February 2012

Odds and ends from Braves camp: Wednesday

Tommy Hanson was back on the mound and Freddie Freeman’s limp did not look nearly as painful as it had 24 hours earlier. The Braves actually seemed to be returning to normalcy by the time Wednesday’s workout concluded.

After spending the previous three days limited to conditioning drills and throwing on flat ground, Hanson stepped on the mound for the first time since suffering a Grade 1 concussion on Feb. 20.  Given that it had been a week since he had experienced any headaches or dizziness, the primary concern seemed to be on how quickly he regained comfort with the altered delivery he developed in January.

Fortunately for the Braves, Hanson exited the 30-pitch bullpen session rather encouraged.

“I think I threw a little better than I had expected,” Hanson said. “I’ve had some time to think about some mechanical stuff. I was surprised by how well I threw.”

Hanson could be cleared to face live batters in batting practice on Friday.  But he’ll first have to pass one more portion of the concussion impact test, which tests memory and reaction.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced Mike Minor will start Saturday’s exhibition season opener against the Tigers.  But he did not announce when his other projected starters will make their respective debuts during the exhibition season. This likely has something to do with the uncertainty surrounding Hanson.

Hanson will obviously not be ready to pitch during the first turn through the rotation.  Once he is cleared to throw off the mound (which could occur Thursday), the club will be able to project when he could make his first exhibition appearance. This will allow them to know where to position Kris Medlen or any of the potential starters who could piggyback with Hanson once he returns.

Jair Jurrjens remains the favorite to be named Opening Day starter.   Gonzalez said Wednesday that pitching coach Roger McDowell believes Hanson will be ready to pitch the first time through the rotation during the regular season.

With Lakeland just 25 minutes away, Minor could be facing a pretty talented lineup during his two-inning stint on Saturday.  There should be some excitement around the game as Orlando-resident Prince Fielder is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut with the Tigers.

The Tigers plan to start Doug Fister on Saturday and Max Scherzer when the Braves travel to Lakeland on Sunday.

I know I pointed this out in September and referred to it in January.  But this has to be the greatest of all the statistically-related Chipper Jones tidbits.

Jones is one of five players in Major League history to record a .300 batting average with at least 450 homers, 500 doubles, 1,400 walks, a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.

The other four players are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig.



Freeman could miss two weeks with right knee injury

Just as Tommy Hanson appears to be ready to resume regular activity, the Braves are dealing with the fact that Freddie Freeman will likely spend the next two weeks resting a right knee injury that he suffered during Tuesday morning’s workout at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.

Freeman’s right knee popped out of place as he reached to pick a low throw at first base.  He limped off the field and was still walking with a heavy limp as he made his way toward a photo shoot on Tuesday afternoon.

“I was just doing pick drills and the knee gave out,” Freeman said. “The kneecap went this way and I came back in. When I did this when I was playing in Triple-A, it took me two weeks.  So that is what we are going on.”    <p>

While he was in obvious discomfort, Freeman did not seem worried about the possibility that he will need more than just a couple weeks of rest.   His right knee had not provided him any problems since he had suffered a similar injury while playing for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2010.  <p>

“When I did it in 2010, I thought I could come back after a week,” Freeman said. “But they’re obviously going to be cautious with me.”  <p>

If Freeman misses two weeks, he could return in time to play the final two weeks of the exhibition season.  His absence will likely provide Eric Hinske and non-roster invitee Ernesto Mejia a chance to get plenty of playing time at first base during the Grapefruit League season’s first two weeks.  <p>

Still in a good mood Tuesday afternoon, Freeman said, “When you write this, make sure you point out I still picked the throw.”

As for Hanson, he pushed himself a little harder with conditioning drills on Tuesday and will likely be cleared to throw off the mound within the next two days.




Odds and ends from Braves camp: Monday

It was easy to start feeling old as David Justice and Fred McGriff provided instruction to Jason Heyward and many other Braves players Monday morning.  Heyward was just three-years-old when a young kid named Chipper Jones came to his first big league Spring Training in 1993 and started to get guidance from Justice, Terry Pendleton and some of the other veterans.

