July 2011

Heyward’s struggles are becoming more concerning

It’s easy to understand why fans have grown impatient with Jason Heyward as he has spent this season battling a sore right shoulder and producing disappointing offensive results.  Like media members, they are a fickle bunch that is influenced by the many highs and lows a baseball season brings.

But over the past week, opposing scouts have also started to question why Heyward has struggled so much this year.

After watching Friday night’s game against the Nationals, an American League scout familiar with the Braves returned to Turner Field Saturday and essentially described Heyward’s swing as “messed up.”

Before any of you  pin this on hitting coach Larry Parrish, it should be noted that Heyward still works with  C.J. Stewart,  a former member of the Cubs’ organization  who has served as the young outfielder’s  hitting coach dating back to his high school days.

Heyward leans on Stewart the same way Brian McCann and Chipper Jones have when they have gone to their fathers seeking help with their swing.

But for now, the difference is that Jones and McCann gained quick results when they went outside the organization looking for help.

One of the National League scouts covering this week’s series against the Rockies questioned why Heyward has been unable or unwilling to make adjustments to make him less susceptible to pitches on the inside portion of the plate.

As many of you will remember scouts were questioning Heyward’s ability to cover the inside portion of the plate during the early weeks of this season.  Nearly three months later,  there has not been any noticeable sign of improvement.

Before removing himself from Monday night’s lineup with a bruised left foot, Heyward was hitting .224 with a .319 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage.   Since missing nearly a month because of his shoulder, he has hit .237 with a .321 on-base percentage and  .387 slugging percentage.

It’s quite obvious Heyward has not been the same destructive force he was when he hit .292 with 10 homers and a .988 OPS in the first 47 games of his career.   In the 167 games he has played since then, he has batted .252 with 17 homers and a .759 OPS.

As Freddie Freeman has flourished over the past month, there have been even more people comparing Heyward and Freeman to the Jeff Francoeur/McCann duo that entered the Braves’ clubhouse in 2005.

Francoeur arrived as the can’t miss prospect and McCann seemed to be in his shadow.  Six years later, McCann is a six-time All-Star and Francoeur is playing for his fourth team in a span of two calendar years.

I’ll admit I’ve spent time over the past couple months making this comparison numerous times in conversations with friends and colleagues.   Quite honestly, it’s easy to become very impressed with the way Freeman has shown power to all fields and the ability to make adjustments at a young age.

It also has to do with the fact that like McCann fed off the teachings of Chipper Jones, Freeman has been like a sponge whenever  Eric Hinske and the club’s other veterans have offered advice.

But with all of this being said, it’s unfair to label either of these 21-year-old players and even hint that their career paths have already been determined.

Freeman is seemingly bound to encounter some more struggles during his rookie season and Heyward is obviously quite capable of living up to the tremendous promise he possessed last year.

With Heyward struggles adding to their offensive concerns in the outfield, the Braves have shown some interest in Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, who could be utilized as a center fielder or right fielder.  (Click here to see the entry posted about Beltran  in today’s MLB.com Trade Deadline blog.)

If Beltran isn’t the answer, the Braves could also find a right-handed outfielder who could fill a platoon role with Heyward, who has hit just .173 against left-handed pitchers this year.

Some members of the Braves organization have also suggested that it might be best to send Heyward back to the Minors, where he could attempt to fix his swing and make the necessary adjustments in a rather stress-free environment.

It seems quite drastic given Heyward is just one year removed from being elected to start an All-Star Game at the ripe age of 20.  But like 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, Heyward has found that a satisfying rookie season provides no guarantees.

The Marlins sent Coghlan to the Minors to help him battle through left knee discomfort and essentially because he needed to be demoted.

It might be debatable whether Heyward has reached that point yet.  But as these next couple months and years elapse the Braves are certainly hoping to hear fewer comparisons between Heyward and Francoeur.

ODDS AND ENDS: There was at least one Tigers’ scout in attendance to watch Derek Lowe’s start against the Rockies last night… Whatever interest the Braves might have had in some of the Rockies’ relievers no longer seems to exist.  But they will continue to search the market in hopes of gaining a right-handed reliever who could lessen the work loads of Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.

Braves in town to play Rockies and scout relievers

Instead of beginning this entry with talk about Derek Lowe, it seems more fitting to begin talking about some of the activity the Braves will create before this year’s Trade Deadline expires at the end of this month.

