May 2012

Braves escape 8-game skid with minimal damage

As bad as it seemed, things could have been worse.  If you had known there would be a stretch during which Michael Bourn would hit four home runs between Braves’ victories, you might have been preparing for something more like an 88-game losing streak.

Fortunately for the sanity of many, the losing streak extended to just eight games before being snapped on Tuesday.  Given the Braves are three games above .500 and still within three games of the first-place Nationals in the National League East standings, let’s avoid using words like disastrous when describing what transpired over the past week.

Disastrous is learning you’ll spend most of the next two months without Roy Halladay after spending at least the first 2 1/2 months of the season without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Like with the nine-game skid endured long before the 2010 team made the playoffs, the Braves have plenty of time to amend all that went wrong recently.

Given that they had won 12 of their previous 18 games and had just taken two of three from the mighty Rays on the road, there was absolutely no reason to know the Braves would lose each of the eight games played from May 21-28.  Of course at the time there was also no reason to know Chipper Jones’ bruised left leg would simply worsen, Brian McCann would battle a bad flu bug and Freddie Freeman’s would have to wait patiently for the specially-designed glasses that finally arrived today.

Had we known at the time that the Braves were essentially going to go an entire week with getting virtually no production from these three players, it might have been easier to prepare for the eight-game skid.  Sure there were fans calling for manager Fredi Gonzalez to lose his job less than a week after the Braves had sat at the top of the division standings.  That’s simply what occurs in the sports world, especially the one that now includes Twitter.

As a fan, it is your right to criticize Gonzalez’s choice to use Livan Hernandez during the sixth inning of a tie game on Sunday night.  You can rip him all day long for lineup construction, bullpen management and other strategic issues all day long.  But it was ridiculous to suggest he should be accountable for the fact that the Braves were not winning while three of their primary offensive contributors were not in the lineup.

The best managers of all-time are going to have a tough time winning while dealing with the consequences of the ailments that afflicted Jones, McCann and Freeman.  Along with their absence, Gonzalez also found himself working with a short bench as McCann, Freeman and David Ross have all recently spent time dealing with issues that do not require a trip to the disabled list.

When Ross strained his right groin during Friday night’s game, Gonzalez had to feel like the walls were falling in around him.  This forced McCann to play seven innings that night and zap his energy to the point he was too weak to play the final two games of this past weekend’s Nationals series.

But it feels like the Braves’ fortunes have changed over the past 24 hours.  Jose Constanza has arrived to provide some depth. McCann has played the past two days without problem and a specially-crafted set of glasses from Oakley arrived for Freeman this morning.  After  enduring a week when it seemed like everything went wrong, things are suddenly looking up for Gonzalez’s team.

Instead of judging Gonzalez based on what happened over the past week, judge him based on how the team responds coming out of this rough stretch.

ODDS AND ENDS:  Freeman will lobby to play in tonight’s series finale against the Cardinals.  But it might take a day or two for him to get used to the glasses.  Either way, it seems like a safe bet to assume he will at least be back in time for Friday night’s series opener against the Nationals in D.C.  He will also have a chance on Friday to try two different sets a of glasses that are currently being constructed by Under Armour.

While showing his limited range and botching a fifth-inning single that was ruled a single, Tyler Pastornicky showed why many believe Andrelton Simmons could soon be Atlanta’s starting shortstop.  This is not necessarily a move that will be made this week.  But I certainly won’t be surprised if it is made within a week or two.

Bourn matched a career high with his fifth home run on Tuesday night.  He has hit four in his past 32 at-bats and each of the five in his past 72 at-bats.  Before beginning this span of 72 at-bats, he had homered once in every 184 at-bats of his career.   While you might have enjoyed this recent power surge, don’t kid yourself.  Scott Boras has enjoyed it even more.

Simmons and Medlen could soon see more significant roles

UPDATED

There is obviously not a Braves fan who wanted to endure the agony that has grown during the current eight-game losing streak. But those of you who were hoping to see more of Andrelton Simmons and Kris Medlen might appreciate the consequences.

The Braves have not decided it is definitely time for Simmons to begin his reign as Atlanta’s starting shortstop.  But there been a firm decision made to switch Medlen from reliever to starter.

Medlen has been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make two or three starts in preparation to join Atlanta’s rotation.  With the bench weakened by injuries, the Braves have recalled outfielder Jose Constanza to fill the vacated roster spot for at least a few days. Constanza will play left on Tuesday night and  bat ninth, like he often did when he was a catalyst last August.

While Medlen’s absence could temporarily weaken the bullpen, the Braves are banking on him returning in a couple of weeks to provide the dependability that has not been present when Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have started recently.  <p>

Medlen has struggled out of the pen recently, posting a 5.65 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .281 against him in his past 14 1/3 innings (12 appearances).  <p>

Having the opportunity to work on a regular schedule and know that he will do more than work more than two innings every so often could benefit Medlen, who posted a 3.86 ERA while the Braves went 13-1 in his starts during the 2010 season.  <p>

When Medlen is ready for Atlanta’s rotation, the Braves would have to decide who to remove. Mike Minor and Delgado currently stand as the top candidates.  <p>

Now for the potential  Simmons decision.

Atlanta’s shortstop Tyler Pastornicky is not the reason the Braves have totaled 20 runs and posted a 5.66 ERA during this eight game skid.  His most costly error during this span was a behind-the-back flip that would have been celebrated had Dan Uggla held on to the baseball on Sunday night.  But Pastornicky might be victimized by this skid simply because his limited range and hands have been a concern since the start of the season.

In fact, Pastornicky’s defensive limitations have been a concern since Simmons came to Spring Training and showed why many scouts had labeled him the best defensive shortstop at the Minor League level last year.