“No matter how old Chipper gets, he’ll never be older than me,” Justice said.  “I still look at him like that young kid.  He’ll never stop looking like the young Chipper that I first met.”

That young Chipper who will turn 40 in April has never forgot about the way Justice, McGriff and Terry Pendleton took care of him during the early years of his career.  He has credited each of them numerous times throughout his career and took time to do so again on Monday when Justice and McGriff arrived in camp to begin a week-long stint as special Spring Training instructors.

“It’s always good to have the alumni back spreading their knowledge,” Jones said. “Those guys were the guys who took me under their wing and really gave me so much guidance when I was younger.”

Check out more about Justice and McGriff in today’s notebook, which also includes a note on the ambitious Andrelton Simmons and updates on Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.

Once Justice and McGriff complete their week-long experience in camp, the Braves will welcome Dale Murphy (March 3-18), Phil Niekro (March 5-10) and Gene Garber (March 19-23).  Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are also expected to participate, but their dates have not yet been set.

It’s great to see Murphy is going to be in camp for more than a week.  He is going to do color commentary on many the games that will be broadcast on radio during his time in camp.

Many of you are likely tired of the daily Tommy Hanson concussion-related updates and looking forward to hearing more about his altered delivery.  Well, it’s pretty safe to assume he feels the same way.  He went through his conditioning drills without a problem and went to see a local doctor Monday with the hope of being cleared to participate in Tuesday’s workout.

Hanson is still saying he will be ready for the start of the season and that is certainly still a possibility.  But with the big right-hander a week behind and in the midst of getting comfortable with an altered delivery, there is no reason to rush him.  This leads me to believe Jair Jurrjens will get the Opening Day start against the Mets.  His right knee has continued to cooperate through the first week of camp.

To give Hanson nearly an extra week to prepare, the Braves could line up their starting pitchers like this:

Jurrjens @ Mets April 5

Beachy @ Mets April 7

Minor @ Mets April 8

Delgado/Teheran @ Astros April 9

Jurrjens @ Astros April 10

Hanson @ Astros April 11

If the Braves choose to go this route, Brandon Beachy would be lined up to start the April 13 home opener against the Brewers.




Odds and ends from Braves camp: Sunday

As long as health stays on their side, the Braves have should have enough dependable arms in their bullpen to lessen the strain placed on primary setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty this year.  Kris Medlen is capable of handling any role after the fifth inning and Arodys Vizcaino has the capability of being a dominant reliever once he continues to develop.

But as Venters prepares for a new season, he is already attempting to make adjustments with the hope that he will not struggle like he has in September during his first two Major League seasons.  The hard-throwing left-hander produced a 5.11 ERA and 1.86 WHIP this past September.   His only other monthly WHIP above 1.27 was posted in September of 2010, when he produced a 1.77 WHIP.

Venters began his throwing program about three weeks later than normal this year and as he looks toward the regular season, he is planning to spend more time in the weight room.  He believes he will be able to stay strong a little longer this year if he is able to maintain some of the muscle he added to his legs and shoulders this winter.

Getting back to Vizcaino, it will be interesting to see what the Braves do with him at the start of the season.   He’s certainly talented enough to be a part of Atlanta’s bullpen and he would be valuable if given a chance to pitch on a regular basis.  But as some of you have pointed out, it might not be wise to throw this kind of prospect in the big league bullpen if there is a concern that he will not get the innings he needs for his development.

Check out Braves.com today for stories on Brandon Beachy and Joe Terdoslavich, who experienced a thrill Saturday when he had the opportunity to take groundballs alongside a fellow switch-hitting third baseman named Chipper Jones.   There is also an update on Tommy Hanson, who played catch and jogged in the outfield today.  He’ll undergo another concussion impact test Monday and possibly be cleared to begin Spring Training workouts on Tuesday.


