June 2011

Interesting tidbits from Monday’s win

As Brian McCann was extending his power barrage and Freddie Freeman was once again proving left-handed pitchers don’t bother him,  Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Beachy spent last night proving they are not your run-of-the-mill rookie hurlers.

Last night’s 3-1 win over the Mariners created a number of interesting topics of discussion.    The Braves have now recorded five hits or fewer in three of their first four games of this trip and a total of 18 times this season.  Last night’s five-hit attack proved sufficient for Beachy, who notched his third career win with the support provided by the homers hit by McCann and Freeman.

Then to cap the evening Kimbrel recorded three strikeouts in a perfect 12-pitch ninth inning.  The rookie closer has now recorded three strikeouts in eight of the one-inning appearances he has made this year.   This also marked the fourth time that he has recorded three strikeouts in a perfect inning this year.

Kimbrel leads all Major League relievers in strikeouts (61) and ranks fourth with 14.08 strikeouts per nine innings.    His career statistics through 61 appearances and 59 1/3 innings, include 101 strikeouts and 15.2 K/9IP.

Kimbrel’s strikeout ratios are certainly going to even out over time.   But to put his accomplishments in perspective Cubs closer Carlos Marmol’s 12.77 K/IP rank as the most by a reliever in Major League history.  Through his first 65 career appearances, Marmol registered 12.5  K/9Ip.

Speaking of strikeouts, Beachy notched nine more while limiting the Mariners to one run over six innings last night.   He has recorded 20 strikeouts while totaling 12 innings in the two victorious starts he has made since returning from the disabled list last week.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Beachy is the first Braves rookie since 1900 to record 20 or more strikeouts while winning consecutive starts.

I apologize for an erroneous stat that was included in yesterday’s entry about Kimbrel and Beachy’s strikeout totals through the first 70 innings of their career.  It seemed ridiculous and while I was writing the game story last night, I looked at the parameters again and realized it was only accounting for pitchers who had thrown 70 or fewer innings, not what they had done in their first 70 innings or fewer.

With this being said, even after missing a little more than a month with an oblique strain, Beachy ranks second among Major League rookies with 66 strikeouts  (56 1/3 IP).   The only rookie with more is the Mariners’  Michael Pineda, who has recorded 94 (95 2/3 IP) entering tonight’s showdown with Tommy Hanson and the Braves.

Each of the seven homers Pineda allowed this year came in an eight start span that stretched from May 4-June 11.   Tonight the 6-foot-7 right-hander will draw the task of attempting to keep McCann in the yard.

McCann’s first-inning shot last night was his 14th of the season and 12th over his past 32 games, dating back to May 17.   The only Major Leaguers who have hit more during this stretch are Matt Kemp (15), Mark Teixeira (14) and Mike Morse (13).  Each has compiled at least 15 more at-bats than McCann during this stretch.

McCann’s .724 slugging percentage has only been bettered by Kemp’s .779 mark during this span.

After hitting just two homers in the first 43 games played by the Braves this year, McCann is now on pace to hit a career-high 28 this year year.

McCann’s homer Monday night came in his 286th plate appearance of the season.  The only other time he hit his 14th homer in fewer plate appearances was in 2008, when he hit No. 14 in his 285th plate appearance against….the Mariners (Carlos Silva).

You can’t make this stuff  up.  It’s not like the Braves and Mariners play every day.  This is just the third time they have met in a three-game series and McCann was playing for Class A Rome the first time they met back in 2003.

McCann and Freeman now lead the Braves with four homers against left-handed pitchers.  Alex Gonzalez (3) and Chipper Jones (2) are the only others who have hit more than one off southpaws this year.

McCann hit eight of his 18 homers against left-handed pitchers in 2007.  But over the previous three seasons he has struggled  to generate power against them.  He hit three homers against southpaws in 2008, four in 2009 and five in 2010.

 

 

 

Runs could once again be at a premium in Seattle

When the Braves were last in Seattle eight years ago, pitching enthusiasts were treated to a delightful three-game series.  The pitching matchups that weekend were  Russ Ortiz vs. Freddy Garcia, Mike Hampton vs. Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux vs. Gil Meche.  The Mariners claimed a pair of 2-1 victories and John Smoltz notched a two-inning save to give Hampton credit for a 3-1 win.

Both teams combined to score five runs during that enjoyable three-game series.   Given the current state of these two offenses, this week’s series winner might not have to score more than five runs.

You’ve already heard plenty about the Braves’ offensive struggles.   To give you a glimpse of what the Seattle fans have been dealing with, the Mariners have split their past 10 games while the pitchers have combined to post a 1.63 ERA.  Taking that one step further, the Mariners have gone 11-13 this month while posting a very respectable 2.85 ERA.

