March 2012

Hanson named Opening Day starter

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced  Tommy Hanson will serve as his Opening Day starter and that Jair Jurrjens will start the April 13 home opener against the Brewers.

Hanson will be making his first Opening Day start when he faces the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon.  The 25-year-old right-hander will make his final tuneup while facing the potent Tigers lineup at Champion Stadium this afternoon.

Jurrjens will make his season debut when the Braves play the Mets on April 7 in the second game of three-game set.  Because there is a scheduled off day between the first and second games, he would be pitching with two extra days of rest.  To compensate for this, he will likely throw a longer bullpen session on Monday or Tuesday.

Gonzalez also confirmed that he plans on sending Mike Minor to the mound for the April 8 series finale against the Mets.  Brandon Beachy will make his season debut when the Braves open a three-game series against the Astros on April 9.

Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are still battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.  The Braves will only need to use the fifth spot in the rotation three times before Tim Hudson makes his scheduled return in late April.

Hanson  could return on regular rest for the April 10 game in Houston or with an extra day of rest on April 11.   The fifth starter will make his first start in one of these games.

 

 

Braves seem to find a good fit with Hernandez

Livan Hernandez is obviously not the same pitcher that he was when he (and plate umpire Eric Gregg) combined for 15 strikeouts in Game 5 of the 1997 National League Championship Series.  Nor does he have the same youtful vigor that he did when he combined for 734 2/3 innings between 2003-05.

But Hernandez is certainly capable of handling the role the Braves provided when they signed him just hours after the Astros had released him on Friday.   The veteran right-hander will essentially serve as the seventh member of the bullpen.  He will handle the long relief role and  make occasional starts when injury or a schedule change affects the rotation.

In other words, he’ll be exactly what Cristian Martinez was last year.  And the fact that he is now a part of Atlanta’s bullpen means the Braves will now be able to use Martinez in more middle relief situations without having to worry about the possibility of needing him to serve as a long reliever  the next day.

Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters will primarily handle all of the middle relief/setup setup situations.  Throwing Martinez and left-hander Yohan Flande in the mix could further lessen the strain the aforementioned relievers experience over the course of the season.

Hernandez’s presence will not immediately affect Randall Delgado or  Julio Teheran.  Braves general manager Frank Wren said either Delgado or Teheran would still be projected to start three games the fifth starter’s spot is needed before Tim Hudson returns in late April.

Wren will continue to search for a right-handed hitting outfielder or third baseman who would fortify the club’s depth.

As Nationals outfielder Xavier Nady played against the Braves on Thursday, he was led to believe that he could be traded to the Braves by the time the game ended.  But it does not appear the Braves have much interest in the injury-riddled veteran.

Jair Jurrjens will pitch tonight’s game against the Astros at Disney.  Delgado is pitching against the split-squad Astros team in Kissimmee tonight.

With Carlos Lee, Jose Altuve and Brian Bogusevic present, it’s safe to say Jurrjens will be challenged more than he was on Sunday when he cruised through six innings against a split-squad Astros club.   This outing should give the club a better indication of where the right-hander stands with Opening Day just six days away.

 

 

 

Braves still not ready to announce Opening Day starter

It’s starting to look like Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez might not have been playing when he has said he wants to be the last Major League manager to announce his Opening Day starting pitcher. With eight days remaining before the start of the regular season, we’re still left to guess whether it will be Jair Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson. 

Courtesy of their decision not to pitch one of their projected starters against the Mets on Tuesday, the Braves have already set up today’s starter Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to make their next start with an extra day of rest. 

When Jurrjens faces the split-squad Astros team in Kissimmee on Friday night, he will be on regular rest.  The same will go for Hanson when he pitches against the potent Tigers lineup on Saturday.

This arrangement puts Hanson in line up to make the April 5 Opening Day start on regular rest.  But it also creates reason to wonder when Jurrjens might make his debut.  If Jurrjens were to pitch the second game of the year, he would do so with three extra days of rest.

So maybe the Braves are thinking about having Jurrjens make one more exhibition start in a Minor League setting before making his regular season debut during the Astros series (April 9-11).

Or maybe Jurrjens will be the Opening Day starter.  He would be doing so with the one extra day of rest that pitching coach Roger McDowell likes to provide his starters before the start of the season.