Odds and ends from Braves camp: Friday

Tyler Pastornicky would not have received his first call to the Majors had Alex Gonzalez not aggravated his right calf the night before the Braves played their fateful regular season finale last year.  Had Pastornicky not received that call, he would not have met Jack Wilson and gained the invitation to spend some time working out with Wilson at his California residence this offseason.

Had Wilson not extended that invitation, the Braves might be able to confidently project who will begin the season as their backup shortstop.

And if you’re worrying too much about who will serve as Atlanta’s backup shortstop for the first couple weeks of the season, well then that’s your problem.

Wilson strained his right calf while running sprints and working out with Pastornicky at his Camarillo, Calif. home on Tuesday.  The veteran infielder arrived at Spring Training on crutches Friday.  He will likely miss at least the first two weeks of April.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez mentioned Drew Sutton and Josh Wilson, a pair of non-roster invitees, as candidates.  He also mentioned Andrelton Simmons.  But that’s not certainly not going to happen.

There is no doubt that Simmons might be the most talented shortstop in camp.  But the kid needs a few more months, and more likely at least one more season to develop.

Gonzalez did not mention Brandon Hicks’ name when discussing potential candidates.  But given Hicks is already on the 40-man roster, he certainly has to be considered a candidate.

Pastornicky traveled to California last Saturday and worked out on a daily basis before flying back to Orlando on Thursday.   He was able to take field grounders on Wilson’s regulation-sized infield, lift weights, take batting practice and do all of his conditioning drills.

In other words, he was able to do everything he would have been doing had he joined the many other Braves who had arrived to camp early.

Arodys Vizcaino might not be guaranteed a spot in the Braves bullpen to begin this season.  But he’s definitely going to make it quite difficult on the club to send him back to the Minors.  The 21-year-old hurler is still throwing his 95-mph heater and working to find consistency with his curveball.   Brian McCann lost his bat as he swung through one of these curves during live batting practice Friday morning.

As Vizcaino walked away from the live BP session, he said he has been working to find some comfort with his changeup, a pitch he rarely threw last year. According to FanGraphs, he threw about seven with a span of 322 pitches at the Major League level.

If Vizcaino finds comfort with the changeup, there will be more reason to contemplate using him as a starting pitcher. But I’m sticking with my belief that he’ll stick to the relief role and find himself in a closer’s role somewhere down the road.

Tommy Hanson rode the stationary bike for 10 minutes this morning and did not pop the tire.  Sorry, had to do it.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Hanson felt good and will likely increase his activity over the next couple of days.  But it still sounds like it will be Monday before Hanson is cleared to simply return to the field.

There will certainly still be time for Hanson to be ready at the beginning of the season.  But as I mentioned earlier this week, there is a possibility that his first turn will be skipped and he’ll make his season debut in the sixth game of the year against the Astros.

The Braves will hold their first full-squad workout Saturday.  Because of physicals, Saturday and Sunday’s workout will start at 1 p.m. ET.

Check out Braves.com for more details about PastornickyFriday’s notebook included Mike Minor’s explanation of the “trade” comments and Medlen regarding a relief role.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman




Odds and ends from Braves camp: Thursday

It seemed telling when Braves general manager Frank Wren said Tommy Hanson looked much different Thursday than he had during the previous few days.  This seemed to be further indication that Hanson had indeed been pretty shaken up after suffering a Grade 1 concussion during a one-car accident early Monday morning.

When the Braves provided initial details of the wreck it was hard to envision exactly how he had injured himself.  We were informed that his tire blew and he went off the side of the road.  There were not any details about how the car came to rest or how he had jarred his head enough to create swelling around his brain.

Fortunately Hanson has provided a little clearer picture with the details that are available in this story (video included).  The condensed version of his story is that he is no longer feeling headaches, dizziness or other concussion symptoms.  He will continue taking concussion impact tests over the next few days and could be cleared for workouts as early as Monday.

It is quite evident that Hanson feels fortunate that he did not suffer a greater injury once his care went off the side of the road, down a small embankment and traveled approximately another 90 feet.