The Braves will be at Coors Field tonight to begin a four-game series against the Rockies and one of their top scouts Jim Fregosi will also be in attendance.  Advance scout Bob Johnson was in Denver this past weekend to touch up some reports about this Rockies bunch that the Braves swept earlier this month in Atlanta.

Fregosi also arrived this weekend and plans to stick around for at least tonight’s game, presumably to look at any of the three right-handed relievers  —  Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street —   the Rockies could be willing to deal.

With Street guaranteed  $7.5 million next year and possessing an option for 2013, he likely doesn’t fit in the Braves’ plans. But Belisle, who was once a highly-regarded prospect in the Braves’ organization, and Betancourt could serve as the right-handed setup man who could limit the innings required from Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty down the stretch.

Belisle would be owed approximately $4.5 million through the end of 2012 and Betancourt approximately $5.25 million during this same period.  It might seem like a lot, but don’t forget the Braves will likely once again paying Venters and Craig Kimbrel somewhere around $500,000 next year.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Belisle was one of those top young Braves prospects who annually had a chance to make the start in the exhibition season opener against Georgia or Georgia Tech.  Now 31, he has become a pretty reliable right-handed reliever in the Rockies bullpen.  He posted a 2.93 ERA in 76 appearances last year and has posted a 3.46 ERA in 44 appearances this year.

As can happen with relievers, Belisle’s statistics were severely damaged by one bad outing, when he allowed six earned runs and seven hits in just two-thirds of an inning against the Royals on July 3 at Coors Field.    He has combined to allow one run and three hits in the four appearances that have followed.

When dealing with a Rockies pitcher, it’s always best to look what they have done away from the spacious Coors Field.  In the 54 road appearances he has made dating back to the beginning of 2010, Belisle has posted a 2.55 ERA and allowed opponents a .230 batting average.

Betancourt seemed to be running out of gas as he posted a 9.28 ERA and allowed opponents a .375 batting average in his final appearances before the All-Star break.   This should definitely be viewed as a concern, especially for a 36-year-old reliever.

So while Betancourt and Street, who has converted 26 of his 28 save opportunities, might fit the description of the kind of pitcher the Braves want to add to their bullpen.   Belisle currently seems to be the most likely Rockies reliever to end up in Atlanta.

The Braves have shown some interest in the Rockies’ Ryan Spilborghs in the past and he fits the description of the versatile right-handed hitting outfielder the Braves are seeking.  But  Spilborghs has been inconsistent at the plate this year and it doesn’t seem like the Rockies are interested in moving him.

It also seems like the Braves and a number of other interested teams can cross Michael Cuddyer’s name off their wish list.  The Twins are back in the thick of the American League Central race and it doesn’t appear they’re interested in moving Cuddyer.

So this brings us back to Lowe, who will start tonight’s series opener for the Braves.  But instead of focusing on the fact he’s 3-5 with a 5.53 ERA in 10 career starts at Coors Field, it seems time to once again look at the possibility that the Braves could move Lowe before this month concludes.

(This was the entry I posted earlier today to the MLB.com Trade Deadline Blog.  Check the blog for updates from our reporters.)

A recent FoxSports.com report indicated the Tigers have shown some interest in Detroit native Derek Lowe.  This has obviously led some to debate whether the Braves would be able to trade Lowe before this year’s Trade Deadline.

If they could find a suitor willing to pay all or at least a significant portion of the $20 million owed to Lowe through the end of the 2012 season, the Braves would certainly be willing to move him and use the money saved to attempt to significantly upgrade their offense with a right-handed bat.

In other words, they’re taking the same approach they have most of the past two years with the veteran hurler.

After Lowe struggled through the 2009 season, the Braves diligently tried to trade him before determining they needed to instead trade Javier Vazquez.   Lowe’s name wasn’t  bounced around much before last year’s Trade Deadline.  But that might have had something to do with the fact it’s hard to move a pitcher who carries a 4.53 ERA into July and is still owed $35 million over the final 2 1/2 seasons of his contract.

After Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts and pitched well in last year’s postseason, the Braves were once again willing to listen to potential suitors this past winter.  Now they find themselves in the same position.

There is always a chance a pitching-hungry team with financial flexibility would take a chance on Lowe with the understanding he has often pitched well down the stretch.

But the Braves have not yet had any serious talks with teams about Lowe and right now it doesn’t appear there is much reason to believe he will be traded before the end of this month.