But this arrangement would also mean Hanson would pitch the second game of the year with two extra days of rest.

So with eight days before the start of the regular season, your guess is as good as mine.  But because I’m stubborn, I’m going to continue to guess Jurrjens will get the nod. 

Jonny Venters will return to the mound during Thursday’s game against the Nationals in Viera.  This will be his first appearance since some upper arm discomfort led the Braves to shut him down after his March 18 outing against the Orioles. The left-handed reliever was encouraged by a 25-pitch side session he completed on Tuesday.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Braves training at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.  The first game was played between the Braves and Reds on March 28, 1997.  Fred McGriff hit the first home run and Deion Sanders (then of the Reds) recorded the first hit, stolen base and run.

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends from Braves camp

Welcome back to Disney where this morning a scout was overheard saying, “I’ve seen enough of (Jair) Jurrjens this year.”  No, he was not affiliated with the Braves in any way, shape or form.

But it’s pretty safe to say that every member of the Braves organization would like to spend this afternoon watching Jurrjens look much different than he has in each of his first four exhibition starts.  On the way to producing a 10.13 ERA, Jurrjens has battled to find the confidence that his right knee truly is healthy.

While Jurrjens has not experienced any discomfort, scouts have spent this month saying, “he doesn’t look like the same guy to me.” There has been some indication that he has grown more comfortable as this month progressed and started pushing off the rubber with more aggression than he had during his first two exhibition starts.

Last week, I wrote that I was shocked that some fans were suggesting that Jurrjens should not be considered for the Opening Day start.  My thinking was that his tenured status and the fact that Tommy Hanson did not need to be rushed made him the only logical candidate.

But if Jurrjens struggles against the less-than-imposing  split-squad lineup the Astros have brought to Disney today, I think the Braves have to think about the possibility of asking him to make two more exhibition starts, eliminating his candidacy for an Opening Day start  This arrangement would set him up to pitch one of the split-squad games against the Astros on Friday and in a Minor League game on March 30.

If the Braves would choose to go this route, Jurrjens would be ready to make his first regular season start during the April 9-11 series against the Astros in Houston.   Don’t get worked up about the possibility of him facing the Astros three times in a span of four starts.  Many of the guys in today’s Astros lineup will not be in Houston when the regular season arrives.

Tommy Hanson is scheduled to pitch five innings against a group of Astros Minor Leaguers while his teammates (other than Jack Wilson) will enjoy a scheduled offday on Monday.   Hanson will make one more exhibition start on Saturday against the Tigers.  He would then be on schedule to make the Opening Day start if the Braves choose to go with somebody other than Jurrjens.

Either way, as long as Hanson does not experience any setbacks, it appears he will pitch during the opening weekend in New York.

Tyler Pastornicky will start at shortstop in a second straight game today.  There does not seem to be reason to make much of the decision to give him consecutive starts.  It still seems the Braves are debating daily whether to give the starting shortstop job to Pastornicky or allow Andrelton Simmons the opportunity to make the big jump from the Class A-Advanced level to the Majors.

Julio Teheran completed a pain-free 25-pitch side session on Saturday with what he estimated to be 75 percent effort.  Because he had experienced some upper arm stiffness after his last outing, the Braves opted to have him complete the side session instead of pitching in a Minor League game.   Teheran is currently slated to start one of Friday’s split-squad games against the Astros.

 

 

Surgery to force Chipper to begin final season on the DL

Chipper Jones will begin the final season of his career on the disabled list.  The Braves third baseman will undergo surgery on Monday to repair torn meniscus in his left knee.

Jones  missed a little more than two weeks after undergoing the same surgical procedure on his right knee after last year’s All-Star break.   He has told Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that he hopes to return from this procedure in time to play the  April 13 home opener against the Brewers.

Jones announced he would retire at the end of this year during a Thursday morning press conference that was staged a little more than an hour after he hurt his left knee while running in the outfield.

With Jones sidelined, Martin Prado will begin the year as Atlanta’s starting third baseman.  If the Braves do not make any acquisitions, Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz will platoon in left field at the beginning of the year.