As maddening as the Atlanta offense has been, the Braves have gone 14-9 this month while posting a 3.28 ERA.

While the Braves have hit .221 with a .288 on-base percentage and .396 slugging percentage this month, I’m quite sure some of you have asked, ‘can it get any worse?’   If you were standing around a Mariners fan at the time, you may have received a quick response.

The Mariners have batted .220 with a .277 on-base percentage and .352 slugging percentage this month.   Their only player to record a double-digit RBI total in June has been veteran catcher Miguel Olivo, who has batted .190 with  eight homers 24 strikeouts and 19 RBIs.

So as Brandon Beachy takes the mound tonight, he’ll obviously attempt to keep Ichiro off the bases and prevent Olivo from generating any more of his boom-or-bust production.

When Braves media relations director Brad Hainje was preparing today’s notes, he researched where Beachy’s strikeout total ranks all time among pitchers who have thrown 70 innings or fewer in their career.

Through the first 65 1/3 innings of his career, Beachy has recorded 72 strikeouts.  That ranks as the fifth-highest total in Major League history.   Those in front of him are Dodgers’ reliever Kenley Jansen (83 Ks in 52 2/3 IP), Stephen Strasburg (92 Ks in 68 IP) and a couple of guys who spent most of last year with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Mike Dunn, who the Braves sent to the Marlins in the Dan Uggla deal, ranks fourth on this list with 78 strikeouts in his first 60 innings.

Braves rookie closer Craig Kimbrel owns the distinction of recording more strikeouts than any other pitcher in Major League history through the first 70 innings of his career.  Kimbrel has notched 98 strikeouts in his first 58 2/3 innings.

Speaking of strikeouts, the Braves have compiled 603 — fourth-most in the Majors  —  through this season’s first 79 games. This puts them on pace for 1,236, which would break the franchise record 1,169 set in 2006.    Don’t get too consumed with this though.  Last year’s team compiled the fifth-most strikeouts (1,140) in franchise history.

As you might have seen in the game story, yesterday marked the fifth time this season that the Braves have been held to two hits or fewer.  This equals their combined total of the past two years.

The only other Major League clubs to be held to two hits or fewer four times this year are the Marlins and Blue Jays.  These just happen to be the two teams the Braves have swept this month.

When I posted this stat on Twitter (@mlbbowman) last night, multiple fans once again responded with the Fire Larry Parrish refrain.  As I mentioned in Saturday’s post, it’s not going to happen any time soon.

In case you were wondering, the Marlins have been held to two hits or fewer twice since firing their hitting coach during the early portion of this month.

Before we wrap this up, Braves fans have until Thursday night to make sure Brian McCann is elected to serve as the National League’s starting catcher in this year’s All-Star Game.  Click here to look at the most recent results and to cast your vote.

 

 

 

Braves likely to stand pat for a little while

So the Braves record four hits or fewer for the ninth time this season last night and suddenly Braves Nation is once again talking about making an immediate trade or firing Larry Parrish.

When the Braves first visited California three weeks into this season, the offense was providing concerns and there was already some wondering whether Parrish was the right guy to replace Terry Pendleton, who had spent the previous years serving as the Braves’ hitting coach and their fans’ punching bag.

Well as much as this might pain you, I don’t see a trade happening for at least another few weeks and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Parrish sticks around at least through the end of this season.

As the final days of June elapse, ’tis the season for the baseball world to be enamored by trade rumors.  There has been nothing wrong with Braves fans dreaming about the possibility of adding somebody like Matt Kemp or Hunter Pence.

It adds to the interest of the game and after having to watch their offense over this season’s first three months Braves fans deserve some excitement.  But when looking at these rumors from a realistic standpoint, there is very, very little reason to believe either player ends up in Atlanta.

When there were rumors swirling around Matt Kemp last year, there was reason to wonder if he had indeed tested the last bit of patience the Dodgers had for him.   But now that he has recovered from Rihanna fever and once again established himself as one of the game’s greatest all-around talents, there is no reason for the Dodgers to trade him now.

Check out this story my colleague Ken Gurnick wrote this week and tell me if you think Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is ready to give up on a player that made Bobby Cox take pause the first time he saw Kemp take batting practice in 2007.   Colletti has said he is hoping to sign both Kemp and Andre Ethier to multi-year deals before they become free agents after the 2012 season.

Yeah, I understand the McCourts divorce proceedings have created great financial problems for the Dodgers.  But you’ll see Tommy Lasorda wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform before you see the Dodgers trade Matt Kemp this year.