Braves looking to improve bullpen and bench

Before we step away from one milestone and begin the quest for 10,001 victories, let’s take a quick look at the topic  — potential trades  —  that will consume the baseball world for the next two weeks.

(This is the entry I posted on MLB.com’s Trade Deadline Blog this afternoon.  Follow that blog for regular updates on the trade market.)

While the Braves might not make a huge splash on this year’s trade market, they will be certainly be active in their search to land a right-handed reliever and right-handed hitting outfielder.

An American League scout proved more specific Friday when he said, “They’re looking for a right-handed hitter who can play each of the outfield positions.”

While the Braves might not necessarily find the versatile outfielder they are seeking, they would seemingly be satisfied to strengthen their bench with the right-handed equivalent of Eric Hinske.  This would provide manager Fredi Gonzalez at least another option to combat situations when opponents can attempt to take advantage of  the heavy left-handed presence in the Braves’ lineup.

The desire to add a right-handed reliever is obviously aimed toward limiting the innings compiled by top middle relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty down the stretch.   The Padres’ Mike Adams has been mentioned to be on the Braves’ wish list.

Adams and his All-Star teammate Heath Bell have also reportedly been on the Phillies’ wish list, which seems to look a lot like the possessed by the Braves.

The Braves and Phillies could both benefit from the acquisition of Hunter Pence.   But the Astros’ outfielder will seemingly come at a steep price.

With the general belief being that Astros general manager Ed Wade is fighting for his job, one Major League source said earlier this week, “he’s got to make sure he clearly wins the deal if he trades Pence.”

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD

  • As Martin Prado stood in the dugout Friday afternoon and talked about how he might need a few more days to get comfortable at the plate,  I couldn’t help but smile and think, “yeah right.”   In other words, it wasn’t a great surprise to see him return to the Majors after missing more than a month and enjoy a two-hit performance highlighted by a home run last night.   Prado’s determination to work harder than anybody else  has earned the distinction of being one of this organization’s most valuable pieces.
  • It was nice to see Pat Corrales back in uniform as the Nationals’ bench coach last night.  Those who were around will never discount the value he brought while he served on Bobby Cox’s staff here in Atlanta.   Corrales was always a man who drew both admiration and respect in the Braves clubhouse.  There was a time when a young Andruw Jones was nearly as annoying and maddening as Yunel Escobar was the past few years.  Taking the approach of a strict loving father, Corrales guided Jones in the right direction and saw him quickly become one of the most beloved members of the clubhouse.
  • The Braves have opted to put highly-regarded pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino in the bullpen with Double-A Mississippi for the remainder of this season to limit his innings.  At this time last year, it seemed like the 20-year-old right-hander was destined for Tommy John surgry.    He’s already thrown a season-high 87 innings this year.  While there is a chance he could return to the rotation to simply continue his development next year, I still believe his future at the Major League level is as a reliever.  This drew debate from some of you in Spring Training.  But I still think his fastball-curveball mix will work best as a top setup man or closer.

Braves look to surge out of the break

While preparing for last Sunday’s TBS telecast, John Smoltz talked about how the tone for the season’s second half is often dictated by what transpires in the first couple weeks coming out of the break.   He cited how the Braves won 15 of their first 20 games coming out of the break in 1993 and then eventually erased the 9 1/2-game division deficit they faced when they entered the break.

Obviously that incredible run through October’s earliest days was aided by the July 18 acquisition of Fred McGriff.  But instead of evaluating the impact trade acquisitions can make down the stretch, let’s stick with how the tone for the second half can be set by what transpires during the earliest days and weeks coming out of the break.

While watching the Braves come out of last year’s break to split a four-game set against the Brewers and take two of three from the Padres, it just didn’t feel like they were the same team that had won 39 of their previous 57 games entering the break.

The road became more challenging when Chipper Jones was lost in early August and by the time Sept. 15 arrived the Braves had won just 31 of their first 59 games coming out of the break.  Thanks to a final-week sweep of the Marlins and a couple productive days for the Cubs in San Diego, Braves fans will always regard last year as memorable.   In other words, they probably won’t remember the club was just four games above .500 (39-35) after the break.

As the Braves prepare to come out of this year’s break tonight to host the Nationals, they are in good position  — leading the National League Wild Card by five games and trailing the first-place Phillies by just 3 1/2 games in the NL East.