Chipper will be missed

As Chipper Jones and I were at Osceola County Stadium talking about his beloved Florida Gators or some other forgotten topic about six or seven years ago, the conversation turned to a point where he said something like, “My mother is pretty guarded, it takes a long time to really get to know her.”

Like Mother, like Son.

When I started this gig for MLB.com in 2001, Jones was one of the game’s elite players and I was a 26-year-old kid who would learn over the course of the next 11 years that he did not know nearly as much as he thought he did back then.

More importantly, this span provided me the pleasure of getting to know Larry Wayne Jones. Somewhere along the line, he became a little less guarded and allowed me to know him as more than just the face of the Braves and one of the greatest switch hitters ever.

As an emotional Jones addressed his wife, Sharon, and three of his boys during Thursday’s press conference, I was reminded of those times when our phone conversations have been interrupted by the need to help one of the boys with their math homework or to simply tell them to take care of some household chore.

Jones will miss the camaraderie and the competitive thrill every long baseball season provides.  But as he said Thursday, it’s time for him to start spending more time with these kids, who have always had to share their father once the baseball season arrived on an annual basis.

But before going down, the sappy, “I’m going to miss you” road, we’re all going to have the fortunate of seeing Chipper’s talents over the course of an entire season.  There will be plenty of time for me to irk him again like I did six or seven years ago when I referred to him as a “part time superstar” as he was dealing with some injuries.

While that might have seemed like the right thing to say at that time, now seems to be the time to once again say that I feel blessed to have had the assignment to cover Chipper Jones.  If I have the fortune of doing this job for another 25-plus years, there is a good chance that I will never again encounter a player as talented and knowledgeable.  He has made this job so much easier for me and so many other reporters.

But like I said earlier, we’ll save some of the sappy stuff for September or October.

By now many of you have likely read all of the Chipper-related stories posted on braves.com after Thursday’s announcement.  Here are few quotes that did not appear in those stories:

“You would be hard pressed to find 25 other people who have played this game better than him or more consistently than him.  You’re talking about one of the 25 best players of all-time.  Being able to be a teammate with him for six-plus years, you can’t put words to it.”   — Matt Diaz

“I’m sure if I go 0-for-25 and strike out 20 times, they’ll probably express their displeasure.ut they shouldn’t be booing me.  They should be booing Fredi for putting me in there.   I’m joking when I say that.”  — Jones on whether the fans might give him a free pass this year.

“Bobby (Cox)took a flyer on me and I spent the past 23 years trying to make him proud and not make him answer questions about why he took some young punk with the number one pick. I was lucky enough to play 17 seasons under Bobby Cox.  He’s the greatest manager many of us will ever know.”   —  Jones

TODAY’S TIDBITS:  The Braves reassigned Joey Terdoslavich, Christian Bethancourt,Ernesto Mejia, Dusty Hughes and Adam Russell to Minor League camp…Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tim Hudson is targeted to join the Atlanta rotation during the series against the Pirates (April 27-30)…Gonzalez said he is now open to providing Jack Wilson his wish to begin the season on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.  Wilon has not experienced any recent problems with his previously-strained right calf.

 

 

 

Hanson can provide Braves a lift

Tommy Hanson deserves the same opportunity as any other pitcher to make whatever preseason preparations he needs to make without worrying too much about the results of a Grapefruit League game. But that still does not erase the reality that he provide the Braves a much-needed lift if he produces four solid innings against the Nationals this afternoon.

The Braves have been thrilled by what they have seen from Mike Minor and encouraged with the more aggressive approach Brandon Beachy took while attacking the strike zone in his last outing.  But the team now needs at least one of its seasoned starters to provide at least a little reason to be confident that they will be ready to produce when the regular season starts in two weeks.

If Jair Jurrjens had not struggled after last year’s All-Star break while dealing with his bothersome right knee, it might be easier to believe he could pull a reverse Jo-Jo Reyes by producing regular season results that do not come close to resembling those in Spring Training. But as he labored through each of his first four exhibition starts, the 26-year-old pitcher has simply added to the doubts surrounding him.

So 24 hours after watching Jurrjens allow the Tigers seven runs (six earned) in five innings, Hanson will look to give the Braves reason to believe he can serve as a veteran anchor until Tim Hudson returns.  At the same time with four solid innings today, he can provide himself further reason to believe he has distanced himself from the frustration he encountered when he suffered a concussion in a one-car accident on Feb. 20.