Like most other Major Leaguers, Pence isn’t in Kemp’s elite category.  But as the most talented trade piece available in the Astros’ system, he could draw a significant return on the trade market.

With their impressive crop of young pitching prospects, the Braves could likely create a package that would satisfy the Astros.   Of course if they were to acquire Pence to fill their one potential need in center field, then it could be said they would be playing without a true centerfielder.

Pence played 95 games as a centerfielder in his 2007 rookie season and has not returned to the position.   He might be able to upgrade the lineup.   But it wouldn’t be long before some of you would be talking about how much you miss Jordan Schafer in center.

This brings us back to where the Braves stand on the trade market.  Once Martin Prado returns to play left field and hit near the top of the lineup, Braves general manager Frank Wren will have a better idea about what his team needs before the July 31 trade deadline.

But as things currently stand from a position player standpoint, Wren seemingly has no choice but to wait a few more weeks to see how confident he is in Schafer’s ability to serve as the leadoff hitter the club needs.

At times Schafer has looked capable of filling this need and at other times he has provided the reminder that he might need more time to develop the patience the role demands.

In his first nine games, Schafer hit .229 with a .357 on-base percentage.  But in the 18 games he has played since being hit in the face by a fouled bunt attempt, he has hit .219 with a .269 on-base percentage.

Schafer is a great athlete with tremendous potential.  The Braves can afford to wait a couple more weeks to evaluate his potential as a leadoff hitter.  But if there is still some question after the All-Star break, then we’ll probably hear more about their pursuit of an outfielder who could fill the leadoff spot.

As for the topic of Parrish’s long-term future, the Braves are much more likely to make an in-season change to their coaching staff now that Bobby Cox is not the manager. But don’t forget that the decision to hire Parrish was essentially Wren’s.

If Fredi Gonzalez had also been allowed to hire his hitting coach, you have to think he would have gone with Jim Presley, who served as his hitting coach in Florida and now handles this role for the Orioles.    You also have to wonder if Dan Uggla would be struggling in this manner had Presley been around.

But before thinking too much about this, remember that Presley was removed as a candidate for the Braves’ job a few weeks before Wren landed Uggla from the Marlins.

I’m guessing Parrish makes it at least through the end of the season.  If he is dismissed at that time, some of the players will likely campaign for Triple-A Gwinnett hitting coach Jamie Dismuke.

After the Padres pounded Jairo Asencio for six runs during last night’s seventh inning I tweeted that we might see Cory Gearrin pretty soon.   Well the Braves opted not to promote Gearrin today and I now think Asencio will stick around at least until Tommy Hanson is activated from the disabled list Tuesday.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Schafer 8

Heyward 9

Chipper 5

McCann 2

Freeman 3

Uggla 4

Gonzalez 6

McLouth 7

Jurrjens 1

 

 

 

McCann nearing sixth straight All-Star selection in impressive fashion

Getting two trips to San Diego in one season is considered a true treat for any  Major League club not in the National League West.   This is undoubtedly the Senior Circuit’s best stop.   Chicago ranks a close second.

It’s been two months since we last visited San Diego and it’s safe to say much has changed since the Braves took two of three from the Padres during April’s final week.   With a series-ending win over the Padres on April 27, the Braves gained a .500 record (13-13) for the first time since April 8 and moved to within four games of the first-place Phillies in the NL East.

The Braves are still four games behind the Phillies, but they enter tonight’s series opener a season-high 10 games above .500. They also enter this three-game series with their All-Star catcher armed with the power stroke that he lacked the last time the Braves were in San Diego.

When backup catcher David Ross enjoyed a two-homer game against the Padres on April 26, he had plenty of fun at the expense of McCann, who had tallied just two extra-base hits in the 81 at-bats he had compiled to that point.   He added one more — a double  — the following day to at least have the satisfaction that he tallied more extra-base hits (3-2) than Ross during the season’s first month.

McCann struggled to find his power stroke for another two weeks.  But while homering four times in his past five games and seven times in his past 48 at-bats, it’s safe to say McCann is once again proving why he is the game’s most intimidating catcher from an offensive perspective.

When McCann hit a two-out, ninth-inning pinch-hit homer and then a walk-off shot two innings later in a May 17 win over the Astros, he doubled his season homer total to four.  At the same time, he realized the fruits of some suggestions his older brother, Brad, made while they were evaluating his swing.

“I’m lucky to have people in my family who understand the game of baseball,” McCann said.

The Braves are quite lucky that McCann has proven to be the most consistent element of an inconsistent offense.   Dating back to May 17, he leads the team in batting average (.333), on-base percentage  (.418), slugging percentage (.733) homers (11) and RBIs (23).