The Phillies faced a four-game deficit in the division standings entering the break last year and finished six games in front of the Braves.  So it goes without saying that the Braves could find entry to this year’s postseason via either the Wild Card or a division crown.

Given what they’ve had to deal with on the injury front, it’s incredible that the Phillies have compiled the game’s best record.   You’re not going to find many arguments when it’s suggested they are baseball’s best team right now.  But at the same time, it would be hard to argue against the fact that this year’s Braves team belongs in that same elite class that also possesses the Yankees and Red Sox.

While recording the NL’s second-best record this year, the Braves have also overcome a plethora of adversity.   They just spent the past six weeks without last year’s team MVP Martin Prado and got all of seven appearances from their top middle reliever, Peter Moylan, before he underwent back surgery.

Well Moylan began playing catch again yesterday and Prado will return tonight to strengthen the lineup and also occupy third base until Chipper Jones returns around July 25 with a surgically-repaired right knee.

Oh yeah, in case you forgot over the past four days, the Braves also persevered through the season’s first half while both Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward stood as liabilities in the lineup.

Uggla provided some sign for encouragement while hitting .241 with five homers, three doubles, a .349 on-base percentage and a .574 slugging percentage during his final 15 games before the break.

As bad as things have gone for Uggla, he’s more than likely going to his 30-plus homers for a fifth consecutive year.  And if he simply maintains the pace he set in these previous 15 games just imagine how much more productive the Braves’ lineup will be in the season’s second half.

Heyward has hit .244 with two homers, eight doubles, a .313 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage in the 24 games he has played since returning from the three-week stint he spent on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder.   But the 21-year-old right fielder has hit just .216 (8-for-37) with two homers, three doubles, a .256 on-base percentage and .459 slugging percentage in 10 games this month.  Five of his eight hits were compiled over the course of two games during this stretch.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he spent his 20-year-old season at the Triple-A level, but at this stage of their careers,  Freddie Freeman has proven to be the one more capable of quickly making the necessary adjustments at the plate.

When Heyward was sent to Florida in late May, the Braves wanted him to test his ailing shoulder.  But at the same time, it seemed they were hoping he would be able to fix a flawed swing that has made him very susceptible to the inside heater. So far, it still appears to be a work in progress.

Meanwhile Freeman struck out 23 times in a span of 48 at-bats from June 8-21 and has struck out just 12 times in the 61 at-bats that have followed.

While hitting .298 with six homers and a 1.043 OPS in his past 16 games, Freeman has helped Brian McCann carry the offensive load and led me to wonder just how soon he might enjoy a 40-homer season.   His ability to hit for power to all fields is quite impressive.  I thought it might take a few more years before he developed the man muscles needed to consistently drop balls over the left-centerfield wall.

Before we wrap this up, I’ll feed you a few bits of news:

  • Tim Hudson will take the mound tonight and to give Jair Jurrjens an extra day to to rest after competing in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Tommy Hanson will start Saturday’s game.  Not sure if you heard, but Hanson didn’t make the NL’s All-Star team.
  • Look I understand many of you were upset Hanson didn’t earn one of this year’s 10,000 All-Star selections.  But I didn’t understand those of you who were upset when Bruce Bochy said he would use Brian Wilson to close Tuesday’s game.  Did you really expect him to tell Wilson, “Hey, I’ve got better options tonight, but for these next 75 games, you’re my guy again.”
  • Speaking of 10,000, the Braves need one more win to become the fourth Major League franchise to record the 10,000th win in franchise history.   They are also eight losses away from joining the Phillies as the only franchises to ever lose 10,000 games.
  • The Braves have agreed to terms of a $1.134 (right at slot) million signing bonus with their top selection Sean Gilmartin, who was taken with the 28th overall pick in this year’s Draft.  Gilmartin, a 21-year-old left-hander from Florida State, began a throwing program at the club’s Spring Training complex today.

News and Notes from Citizens Bank Park

Welcome to a sunny Sunday in  Philadelphia where the Braves will attempt to enter the All-Star break on a positive note and also notch the franchise’s 10,000th victory.

Before Derek Lowe opposes Cole Hamels in this series finale, I’ll throw a couple notes your way.  We’re going to keep this brief.  But while working on some features this week, I’ve neglected this blog.

Over the past six years it has been great to get to know Brian McCann’s father, Howie,  and hear him tell a lot of different baseball tales.   Some of the most recent tales were detailed in this feature.   After writing this story, it’s going to be hard to watch him sitting behind the plate as the National League’s starting catcher Tuesday night and not think about how much fun he and his dad probably had during that month they slept in an office at a hitting facility in suburban Atlanta.