“I was in a field,” Hanson said.  “Most of the time, there are ponds right there.  Thank God it wasn’t a pond.  I would have had to swim out of there.”

The Braves are not currently pursuing free agent Roy Oswalt, who is now saying he could opt to sign with a team in June or July.   But if Hanson would continue to have problems over the next few weeks or Jair Jurrjens’ right knee does not prove as sound as it appears now, you have to wonder if the Braves would show more interest in the veteran hurler.

Oswalt would likely enjoy pitching for the Braves and remaining within relative proximity of his home in Weir, Mississippi.

But if the Braves’ starting pitchers stay healthy through the remainder of camp, it is not likely a play will be made for Oswalt.

Barring any setbacks, the Braves rotation to begin this year will include Hanson, Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado.   There is no doubt Delgado was the more polished pitcher last year.  But Teheran obviously has the higher ceiling and might have made some strides during the winter.

Braves manage Fredi Gonzalez is now saying Teheran or Delgado will be used as a starter either with Atlanta or Triple-A Gwinnett.  Not sure why he said a few weeks ago that one of them could be used in a relief role if necessary.  Whatever the case, neither of them is going to see their development stunted while being used as a reliever.

When Chipper Jones returned to camp today, Brian McCann was happy to tell him about the “Fat Chipper” rumors that had created a buzz on the internet the internet this week because of one picture that was snapped while the wind was blowing through Chipper’s shirt.   Given that he weighs between 225-230 pounds right now, Chipper laughed and allowed McCann to have his fun.

“Mac is so happy now because every time that (chubby) kid comes on the (scoreboard screen) before our  (home) games and yells, ‘Play Ball’, I’m like, ‘hey that’s Mac,’” Jones said.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

While Chipper Jones was in camp today, Tyler Pastornicky was not.  Like all other position players, Pastornicky has until Friday to report.  But given that he has been given a chance to begin this year as Atlanta’s starting shortstop, it was easy to assume the 22-year-old infielder might have been anxious to get to what will be just his second big league camp.

Yesterday, I said he still has plenty of time and all of that other stuff.  While that still applies, I’ll have to admit I’m surprised he did not at least show up during Thursday’s workout.  But really all that matters is that he shows up to camp ready and spends the next five weeks doing whatever necessary to prepare for his first experience at the Major League level.




Odds and ends from Braves camp

Tommy Hanson came to Spring Training expecting to be barraged with questions about his new altered delivery.  Three days into this year’s camp, he suddenly finds himself wishing he could be answering those questions and not the ones regarding the one-car accident he had early Monday morning.

Hanson is expected to make an appearance in Braves camp Thursday.  At that time, he will likely provide some clarity about what happened and more importantly how he has felt since being diagnosed with a Grade 1 concussion following the accident.

Whatever the case, Hanson will likely not be cleared to resume participating in workouts before Monday.

Kris Medlen said that he has seen Hanson sleeping a lot over the past few days at the residence they are sharing during Spring Training.  But it should be noted that he also added, “That’s really not out of the ordinary for him.”

Obviously many of you are wondering whether Hanson will be ready at the start of the season.  But with all of the recent studies done regarding concussions, the only thing that matters now is that Hanson go through the recovery before returning.

Sure, he’d like to make the Opening Day start against the Mets.  But in the grand scheme of things does it really matter if he makes his season debut during the Mets series or the one that follows against the Astros in Houston?

Speaking of Houston, Michael Bourn arrived in camp today and said that the Braves have not yet contacted him about a possible contract extension. No real surprise here.  It makes much more sense for the club to evaluate him over the course of an entire season and get a better feel for what they truly need beyond this year.

Bourn is one of the game’s few prototypical leadoff hitters and he has established himself as the game’s premier basestealer over the past few years.  But will his speed skills start to diminish once he goes north of 30, an age he will reach in December.  It might be easier to take a chance on  a three-year deal with him.  But I would expect Scott Boras will at least start the bidding a little higher.