There isn’t another Braves player with more than four homers or 14 RBIs during this span.   But more impressive is the fact that Matt Kemp (13) and Mark Teixeira (12) are the only Major Leaguers who have gone deep more than McCann during this stretch.  Kemp has notched this total with 11 more at-bats than McCann and Texieira with 24 more at-bats.

McCann struggled to generate consistent power during the season’s six weeks and still he enters June’s final days at the top of most statistical categories among catchers.  He leads all Major League catchers in batting average (.305) on-base percentage (.380) and homers (13).    He ranks second in slugging percentage behind the Tigers’ Alex Avila, whose younger brother Alan is an intern in the Braves’ baseball operations department this summer.

The 27-year-old McCann is virtually assured to earn a sixth consecutive All-Star selection.  Those wanting to ensure he gets his first start in the Midsummer Classic can cast their votes here until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Lowe vs. Stauffer:  When Derek Lowe takes the mound tonight, he’ll be attempting to win for just the second time since the Braves were last in San Diego.  Since going 2-2 with a 1.82 ERA in his first four starts of the season, the 38-year-old hurler has made 12 starts and gone 1-3 with a 4.96 ERA.

Tonight Lowe will attempt to halt his recent frustrations against an offense that has been as maddening as his own.  The Padres have batted .242 and averaged 2.9 runs while winning just five of their past 16 games.  Those numbers were improved as they scored five runs during each of their past three games, which included a pair of wins over the Red Sox.

Coming off their sweep of the Blue Jays, the Braves will be challenged tonight by Tim Stauffer, who has allowed one earned runs while working 22 innings in his past three starts.  A lack of offensive support led him to win split the two decisions garnered during this span.   The 29-year-old right-hander has made three previous starts against the Braves  —  one in 2005 and two in 2009.

Longest-tenured:   The Braves obviously spent most of the past 15 years with the National League’s most-tenured manager.   Nine months after Bobby Cox’s retirement, they already have the second-longest tenured manager within their division.

With Edwin Rodriguez and  Jim Riggleman both turning in their resignations this week, Fredi Gonzalez is the NL East’s second-most tenured manager.  He was hired by the Braves about six weeks before Terry Collins was named the Mets’ skipper and about six years after the Phillies gave Charlie Manuel his current role.

 

 

 

 

 

Hudson proved to be Mr. Everything

On his way home last night, Tim Hudson stopped at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and helped Delta employees evacuate passengers from that Los Angeles-bound plane that had to return to Atlanta because of engine trouble.  He also volunteered to fly the new plane, but was told he had done far too much over the previous few hours.

OK, so Hudson might have actually been sleeping by the time the plane returned during the early morning hours.  But could you blame him?  He had spent the previous few hours basically doing everything for the Braves in their 2-0 win over the Blue Jays.

Hudson accounted for all of the scoring with a two-run, seventh-inning homer and also ended three outs shy of notching his second one-hit shutout of the season.  But his stellar mound effort was still preserved by Craig Kimbrel, who struck out the only three batters he faced to notch his 20th save — moving him within six of the matching MLB’s rookie record (Jonathan Papelbon in 2006) for saves before the All-Star break.

Kimbrel was simply filthy while tearing through the heart of the Blue Jays’ lineup in a span of just 15 pitches.  But as Blue Jays’ starter Ricky Romero said, last night belonged to Hudson, whose only previous career homer was hit against the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse on Sept. 12, 2009.

According to MLB Productions senior researcher Roger Schlueter, Hudson became just the 13th pitcher starter since 1919 to throw at least eight innings in a team shutout and account for all of his team’s runs with a home run (or a pair of home runs).

Dating back to his 1999 debut, Hudson and Mark Buehrle are the only Major League pitchers to have allowed one hit and recorded a shutout in three separate regular season games.   Hudson was bidding for his fourth career one-hit shutout before the ninth began with his only walk of the night and Yunel Escobar’s infield single.

While Hudson might not have matched the one-hit shutout he notched against the Brewers on May 4, he was downright dominant again.  He recorded 15 groundball outs and a season-high eight strikeouts.  The only two balls the Blue Jays hit out of the infield against him came in the second inning via a J.P. Arencibia single and Jayson Nix flyout.

As Hudson completed this masterpiece, it was even harder to believe he had gone 2-14 with a 6.75 ERA in the previous 18 Interleague starts he had made since joining the Braves in 2005.

From livid to celebratory in a second:  While covering games, I usually only look at the television feed to see a replay of a close pitch or close call.  Thus I want to thank Braves fan Bruce Mulkey for tweeting me last night to ask David Ross why he was yelling in the dugout just before Hudson hit his first-pitch homer into the seats.