Speaking of All-Star stuff, McCann, Jonny Venters and Jair Jurrjens will take a commercial flight to Phoenix after today’s game.  Chipper Jones was going to provide the transportation via a private jet.  But the plans changed when he returned to Atlanta Saturday to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Unfortunately Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel came to Citizens Bank Park today not knowing whether they’ll be added to the NL’s roster for Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

When Hamels starts this afternoon, the Pirates’ Kevin Correia will likely take his roster spot because he was the pitcher who received the most votes via the player’s ballot who has not received a selection.  When Matt Cain starts for the Giants tonight, his spot could be assume by Hanson, Kimbrel or quite possibly a pitcher from another team.

Because they’ve both pitched each of the past three days, Venters and Eric O’Flaherty will only appear in an emergency situation today.   Thus the Braves might need Lowe to last at least seven innings for just the third time this year and first since May 17.

Lowe has lasted at least eight innings in just four of the 86 starts he’s made since the Braves gave him a four-year, $60 million contract before the 2009 season.

TIDBITS:  Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino will represent the Braves during this afternoon’s Futures Game…Martin Prado has progressed well through his rehab assignment and is still expected to be activated when the club returns after the All-Star break to host the Nationals Friday night…Prado and Jones,  who will likely be sidelined until the end of this month or first week of August, will both be present for Thursday’s team workout at Turner Field.

Braves mulling leadoff options

Like many Major League clubs, the White Sox seem  interested in the Braves’ wealth of young pitching talent.  But those fans hoping this means outfielder Carlos Quentin could be headed to Atlanta should be prepared for disappointment.

White Sox advance scout Bill Scherrer was at Turner Field for this past weekend’s series against the Orioles and he stuck around for this week’s series against the Rockies.  Given the White Sox and Orioles will not meet again until Aug. 8,  Scherrer has likely focused most of his attention toward the Braves’ pitchers.

While the Braves might be in the market for an outfielder, their primary focus will likely not be aimed toward corner outfielders like Quentin.  Instead they will continue to evaluate what Jordan Schafer can provide in the leadoff spot and  determine whether they need to increase their efforts to find a proven leadoff hitter like the White Sox have in Juan Pierre.

When I simply used this as a tease to link to a blog post on Twitter, a number of fans attacked me like I was a juror from the Casey Anthony trial. Really the blog was written to simply point out the White Sox have been in town all week and they are interested in Major League-ready pitchers who are not yet eligible for arbitration.

Obviously the Braves have a few arms that fit this description.

Look Pierre probably isn’t answer.  He has batted .261 with a .322 on-base percentage and been successful with just 12 of his 22 stolen base attempts.   In other words, he hasn’t been the same guy who was successful with 68 of 86 stolen base attempts last year.  But since May 1, he has hit .270 with a .340 on-base percentage and been successful with seven of his 10 stolen base attempts.

Still whether you’re a member of #Team Schafer or #Team Nate you might be saying you argue your guy is a better fit.

Coming off Tuesday’s four-strikeout game,  Jordan Schafer returned last night and recorded one hit in four at-bats.  In the 28 games he has played since getting struck in the face by a fouled bunt attempt, Schafer  has hit .223 with a .263 on-base percentage and nine stolen bases in 11 attempts.

McLouth has batted .205 with a .404 on-base percentage in the 15 games he has played since missing more than a month with a strained right oblique muscle.

Now is the time for many of you to begin chiming in about the need to get Michael Bourn, who has has hit .292 with a .355 on-base percentage and 35 stolen bases this year.  But if the Astros are going to give up Bourn or Hunter Pence, they are certainly going to be asking for a much greater return than the White Sox would in exchange for Pierre.

While it would be great to find a legitimate leadoff hitter, maybe the Braves should just stick with what they have and put Martin Prado back at the top of their lineup when he returns, likely after the break.   He did hit .314 with a .352 on-base percentage and .512 slugging percentage while serving as the Braves’ leadoff hitter from May 15-July 30 last year.

Prado will begin his Minor League rehab assignment tonight in Charlotte with Triple-A Gwinnett and will likely spend this weekend playing for the G-Braves, who will be hosting Charlotte.