With Bourn’s arrival, Tyler Pastornicky is the only projected starting position player who has not yet arrived.  Yet if he arrives Thursday, he will still be early.  If he had arrived early, the angle would have been that he’s excited to prepare for the job that he has been given.

But the fact that Pastornicky has not yet been in camp really does not mean much.  He has been working out with Jack Wilson and will come to camp prepared.  We’re still more than a month away from Opening Day.

Adam Russell has turned some heads when he has been walking through the clubhouse this week.  He is a 6-foot-8 reliever who might be the biggest reliever I have ever seen in a Braves clubhouse.   In a recent mailbag, I wrote think more Adam Dunn than Charlie Kerfeld.   On second thought, think of a super-sized Dunn.

“We’ve got football players walking around here?” Javy Lopez questioned when he recently saw the big pitcher.

Check back Thursday for updates on Hanson and other Braves news.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman



Hanson suffers mild concussion

Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson will miss at least a few more days of Spring Training workouts as he recovers from a mild concussion suffered during an early Monday morning auto accident.

Hanson will be evaluated after having a chance to rest for 48 hours.  If he is no longer feeling dizzy or showing any other concussion symptoms at that time, he will be cleared to gradually work toward normal workouts.  The first day he is cleared he will likely do something like ride a stationary bike for 10 minutes.

As long as Hanson does not suffer any setbacks, he could resume his workouts by this weekend or early next week.  Either way, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez does not believe the 25-year-old pitcher will be behind schedule.

“If everything progresses like we think it will, he’ll be fine,” Gonzalez said. “The thing (our trainers) do not want to do is bring him back too early and then he gets dizzy because of the concussion.  It’s just a natural progression.”

Hanson threw off the mound multiple times over the past month while he was altering his delivery in attempt to lessen strain on his previously-ailing right shoulder.   His shoulder caused him to miss the final two months of the 2011 season.  But he has not experienced any recent discomfort.

Hanson was involved in a one-car accident around 7 a.m. ET Monday while traveling to the Braves Spring Training complex.  He blew a tire and went off the road.  It is still not know whether he suffered the mild concussion by hitting his head or simply jarring it.

Gonzalez said Hanson’s concussion is listed as Grade 1 — the lowest grade.



Jurrjens and Prado pleased to remain Braves

When asked about the fact that their names were linked to trade rumors throughout the winter, Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens reacted as expected. Both indicated that they are happy that they remained with the Braves.

But it appeared Jurrjens would have been the one who would have been able to better accept a trade.   Unlike Prado, he has actually spent a portion of his professional career elsewhere and got a taste of the shock factor when the Tigers told him he had been traded to the Braves when he was a promising 21-year-old prospect in October of 2007.

Prado has been with the Braves since signing his first professional contract in 2001 and he has developed a true love for the organization over the past decade. With this being said, he has prepared himself for the likelihood that he will not spend his entire professional career in Atlanta.

But when asked about the rumors Monday, his reaction provided the impression that he would have been crushed to learn he had been traded.

“I was shocked, but I knew it was going to happen, at least the rumors,” Prado said. “This is a business and I love the Braves. They are the team that gave me an opportunity. But I knew at some point of my career this was going to happen. I’m not thinking about that. This is something I can’t control. Whatever their decision was, I was going to respect that.”

Jurrjens’ reaction to the same question:

“When the rumors started, trying to take a nap was difficult because any time the phone rang, you think it could be somebody calling you to tell you, you’ve been traded. But it’s part of the business.   Everybody is trying to improve their team somehow.”

There has never seemed like many players were looking forward to finding out what the club might get for either Prado or Jurrjens this winter.

“A lot of people are talking about how there were not many moves made,”  Hudson said. “I don’t think there needed to be any moves.  I think the best moves were the two that weren’t made.  I felt like we had a World Series-caliber team last year and I feel like we do again.  We just had a bad month at a bad time of the year.” <p>

When asked about last year’s woeful September for the feature story that ran today, some of the Braves talked about how they started to get the sense they had been victims of the destined road the Cardinals traveled to a world championship.  Game 6 of the World Series certainly provided reason to wonder.

