

Odds and ends: Chipper Jones needs four hits and seven RBIs to join Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as the only Major League switch hitters to record 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs in a career…Earlier this week, I wrote Dan Uggla has now hit his first homer in the second game of four consecutive seasons.   While he is a slow starter in Spring Training, Uggla has now totaled two homers in the first four games of two of the past three seasons.

If you haven’t seen the Braves’ funny new commercials, check them out here.   I thought the AJC’s David O’Brien was very charitable to allow them to use his car in the spot featuring Jason Heyward.

Minor promoted to start for the disabled Jurrjens

Mike Minor will start Wednesday's game in Milwaukee. (Photo AP)

The Braves officially opted to put Jair Jurrjens on the 15-day disabled list Sunday morning with a strained right oblique muscle.   This was the move they were planning to make Friday when they called Mike Minor to inform him that he will be starting Wednesday night’s game in Milwaukee.

“They just told me to be ready by Wednesday,” said Minor after joining the big league club Sunday morning.  “It (stinks) for JJ.  I actually do hope he comes back soon.  I’m not trying to be selfish on my part.  I just want the team to win.  I know I’ll get my time and he’s earned his.”

Jurrjens doesn’t seem concerned about the oblique strain that forced him to exit his March 24 exhibition start after just one inning.  Nor do the Braves seem to think the ailment will prove to be a lingering problem.  But it might have been a problem had they rushed him back to the mound Wednesday or even as soon as next Saturday, when he will be eligible to return from the disabled list.

Having thrown just one inning since his March 18 six-inning performance in Port St. Lucie, Jurrjens needs time to make his final preparations for the upcoming season.  The Braves have devised a plan that will give him a chance to get healthy before making his scheduled season debut against the Mets on April 16.

Jurrjens will complete a simulated game with Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday and then throw five or six innings against Triple-A Norfolk on April 11.  This would put him on schedule to make his season debut against the Mets five days later.

If everything goes according to plan, Minor will only have to make the one start for Atlanta.

Odds and ends:

Dan Uggla said fans shouldn’t expect much from him during Spring Training and then ended up hitting .212 with one homer during the exhibition season.   Those who have followed his career might have also been able to predict that he would hit his first home run as a Brave during Saturday’s game against the Nationals.

Uggla’s sixth-inning shot off Nationals reliever Chad Gaudin extended an odd streak.  The powerful second baseman has now notched his first homer in the second game of each of the past four seasons.  He opted not to procrastinate in 2007, when he notched his first homer on Opening Day.

Chipper Jones enters Sunday six hits shy of 2500 for his career and eight RBIs shy of 1500.  Hall of Famer Eddie Murray is the only switch hitter in Major League history to compile 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs.

 

BRAVES LINEUP for 4/3 @ Nationals

Prado 7

McLouth 8

Chipper 5

McCann 2

Uggla 4

Heyward 9

Gonzalez 6

Freeman 3

Hudson 1

 

 

 

 

Braves still waiting to make decision on Jurrjens

Jair Jurrjens (AP Photo/John Amis)

 

Jair Jurrjens seems to be ready to make his scheduled regular season debut Wednesday in Milwaukee.  But the Braves seem prepared to take the precautionary route by placing him on the disabled list.

If Jurrjens is placed on the disabled list, he could be activated for next Saturday’s game against the Phillies.  Given that he would only have to wait an extra three days to make the debut under this scenario, the Braves might be wise to go this route and give Wednesday’s start to Mike Minor.

By putting him on the DL, the Braves also give Jurrjens a chance to knock off some of the rust he’s developed since exiting his March 24 exhibition start after just one inning because of discomfort in his right side.   If he starts Wednesday in Milwaukee, he would be 12 days removed from last week’s one-inning effort.

Jurrjens doesn’t believe there’s any reason for concern heading toward his scheduled side session Sunday morning.  But if necessary, the Braves could take advantage of an early offday and actually allow him to rest until April 16.  Under this scenario, Minor still would only be needed for next Wednesday’s start in Milwaukee.

Jurrjens’ thoughts will be posted in today’s BEAT, which will also include notes on Fredi Gonzalez’ decision to send Jonny Venters to the mound for Thursday’s eighth and Craig Kimbrel to the mound for the ninth. Basically Gonzalez went into the game with the mindset that Kimbrel would serve as his closer.

I would guess this is the mindset Gonzalez will take most of the time.  But he says he will be very careful with his young relievers and do whatever he can to make sure they don’t pitch more than two days in a row during the early portion of the season.

Even with the Nationals starting left-hander John Lannan Saturday, Gonzalez kept the left-handed Brian McCann in the cleanup spot and the right-handed Dan Uggla in the fifth spot of the lineup.   He says he will likely go with this arrangement whenever all of his regulars are in the lineup.

 

BRAVES LINEUP for 4/2 @ Nationals

Prado 7

McLouth 8

Chipper 5

McCann 2

Uggla 4

Heyward 9

Gonzalez 6

Freeman 3

Hanson 1

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