Braves hopes depend on the health of Hanson and Jurrjens
Jason Heyward and Martin Prado will draw plenty of attention during the early days of Spring Training. As some wonder how these two outfielders will rebound others will continue to ask Chipper Jones about the possibility of playing beyond this year.
Chipper will tire of that question real quick. But by the time this month concludes, he will find himself much more willing to discuss his future than the club’s recent past.
Having had a little more than four months to distance themselves from the pain and frustration, the Braves will not come to camp eager to discuss last September’s collapse. But the veterans certainly know that they will be asked time and again about what happened and whether the experience will haunt or motivate them.
As I talked to Braves general manager Frank Wren earlier this week, he once again said, “We were a good team that had a bad month.” Bad might be underselling it. But that is a pretty accurate description.
Everything seemed to be in order when the Braves exited Wrigley Field on the afternoon of Aug. 25. Brian McCann had homered twice in a win over the Cubs and the team had a 9 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card standings. Yeah Hurricane Irene was making its way up the East Coast. But there did not seem to be any real worry as the club made its way toward New York City.
Things started to change the following day when reports began surfacing the subway and other transit options in NYC would be shut down. Saturday’s game time changed more often than Luis Valdez’s name before we finally learned Saturday and Sunday’s games were cancelled.
When told of this development Friday afternoon, some Braves players and coaches had to go back to Manhattan, pack and bring their luggage back to Citi Field. As Chris Capuano recorded 13 strikeouts and tossed a two-hit shutout for the Mets a few hours later, you had to wonder if the Braves actually paid a few bellhops to wear their uniform and play that night.
If they did, the Dodgers did not seem to notice. Hey now!
Anyhow as I exited the press box that evening I remember thinking it was one of the more lifeless efforts I had seen. At the time, it seemed like a fitting ending to a weird day. A month later, it was apparent the day was actually a sign of things to come.
This blog’s entry on Sept. 7 was headlined “Braves have slumbered since Hurricane break”. Five days later, it read, “Things can’t get much worse for Braves”. Oh yes they could.
The Sept. 13 entry read “McCann and Prado enhance concerns surrounding Braves.” One week later the headline read, “Legit playoff teams would not panic in this situation.” One week later the season was over the Braves were not a playoff team.
Little has changed with the Braves from a personnel standpoint in the 4 1/2 months that have since passed. The most significant offseason additions came in the form of new hitting coach Greg Walker and his assistant Scott Fletcher. Both have already received some complimentary reviews from the players. As most of you know, I could not say the same about Larry Parrish last year. I Still vividly remember being in San Francisco last April when one of the players said, “this is not going to work” while talking about Parrish.
The Braves explored the possibility of trading Martin Prado or Jair Jurrjens this winter. Over the next few months, I think they’ll be happy that they kept both. Tim Hudson is pleased with the progress he has made since undergoing back surgery in November. But it appears he will likely be sidelined until at least early May.
With Hudson out, the Braves will benefit from having a healthy Jurrjens’ experience in what will be a young rotation to start the season. The rotation will likely include Tommy Hanson, Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado. Any combination of Beachy, Minor and Teheran/Delgado has combined for no more than 58 starts.
This is why I believe the most important angle entering Spring Training centers around the health of Hanson and Jurrjens. Yes it will be interesting to follow Heyward’s progress and provide updates as Tyler Pastornicky attempts to get comfortable with his role as Major Leaguer and starting shortstop.
The Braves need Heyward to turn things around and they need Pastornicky to consistently produce quality plate appearances as he adapts to life in the big leagues. They also need to know Craig Kimbrel will not be scarred by last year’s conclusion and that Jones’ knees are indeed going to cooperate as he enjoys the opportunity to play at 40.
But more than anything the Braves need to enter this season knowing that they will not have to worry about Hanson’s right shoulder or Jurrjens’ right knee. Hanson’s altered delivery has aided his shoulder like a knee brace has provided Jurrjens’ knee some stability as he has been throwing the past couple of weeks.
For many of you, it has likely been encouraging to hear and read about the progress Hanson and Jurrjens have made over the past few months. But it’s time to see that progress and fortunately that time is now.
Braves pitchers and catchers report Sunday.