Then when Tony La Russa opted to retire just three days after the end of the World Series, I’ll have to admit I wondered if the Braves would have been able to hold off the Cardinals had they entered September with a 20-game lead.

Still while talk of “team of destiny” and “baseball gods” might make for good conversation, the Braves can’t ignore the fact that they simply didn’t get the job done.  This is what David Ross said after talking about how the Cards were seemingly destined to win.

“You can blame a hundred million things, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done,” Ross said. “(The Cardinals) were hot and look at what happened to them.”

Hanson’s accident: As most of you likely already know, Tommy Hanson was involved in a one-car accident as he was driving toward the team’s Spring Training complex around 7 a.m. ET.  After making his way to the complex, Hanson informed the team’s medical staff that he was not feeling well.  He was then sent to an area doctor to be evaluated for a potential concussion.

If Hanson suffered a concussion, he will need to undergo baseline testing to determine the severity of the trauma and provide some indication as to when he might be able to return.

But the Braves did not seem too concerned on Monday.  It seemed like he was sent to the doctor simply as a precautionary measure.

I’ll provide updates when available.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman







Odds and ends: Braves pitchers and catchers report

Bobby Cox and Tim Hudson both enjoyed Moneyball.  Well they didn’t like the way Art Howe was portrayed or the fact that the film didn’t at least give a pretty solid staring rotation some credit.  But they both found the movie to be entertaining.

Had the film focused on the pitchers, I am pretty sure Hudson is convinced the character portraying him would have been played by Brad Pitt.

Hudson was among the many Braves in a good mood as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Sunday.  The veteran pitcher is not exactly thrilled about the fact that he will likely miss at least the season’s first month as he recovers from a Nov. 28 surgical procedure that fused his L5/S1 vertebrae with a sponge filled with bone-producing proteins.

But he’s feeling much better than he had while pitching with back discomfort in recent years. He entered the offseason hoping to avoid the surgical procedure.  But when he continued to struggle while putting on shoes and performing other normal tasks, he decided he had no other choice.

“ I definitely feel like I’m getting around a lot better,” Hudson said. “I felt like Fred Sanford for two or three years walking around the locker room.”  <p>

Yeah it would have seemingly made much more sense for Hudson to undergo surgery immediately after the 2011 season ended.  Had he done so, he might have been ready for the start of the regular season.  But now it appears either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado will be filling his vacant rotation spot in April.

Those of you who believe Kris Medlen should always be mentioned in this discussion should know Hudson pointed toward Medlen’s locker when he said:

“I don’t have any pressure to get back early or back on time. One thing that makes it a lot easier for me is that we have guys who can fill in and be just fine. That guy (Medlen) right there, he is as good as anybody we have in my opinion when he’s healthy.”

That’s high praise for Medlen and there might soon be a day when he fills a starting role on a regular basis.  But I still think he’s most valuable as a versatile middle reliever with this club.  You can comfortably pitch him in any late-inning role.  His presence should really help Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel over the long haul.

Hudson was also happy to point out that a fellow Auburn man, Dr. Stevan Wray, performed his surgery.

“I gave him a “War Eagle” before they put me under,”  Hudson said.

Early arrivals:  It has been pretty impressive to see how many position players are already in camp.  Position players are not scheduled to report until Friday.  Yet as of Sunday, shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and centerfielder Michael Bourn were the only projected starting position players who had not yet arrived in camp.

Camp Fredi:  During his first Spring Training with the Braves last year, manager Fredi Gonzalez placed a greater emphasis on conditioning drills.  This year he plans for the players to do a lot of their conditioning while completing baserunning drills.  He believes this will prove more beneficial than having them run along the warning track at the end of their daily workout.

“Instead of having these guys run 10 poles…These guys don’t run poles.  They run the bases for a living.  We’ll condition with them running the bases.  That’s what they do.  I learned it from the football mentality.  Why you going to ask a 300-pound lineman to run a 100-yard dash.”






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