More on Chipper and the ump:   It did not look good when plate umpire Mark Ripperger ended Sunday’s game with two very, very questionable strike calls against Chipper Jones and then stared at Jones as he walked in disgusted fashion toward the dugout.  But it has since been brought to my attention that Ripperger felt his job was to watch Jones to make sure he didn’t throw any of equipment in a manner that warranted a fine.

As he sat at his locker Tuesday, Jones laughed when thought about the fact that midway through Sunday’s game he had told Eric Hinske that the Minor League umpire was doing a good job with his strike zone.

Safe to say, Jones will be careful to not jinx himself with many more in-game compliments.  After the game, he said “the officiating in this game is substandard.”

When Jones issued an apology Monday, he said it was unfair to direct his displeasure toward some of the game’s top umpires like Tim McClelland, the crew chief from this past weekend’s series.

 

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

 

 

All-Star snubs and a look back at Sunday’s events

It’s very understandable to know many of you awoke on this 4th of July still upset about the fact that Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel were among the most notable snubs during this year’s initial All-Star roster selection process.

Hanson leads the NL with a .193 opponent’s batting average allowed and ranks fourth in the senior circuit with a 2.62 ERA.  Kimbrel has notched 10 more strikeouts than any other Major League reliever and his 24 saves is tied for the Major League high with three All-Star selections (Joel Hanrahan, Brian Wilson and Heath Bell) and a Rockies closer Huston Street, who will be at Turner Field tonight to begin a four-game series.

Both of these Braves hurlers had great credentials and if you ask Brian McCann Eric O’Flaherty should be considered an All-Star snub.  Of course there were also outcries from the D-backs, whose case for Final Vote candidate Ian Kennedy was hurt with yesterday’s start, and the Pirates, whose case for outfielder Andrew McCutchen was discussed by manager Clint Hurdle this morning.

It’s fine to complain about these snubs.  But don’t forget that last year, while Braves fans were enjoying Omar Infante’s selection others were doing what you were doing yesterday when you were screaming, “What in the Ryan Vogelsong is going on around here?”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was given nine selections to complete his National League roster and he used three of them on Giants’ pitchers  —  Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Vogelsong.   While Lincecum and Cain helped him win the World Series last year, Bochy’s selection of Vogelsong provided this year’s All-Star selection a feel-good story for some.

Yeah, there will be plenty of people who might be happy to hear about how Vogelsong has gone from being a Phillies’ Minor League castoff to All-Star in a year.   But there will also be plenty of fans in Atlanta and elsewhere who will remain outraged that this 33-year-old hurler, who pitched in Japan from 2007-09, benefited from the last of the three errors Brooks Conrad committed in Game 3 of last year’s National League Divison Series against the Giants.

OK, you’re right, there was no reason for me to bring up bad memories from last year’s postseason.   Yeah, the Giants still might have won the Division Series even if the Braves had held on to win Game 3.

Regardless, Kimbrel and Hanson were both much more deserving All-Star selections than Vogelsong, who has gone 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA in the 13 starts he has made since entering the third inning of an April 22 game against the Braves as a long reliever.

There’s a good chance Vogelsong will only be utilized if necessary in an extra-inning situation.   But this doesn’t diminish the disappointment felt by Hanson, Kimbrel or any other NL pitcher who felt they were more deserving.

As we discuss these snubs, there’s seemingly a good chance that either Hanson or Kimbrel will end up being a part of this year’s All-Star team.   Roster spots could open up courtesy of injury.    There’s also the cases of Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels and Cain, who will not be allowed to pitch in the All-Star Game if they make their scheduled starts Sunday.

Because Hamels was selected via the player’s ballot, a roster void created by his inability to pitch would be filled by Pirates right-hander Kevin Correia, who was the first player not to make the cut via the player’s ballot.

As long as Cain makes his scheduled start Sunday,  there is seemingly a good chance his roster spot will be filled by one of the Braves.  Because there are already plenty of starters on the roster, I’m going to guess the nod would go to Kimbrel.

Looking back:  Once Scott Proctor allowed the decisive two-run, seventh-inning homer in yesterday’s loss to the Orioles it was easy to second guess manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision to go with Proctor.    There is definitely a need to provide more rest for Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and even Scott Linebrink.

But the decision not to use any of these relievers was not what should have stirred debate.  The question was why was Proctor utilized instead of Cory Gearrin, who just happened to retire the only two batters he faced while cleaning up Proctor’s eighth-inning mess.