It seemed quite odd that when Ross was thrown out so easily after Diory Hernandez hit his one-out chopper directly to a drawn-in Yunel Escobar.  But when told television cameras caught him yelling, Ross provided some clarity by essentially saying Hernandez missed the squeeze sign.

“We are a team that has to do the little things especially now when we’ve got so many guys banged up and hurt,” Ross said. “We’ve got to do the little things like get guys over.  We can’t miss signs.  We missed a sign and I was upset about it.  I just wanted to voice my opinion and I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

When Ross speaks, the players listen.   He certainly drawn more deserved praise than any other backup catcher  I can ever remember.  He has some productive years left as a backup catcher.  But it won’t be long before you see him sitting in a dugout serving as a Major League manager.  He’s going to be a good one.

Hudson and Ross share a bond that goes back to when they were helping Auburn reach the College World Series in 1997.  They are hilarious in the cluhouse and form a sensational battery on the field.

In the three games he’s pitched with Ross behind the plate this year, Hudson has posted a 0.78 ERA and limited opponents to a .125 batting average.  In the 12 games he has pitched with Brian McCann behind the dish, he has posted a 4.69 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .259.

Before you get too excited about the need for Ross to be Hudson’s personal catcher remember this is a VERY small sample size that is being taken in a year when Hudson’s mechanics have been very inconsistent.   When he has been able to drop and drive like he did last night, he has been pretty good regardless of who is behind the plate.

In the 25 games he pitched with McCann behind the plate last year, Hudson posted a 2.38 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .237.  With Ross behind the plate (11 games) , he posted a 2.73 ERA and limited opponents to a .210 batting average.

 

 

 

 

Escobar and the Braves: A marriage fit for divorce

So Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has decided to bring 80-year-old Jack McKeon out of retirement to fill the managerial vacancy that was created Sunday when Edwin Rodriguez resigned.  I’m guessing Bobby Cox’s phone must have been busy.

Or maybe there are still some hard feelings stemming from when Cox labeled Loria as “unpredictable”  after the Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez on June 23 of last year.  Well come to think of it, “unpredictable” was the nicest adjective  Cox used when asked for his reaction to Gonzalez’s firing.

Sticking with this theme, the Blue Jays’ decision to announce Yunel Escobar’s two-year contract extension Sunday might not have been necessarily predictable.  But it’s also hard to believe it was simply coincidental that it was announced one day before the enigmatic shortstop makes his return to Turner Field with the Blue Jays tonight.

It’s been nearly a full year since Escobar finally fully tested the Braves’ last ounce of patience and led them to trade him to the Blue Jays.

In the year that has passed, it seems Escobar has been as easy to get along with as he was during his first full calendar year in the Majors with the Braves.  Yes his antics in the Minors basically led Jeff Blauser to decide he no longer wanted to pursue a coaching career.

But the Braves still believed Escobar would steadily mature and serve as their shortstop of the future.  Their confidence in him allowed them to feel confident to include an 18-year-old highly-regarded shortstop named Elvis Andrus in the 2007 trade that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.

Before Escobar started to alienating himself from teammates and coaches with his on-field flash and off-the-field personality, he was simply evaluated based on his tremendous talent.   It wasn’t long ago that Chipper Jones was saying Escobar could become the National League’s best shortstop.

But over the past year, there has never been the slightest hint he has been missed in the Braves’ clubhouse.

After the Blue Jays traveled to Disney for a game in March, I asked a Braves’ veteran if he had spoken to Escobar.  He responded, “I tried, but he acted like I wasn’t even standing there.”

With this being said, it does seem Escobar understood it was time for him to part ways with the Braves.

“Everyone has their own opinion and I respect that,” Escobar told MLB.com through interpreter Luis Rivera Sunday. “Toronto has a different opinion of me. I’ve always played like that. I have fun on the field and I’ve proven now the kind of player I am. I’m being myself, and the Blue Jays allow me to be myself in the field.”

There were numerous episodes and actions that led the Braves to part ways with Escobar.

Since  joining the Braves a little more than three years ago, Jair Jurrjens has routinely proven to be quite knowledgeable and mature.  After the 2008 seeason, he talked to Escobar about the importance of learning the English language.  The young pitcher was essentially telling him a greater divide would develop if he couldn’t communicate with his teammates and the media.

During the first half of the 2009 season, Escobar was removed from one game because of a “lack of focus”.  Two weeks later, he  once again opened himself up to public ridicule on June 25, when he took exception to a charged error by gesturing toward the press box and visibly pouting during the at-bat that followed.