Having missed last year’s final two months with a sore right shoulder, Hanson could have certainly used a distraction-free, six-week stretch during Spring Training.  Still while he was pushed a little more than a week behind schedule, he seems comfortable with his slightly “altered delivery” and confident that he will be where he needs to be when he makes his first start during the regular season’s first week.

Going to have to admit, I have been shocked to see some fans question whether Jurrjens is still the leading candidate to get the Opening Day start.  It really should not matter what he has done during the exhibition season. As long as he is healthy, then he deserves the honor.

If Tim Hudson or Hanson were available to start the April 5 Opening Day game against the Mets, there might be some reason for debate.  With them out of the picture, Jurrjens should essentially gain this honor by default.  He’s  made 115 starts for the Braves or 64 more than Beachy and Minor combined.

BRAVES LINEUP

Bourn 8

Simmons 6

McCann 2

Uggla 4

Freeman 3

Heyward 9

Parraz 7

Sutton 5

Hanson 1

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends as Braves prepare to face Cards

Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez picked up the phone in the home dugout this morning to let a group of pitchers know that it was time to leave the bullpen to participate in a drill on the main field. As Perez relayed the message, it was apparent that he was surprised to hear the voice on the other end.

When he hung up the phone, Perez smiled and said, “That was Bobby Cox.”

With the Cardinals sending Lance Lynn to the mound to start this afternoon’s game against the Braves, I guess it’s important to point out that Cox heard the message clearly and made sure to send the right pitchers to the mound for that portion of the morning workout.

Barring any confusion, Lynn will be opposed by Randall Delgado, who is scheduled to pitch the first five innings of this afternoon’s game.  Julio Teheran is scheduled to pitch the final four innings.  It still seems too early to confidently know which of these two pitchers will begin the year in the rotation’s fifth spot.

Both pitched effectively before struggling in their fourth inning of work during their last start.  But it’s safe to say both have made the necessary strides since allowing nerves, Mother Nature and a potent Tigers lineup to serve them some humble pie during their exhibition season opener.

Like the Braves will continue to evaluate the battle between Teheran and Delgado, they will do the same with the battle between Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky.  Simmons has obviously been the more impressive during the first two weeks of the exhibition season.  But it will be interesting to see what he shows with the bat now that starting pitchers going deeper and the games are starting to at least better resemble a normal game.

Braves general manager Frank Wren talked about the shortstop battled this morning Here is a tidbit from that interview

“I think you just have to not be quick to make decisions based on a small sample size or a week or two of games,” Wren said.  “Sometimes you see things the first two weeks and you’re saying, ‘Wow.’  Then another 10 days later, you’re going, ‘oh OK, that’s what we expected.’

Check Braves.com later for more thoughts about the battle between Pastornicky and Simmons.

Medlen still projected to begin the season as a reliever

While limiting the Mets to one hit over four scoreless innings on Saturday, Kris Medlen attempted to give the Braves more reason to consider putting him in the rotation to start the year.  But it appears, the versatile hurler did nothing more than provide the Braves even more reason to feel comfortable about moving him to a starting role if necessary.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday morning that Medlen’s next appearance will likely be a two or three-inning relief stint.  In other words, the club has stuck with the plan to stretch him out to four innings before beginning to use him in the relief role that he is projected to fill at the start of the season.

Even before Medlen allowed just one run through the first eight innings he has completed in the exhibition season, some of you believed he should be put in the rotation ahead of Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran.  Most of this was fueled by memories of him going 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts for the 2010 Braves.

If there was just one game or one series involved, there is no doubt that Medlen is the better option than Delgado and Teheran right now.  But as long as one of those young pitchers can at least prove serviceable in the rotation, Medlen provides greater value courtesy of the depth he provides a bullpen that has already lost Arodys Vizcaino.

Medlen’s presence should lessen the stress placed on Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.  His changeup gives him the ability to retire left-handed hitters and he can work multiple innings if necessary.

I know you’ve read those sentences 50 times over the past couple months.  So to quickly update you on the Medlen front: Nothing has changed.