Proctor worked just five full innings while posting  4.70 ERA in 11 June appearances.    Maybe the Braves felt like they owed the veteran another chance to prove himself before giving Gearrin a shot to preserve their one-run seventh-inning lead.   That’s all part of the game.  I mean, where would the Giants be if they hadn’t at least given Vogelsong a chance, right?

If nothing else, yesterday’s game provided more reason to believe the Braves will attempt to at least acquire a reliever before the deadline.  I wouldn’t say this is a pressing need. But you can’t let July 31 pass simply assuming  Peter Moylan and Kris Medlen are going to return from the long absences and be key contributors in the bullpen. There is seemingly a need to create some insurance.

QUICK HITS:  This is my 11th season covering the Braves and I’ve never seen any umpire other than Bob Davidson infuriate Chipper Jones like Minor League umpire Mark Ripperger did yesterday.  You’ve all likely seen Jones’ comments that may lead to a fine.  But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the fact that he proved to be the better man by simply walking away as Ripperger was staring him down after calling the last strike of the game…Martin Prado was not ready to begin his Minor League rehab assignment today.  But if he feels stronger today and can begin it by tomorrow, I think there’s still a chance he could be activated for at least the final portion of this weekend’s series in Philadelphia.

One-hit shutouts are also quite rare

If there was anybody who actually bought into that speculation that the Braves might actually trade Jair Jurrjens before this year’s trade deadline, I guess Jurrjens basically killed those ridiculous thoughts last night.

Yes, within the next year or two there could certainly come a point when the Braves need to move either Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson.  But looking through this season’s final three months, it seems quite safe to assume they’ll stick with these two young hurlers who rank among the National League’s top four in ERA.

With last night’s one-hit shutout victory over the Orioles, Jurrjens lowered his Major League-best ERA  to 1.87 and became the NL’s first pitcher to 11 wins.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jurrjens is only the second Braves pitcher since the NL started calculating ERA in 1912 to notch 11 wins and post a sub-2.00 ERA in his first 15 starts of a season.  The other was Tom Glavine, who had 11 wins and a 1.53 ERA through his first 15 starts of 2002.

Also from Elias:   With Jurrjens matching the one-hit masterpiece Tim Hudson completed against the Brewers on May 4, this marks the first time since 1976 that the Braves have had two complete game one hitters or no-hitters in one season.  Phil Niekro and Andy Messersmith both threw one-hitters in 1976.

Via research done on STATS PASS this afternoon, it appears last night marked just the 23rd time since 1946 that a Braves pitcher allowed one hit or fewer while notching a shutout.   It marked just the 11th time has happened in Atlanta history (since 1966). Taking away a five-inning shutout Greg Maddux was credited for in 1997, this was just the 22nd time in franchise history and 10th time in franchise history.

There have been seven uncombined no-hitters in Braves franchise history with two of them coming during the Atlanta years  —  Niekro (1973) and Kent Mercker (1994).  With last night’s performance, there have now been 15 one-hit shutouts (min. 9 IP) in franchise history and eight of them have been completed during the Atlanta years.

I’m just throwing all of this out there to show how unique these masterpieces created by Jurrjens and Hudson truly were.  Neither Glavine or Maddux notched one-hit shutouts while pitching for the Braves.  John Smoltz’s only one came during a May 30, 1999 win over the Reds.

Since then, the Braves have seen their pitchers allow one hit or fewer in a shutout victory just three times.   Hudson is responsible for two of those occasions —   5/1/2006 and 5/4/2011 —  and of course Jurrjens is responsible for the other.

Warren Spahn was responsible for four of the 22 times a Braves pitcher has allowed one-hit or fewer in a shutout victory.  Tony Cloninger (2),  Hudson, Denny Lemaster (2) and Niekro (2) are the only other pitchers to do so multiple times in franchise history.

Speaking of Spahn, this marks the 48th anniversary of his epic battle against Juan Marichal and the Giants at Candlestick Park.  The Giants’ 1-0, 16-inning victory was claimed courtesy of the walk-off homer Willie Mays hit against Spahn, who was charged with just the one run and nine hits in 15 1/3 innings.  Marichal allowed eight hits over 16 scoreless innings.

Those wondering what kind of effect this had on Spahn should know he returned five days later and tossed a shutout against the Astros.  But his next start was made nearly three full weeks later.  As for Marichal, he was credited with 10 complete games in the 21 starts he made in 1963 after his the battle with Spahn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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