During an eighth-inning at-bat in a one-run game two weeks later, he left Diory Hernandez out to dry when he didn’t swing at an inside pitch on a hit-and-run attempt. After that game, he told media members, “Come talk to me when I get three hits.”  When he got three hits the next night, he refused to talk.

This led Javier Vazquez and some club officials to meet with Escobar the following day.  Most of the benefit of that meeting was erased a few minutes later when a now-former Braves’ coach approached the shortstop and essentially told him he didn’t need to change anything.

With Escobar still giving reason to question his focus and effort a year later, the Braves created what seemed to be a necessary divorce.  In exchange for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, they received Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky and  Tim Collins (traded to the Royals).

Escobar has batted .280 with eight homers, a .357 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage in 67 games with the Blue Jays this year.  In 75 game with the Braves last year, he hit .238 with zero homers, a .334 on-base percentage and .284 slugging percentage.

Since matching a Major League record by going winless in 28 consecutive starts (dating back to his day with the Braves), Reyes has gone 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA.  The lefty will start against the Braves Wednesday afternoon.

Gonzalez has been a tremendous defensive asset for the Braves and has shown the ability to enjoy some successful offensive spurts.   The Braves will likely attempt to bring him back on a one or two-year deal.

Pastornicky has hit .301 with five homers and a .763 OPS with Double-A Mississippi this year.  The 21-year-old shortstop likely won’t be ready to serve as Atlanta’s starting shortstop at the beginning of next year.  But he is certainly solidifying his candidacy.

The Braves hated trading Collins to the Royals (for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth) just two weeks after acquiring him from the Blue Jays.  The small left-handed reliever has struggled with his control (36K/29BB) while posting a 3.89 ERA in his first 35 career Major League appearances with the Royals this year.

 

 

 

Outfield mix is looking a little different this weekend

Wilkin Ramirez wasn’t exactly terrorizing International League pitchers this year.  But while utilizing him as their starting left fielder in Saturday afternoon’s game against the Rangers, the Braves still opted to put him in the fifth spot of their injury-depleted and slumbering lineup.

Hey nobody said it was easy to be hitting coach Larry Parrish these days.  Before we go any further, has anybody issued that apology to Terry Pendleton yet.

OK, back to today’s news.  The Braves opened a roster spot for Ramirez by optioning Randall Delgado back to Double-A Mississippi.  Delgado impressed with the poise he showed while making his Major League debut last night.  He probably threw one too many changeups to reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton, who punished him with a decisive two-run fifth-inning homer.

But the kid left the mound in the fifth inning with no reason to feel ashamed.  I certainly agree with those who say he was actually more impressive than Julio Teheran, who is considered one of the game’s top overall prospects.

Long before Teheran, the Braves’ top pitching prospect was a quiet kid named Matt Harrison, who will take the mound for the Rangers in this afternoon’s game at Turner Field.  Since being packaged in the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta, Harrison has added about 20 pounds and 5-6 mph on his fastball.   He currently stands as a decent back-of-the-rotation option.

With the left-handed Harrison on the mound, the Braves didn’t want to put Eric Hinske in a lineup that still possessed four other left-handed hitters  —  Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman.

But the fact that they promoted the right-handed Ramirez and immediately put him in the lineup seemed to indicate what they might do when Nate McLouth is activated from the disabled list tomorrow and begins serving as the left fielder until Martin Prado returns.

McLouth’s Minor League rehab stint will consist of two more at-bats with Gwinnett tonight.

When McLouth returns, the athletic Ramirez is expected to stick around to serve as a backup outfielder.

To create a roster space for McLouth, the Braves could designated Joe Mather for assignment.  He is hitting .219 and has just one hit in his past 22 a-bats.

TIDBITS:  Chipper Jones was feeling better today and the Braves are still hoping that he might return to the lineup within the next couple days.  But it didn’t seem like he had improved enough to be available to pinch hit Saturday.

Brandon Beachy still seems to be the most likely option to start in place of the disabled Tommy Hanson Wednesday.  “I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility,”  Gonzalez said when asked about this option.

The Braves still can’t give a definite return date for Martin Prado and they won’t be able to do so until the cut that led to his staph infection completely heals.  It would not be surprising if he misses at least the remainder of this month.

TODAY’S LINEUP

Schafer 8

Uggla 4

Heyward 9

McCann 2

Ramirez 7

Freeman 3

Gonzalez 6

Hernandez 5

Lowe 1

 

 

 

 

Looking back on an eventful balk off

Keeping the practice they now perform after walk-off victories, the Braves celebrated last night’s balk-off victory by dousing Diory Hernandez with cups of water as he crossed the plate.   Sorry, but I have to ask  how funny would it have been if they had surrounded Mets’ reliever  D.J. Carrasco and started dancing around him in celebratory fashion?