Nothing has necessarily changed on the Andrelton Simmons/Tyler Pastornicky front either.  It is still too early to confidently say which will begin the year as Atlanta’s starting shortstop.  But Pastornicky seemed to make some strides in the right direction on Saturday, when he generated three productive plate appearances and admitted after the game that he was more comfortable than he had been over the previous couple weeks.

Nobody can argue against the fact that Simmons will always be the flashier more impressive option.  Click here to see the outstanding play the kid made against the Mets yesterday afternoon.  But he’s never faced pitching above the Class A level and has just one full professional season under his belt.  In the best interest of his future, it’s best that he spends a few months at the Minor League level.

One of the primary reason scouts and players began questioning whether the Braves should go with Simmons stemmed from the fact that Pastornicky did not look comfortable at the plate or in the field.  Pastornicky admitted yesterday that he has been pressing.  If he can relax and prove productive over the next couple of weeks, then the Braves can allow Simmons to make a more normal progression toward the big leagues.

If you have not had a chance, please check out the Jeff Porter story that was posted on Friday night.

 

 

 

 

Bullpen auditions at Disney

Welcome back to Disney where a number of fans have chosen to wear green for this afternoon’s split-squad game against the Blue Jays.  Who knew this many people would jump on that Norfolk State bandwagon so soon?

Speaking of the NCAA tourney, one of Chipper Jones’ brackets was unblemished through the 16 games played on Thursday.   He was 8-8 with the Friday selections made on that bracket.  Figured I’d throw this out there since it had been at least five months since we’ve mentioned anything that could be related to the hot-hand fallacy.

Speaking of Jose Constanza, he is batting ninth and playing left field in today’s game against the Blue Jays.  With Opening Day less than three weeks away, it appears Constanza could be competing with fellow speedster Luis Durango and Jordan Parraz for one of the last available roster spots.   Parraz will play right field in today’s game at Disney and Durango will play center field in the split squad game against the Mets at Port St. Lucie.

As slap hitters with speed, Constanza and Durango both provide essentially the same thing offensively.  Defensively, Durango has the better arm and a little better range. Parraz is more multi-dimensional from an offensive perspective and  has the ability to play all three positions (despite what you might have seen with that long fly ball hit to center on Friday night).

Some of the Opening Day roster decisions will center around the status of Jack Wilson, who has not experienced any discomfort in his right calf over the past week.  Wilson believes he will be healthy enough to avoid beginning the season on the disabled list.  In fact, he hopes to begin compiling plate appearances in Minor League games next week.

But when asked about Wilson’s status late Friday night, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated the plan is to continue showing caution until the medical staff is confident the veteran infielder will not aggravate the calf strain like he did when he missed two months during the 2008 season.

If Wilson begins the season on the disabled list, Drew Sutton will likely begin the year as Atlanta’s utility infielder.

Brandon Beachy will be looking to show better command when he starts against the Blue Jays this afternoon.  The right-hander issued five walks against the Cardinals on Monday and has issued a total of seven through his first five innings of the exhibition season.   He also combined for nine walks in the 10 1/3 innings that encompassed his final two starts of the 2011 season.

After Beachy exits, Adam Russell, Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro will continue to audition for one of the final bullpen spots.  Cristhian Martinez will attempt to strengthen his projected spot on the Opening Day roster when he also pitches in relief against the Blue Jays today.

Even if Arodys Vizcaino can once again avoid Tommy John surgery, he obviously will not be ready for the start of the regular season.

The projected Opening Day bullpen currently consists of  Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Kris Medlen and Martinez.  The leading candidates for the final two spots are Jairo Asencio (out of options), Gearrin (if he can provide confidence he can handle left-handed hitters), Varvaro and Russell.

Medlen will start this afternoon’s split-squad game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.  Sean Gilmartin is also scheduled to appear in that game.  Gilmartin has impressed teammates during his first big league camp.

TODAY’S LINEUPS

vs. Blue Jays

Bourn 8

Pastornicky 6

McCann DH

Uggla 4

Chipper 5

Hinske 3

Parraz 9

Bethancourt 2

Constanza 7

 

@Mets (no designated hitter)

Simmons 6

Prado 5

Heyward 9

Freeman 3

Diaz 7

Ross 2

Sutton 4

Durango 8

Medlen 1

 

 

 

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