It might seem ridiculous, but it certainly would have been fitting on a night filled with oddities.

Carrasco’s game-ending 10th-inning  balk gave the Braves their first balk-off victory since they claimed a 10-inning win over the Rockies on  Sept. 9, 2008.  Kelly Johnson was awarded the plate that evening when Taylor Buchholz was charged with a balk.  Buchholz made 23 appearances with the Mets this year before being placed on the disabled list near the end of May.

Johnson began that 10th-inning rally three years ago with a two-out pinch-hit single.  Last night’s rally began courtesy of a two-out double from Diory Hernandez, who has batted .300 (6-for-2) after coming off the bench this year.  He entered last night’s game in the eighth as a pinch hitter and remained to play third base in place of Chipper Jones, who enjoyed a five-RBI night before straining his right adductor muscle (just consider it a groin strain).

We’ll get back to that link to Chipper.  But first let’s remember Hernandez was in position to score on the balk because Jordan Schafer capped his first career five-hit game with an infield single.

“Five-hit games are hard to come by,” Schafer said while guessing he hadn’t had one since high school.

This marked the 51st time an Atlanta Braves player has recorded five hits in a game.  Schafer stands as the 39th player in Atlanta history to record five hits in a game.

Schafer became the first Braves’ player to record five hits since Mark Kotsay did while hitting for the cycle on Aug. 14, 2008, which is also remembered as the last day Tom Glavine ever pitched in the Majors.

When Nate McLouth is activated from the disabled list this weekend, he’ll play left and Schafer will stay in center.

Trivia Time:  Name the nine players who have had multiple five-hit games as an Atlanta Brave?

Bonus:  There were six individuals either in uniform or handling broadcasting duties at Turner Field last night who had previously enjoyed five-hit games with Atlanta.  Can you name them?

Back to last night’s festivities which were initially highlighted by Chipper Jones’ five-RBI performance.  This marked the 17th time he has recorded a career-high  five RBIs in a game and fourth time against the Mets.

When I posted this on Twitter last night, a Mets fan replied to tell me that it was actually the 96th time Jones had done this against the Mets.   I can understand his frustration.

Jones also took time last night to hit his  47th career homer against the Mets.  The only players to ever hit more were Willie Stargell (60), Mike Schmidt (49) and Willie McCovey (48).

Jones’ exit last night simply gave Brooks Conrad another chance to prove why he truly is Mr. Clutch.   His game-tying, two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning simply added to his impressive list of late-inning contributions.  Four of his 12 career homers have been hit in the ninth inning or later.

This was the fifth time in the past three seasons that Conrad has hit a pinch hit homer in the seventh inning or later to tie the game or give his team the lead.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no other Major Leaguer has more than three such pinch-hit homers during this span.

Odds and ends:  With the Rangers in town this weekend, I talked to some of the Braves’ players about Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison, who will be playing the Braves for the first time since they were shipped to the Rangers in exchange for Mark Teixeira in 2007.

Schafer was bubbling with excitement yesterday afternoon while talking about the chance to spend this weekend with Andrus.  The Rangers’ All-Star shortstop is going to stay with him over the next couple nights.  They were best friends coming up through the Braves’ system and have continued to talk on a daily basis.

An early Happy Father’s Day to all of you who have had the pleasure of experiencing fatherhood.  My father just happens to be coming to town on business next week.  So it will be a pleasure to see him on Father’s Day for the first time since my college years.

Anyhow check out some of the great things Chipper Jones had to say about his father’s baseball expertise.  Chipper is not one to get too sentimental.  But there’s no doubt that he shares a special bond with his parents.

Trivia Answers

Name the nine players who have had multiple five-hit games as an Atlanta Brave? 

Felix Milan (4 times, including a franchise-high six-hit game)

Kenny Lofton (3)

Felipe Alou (2)

Barry Bonnell (2)

Andruw Jones (2)

Chipper Jones (2)

Fred McGriff (2)

Dale Murphy (2)

Gerald Perry (2)

Bonus: 

There were six individuals either in uniform or handling broadcasting duties at Turner Field last night who had previously enjoyed five-hit games with Atlanta.  Can you name them?

Mets outfielder Willie Harris (tied franchise-best record with 6 hits on July 21, 2007)

Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez (April 18, 1999 @ Rockies)

Braves first base coach Terry Pendleton (Sept. 14, 1996 @ Mets)

Braves broadcaster Mark Lemke (Aug. 18, 1990 @ Cubs)

Mets third base coach Ken Oberkfell (5/21/86 @ Cubs)

Chipper Jones (twice, most recent Aug. 11, 2002 @ Astros)

Offensive woes are mounting at a disturbing rate

If you’re one of the Braves’ fans who opted to go to bed before rain delayed last night’s fifth inning from starting until 10:50 p.m. ET, you really didn’t miss much.  The Braves produced just one more hit over the final five innings of the 4-0 loss to Mets.

Those of you who watched the first four innings probably don’t need to be reminded that they also recorded just one hit in the first four innings against Dillon Gee, who has allowed just one earned run in the 16 2/3 innings completed against the Braves this year.

With this sixth shutout loss of the season, the Braves were limited to two hits for the fourth time this season. To put this in perspective, they  were limited to two hits or fewer a total of five times during the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.

The Braves’ offense showed some sign of life this past weekend when they scored at least four runs in each of their first three games against the Astros.  This marked the first time they had scored at least four runs in three consecutive games since May 14.  National League teams are averaging 4.1 runs per game this year.

This sudden sign of offense is not what cause the Astros to fire their highly-regarded pitching coach Brad Arnsberg Tuesday.  But it did seemingly serve only as an cruel tease for Braves fans, who have seen their team lose three straight since winning a sixth consecutive game Sunday.

Had Jordan Schafer not hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning of Monday’s 8-3 loss to the Astros, the Braves might be entering tonight’s series finale against the Mets  having been blanked in two of their previous three games.

Instead, they enter tonight’s series finale against R.A. Dickey hoping to end their frustrations against the Mets.  Simply saying that the Braves have lost four straight against the Mets only tells a portion of the story.

The Braves have scored more than run through first seven innings of just one of the five games played against the Mets this month.  But obviously for more than a month, the Mets’ pitchers aren’t the only ones who have been causing the Braves fits.

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has recorded nine hits in the five games he has played against the Braves dating back to June 3.  The Braves have just three players   —  Freddie Freeman (11), Alex Gonzalez (11) and Chipper Jones (10) —  who have recorded more than eight hits in the 12 games they have played during this same span.

Reyes is one of those unique true leadoff hitters that Jordan Schafer would like to become.  Schafer created a lot of initial excitement.  But through the small sample size of the 19 games he has played, the athletic centerfielder hasn’t exactly been a consistent catalyst.  He is hitting .211 with a .294 on-base percentage.

It will be interesting to see if Schafer attempts to bunt with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on the mound tonight.  Dickey has made three starts since injuring his right heel on May 26.

Schafer didn’t attempt to bunt against Dickey on June 5.  But that was just two days after a fouled bunt attempt had struck the right side of his face.

Speaking of Schafer, Nate McLouth will begin his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett tonight.  Brandon Beachy will also be beginning his rehab assignment while starting for Gwinnett tonight.  The rookie hurler, who has been sidelined since May 13 with a strained left oblique muscle, will start again for Gwinnett Tuesday night.

McLouth, who has been sidelined since May 22 with an oblique strain, will likely two or three games before being activated.   When he returns, he’ll likely play left field until Martin Prado recovers from his staph infection.

When Prado is deemed healthy enough to return, it will be interesting to see if McLouth returns to his starting duties in center field.  If  Schafer spends the next couple weeks proving he can be a legit leadoff hitter, then the Braves have to keep him in the lineup.  If he falters, McLouth could definitely regain his job.

That’s enough doom and gloom for today.   We’ll attempt to add to your frustration tomorrow when we focus on Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison, who will all be coming to town this weekend for the first time since being shipped to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira.

Heyward returns before Freeman

(Updated to show Jason Heyward has been activated):

As expected, Jason Heyward returned to the Braves’ lineup before Freddie Freeman.  Heyward’s wish to return for Wednesday night’s game against the Mets was granted by the Braves.

When Heyward flew back from Indianapolis (where he spent the past two nights playing for Triple-A Gwinnett), he told a close friend that he was ready to return to full-time duties immediately.  But he understood he would likely have to first take some swings and complete some running drills before the Braves opted to activate him from the disabled list.

Heyward had been on the disabled list since May 22 because of right shoulder inflammation.   He battled right shoulder discomfort for more than two months before finally realizing some relief while rehabbing at the Braves’ Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Heyward’s return at least compensates for what the Braves lose while Freeman rests the mild right oblique strain he suffered while taking swings in Turner Field’s indoor batting cage before last night’s game.

Freeman attempted to enter last night’s game in the late innings and he awoke this morning feeling he could return to the lineup tonight.  This is the kind of passion you want from your young players.  But it seems highly unlikely that the Braves will allow their rookie first baseman to return before they are certain he will not strain the oblique muscle and possibly miss a month.

“I’d rather mild stay mild [instead of] mild turn into something severe,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday night.

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