Some members of the Braves organization lobbied for Simmons make the jump from the Class A level to begin this year as Atlanta’s starting shortstop.  But it was decided that he needed some more time at the Minor League level to strengthen his once-questioned offensive skills.

Carrying the momentum generated when he won the Carolina League batting title last year, Simmons has batted .299 with three home runs and an .811 OPS in 167 at-bats with Double-A Mississippi.  The exciting 22-year-old shortstop has seemingly passed the test.

Like Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur provided sparks when they made successful jumps to Atlanta from the Double-A level in 2005, Simmons could do the same.  At that same time, he will significantly improve the club’s defense.

Jurrjens impresses: When Jair Jurrjens allowed three runs and totaled 15 innings in the first two starts he made after being demoted to Gwinnett, the Braves were not overly impressed because he primarily used his secondary pitches.  They sent him to the Minors to command and gain some life on a fastball that had been flat since his right knee began bothering him late in the 2010 season.

After enduring two consecutive ugly outings, Jurrjens did nothing but impress while limiting Rochester to three hits over eight scoreless innings on Sunday. According to one National League scout, his fastball rested around 91 mph and touched 93.  At the same time, the former All-Star had no trouble commanding both his slider and changeup.

Many members of the Braves organization were buzzing yesterday about Jurrjens’ outing.  It stands as one of the few reasons they have had to get excited over the past week.

Freeman expresses frustration about his blurred vision

Freddie Freeman is every bit as frustrated as the countless fans who have suggested that he could have received sports goggles or other effective corrective lenses had he simply gone through Amazon.com or visited a nearby LensCrafters.  But the Braves first baseman is doing all he can to remain patient while waiting to find a solution for the blurry vision problems he has battled the past three weeks.

Freeman has battled dry eyes since the Braves played in Colorado at the beginning of this month.  The young first baseman has been utilizing eye drops.  But his eyes have become irritated whenever he has put the contacts back in his eyes.  He is now waiting on the arrival of goggles with the hope that they will provide him the peripheral vision that glasses don’t provide with his somewhat closed batting stance.

“It’s going to take some time,” Freeman said. “That’s why I have taken the last couple days off.  One day, I take a day off and then all of sudden I put the contacts in and go back to square one with all of the burning and everything.  So I might as well take a couple (days) and take the drops like the doctors gave me and hopefully that works.

“It’s frustrating.  I’ve never had this problem.   I try to play through everything.  When I can’t play through something, it’s even more frustrating, especially the little stretch we’re going through.  You just want to be out there to help the team.  But I’m just helpless.”

Carrying the frustration that has built during a seven-game losing streak, the Braves were glad to welcome Brian McCann back to the starting lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals.  The six-time All-Star catcher was hoping to be able to play the entire game.  He is still trying to regain the energy he lost while battling fevers and a virus since last Tuesday.

But Freeman was out of the lineup for a third straight day and for the fourth time in the club’s past five games.  He believes the corrective goggles he ordered from both Under Armour and Oakley will arrive by Tuesday.  An order was placed with both companies to increase the odds of him returning to the lineup as soon as possible.

Both companies said it could take a week to make the glasses and ship them to Freeman.

“They said six or seven days because you’ve got to cut the prescription and everything like that,” Freeman said. ” They’ve got to get the eye pupil distance.  People think you just go and get goggles.  It’s not like that.  They’re going as quick as they can because they know it’s an emergency.”

Freeman had never experienced any problems with his contacts until the Braves were playing at Coors Field earlier this month.  Despite going 6-for-14 with a double, triple and two home runs in that series against the Rockies, he could tell something was wrong.

Freeman earned his second National League Player of the Week award of the year the day after the Braves left Colorado. In the 16 games that have followed, he has batted .150 with three doubles and a home run.

Through recent examinations to determine why his tear ducts are not creating moisture in his eyes, Freeman has learned his vision has changed. The power of the contact lenses he wore earlier this year were 1.5 in both eyes.  His vision is now 1.75 in his left eye and 2.00 in his right eye.

 

 

 

 

 

Jones showers Strasburg with high praise; Boscan promoted

As Stephen Strasburg made his much-anticipated Major League debut on June 8, 2010, Chipper Jones and a number of other Braves huddled in front of a clubhouse television at Chase Field to get a glimpse of the young pitcher who had arrived on the big league scene as one of the most heralded prospects in the game’s history.

Despite the fact that Strasburg was just a year removed from his collegiate career, there was an immediate desire to see his potential greatness.  Two years and a Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery later, the Nationals’ right-hander is displaying that greatness and proving he might actually be capable of realizing tremendous expectations.

“The guy is dominant,” Chipper Jones said.  “He’s got the best repertoire of pitches I’ve seen from any one single pitcher.”

This is incredible praise coming from a future Hall of Famer who has played alongside multiple Cy Young Award winners and been challenged by the game’s top pitchers for more than two decades.

“He’s like a Kerry Wood in his prime, Justin Verlander hybrid,” Jones said. “He’s got the fastball just like those two and the breaking ball just like those two. The changeup is what sets him apart.  Verlander has got a good changeup.  But his is a circle change that just kind of fades away.  (Strasburg’s) is a 90 mile an hour split that just falls off the table.  When you’re going up there gearing up for 95 or 96 and he throws you 90 and the bottom falls out of it, that’s a pretty lethal combination.”

Unfortunately for the Braves, Jones will not be getting a look at this lethal combination this afternoon, when Strasburg opposes Mike Minor and the Braves at Turner Field.  The 40-year old third baseman was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday night.

The decision to put Jones on the disabled list was heavily influenced by the fact that backup catcher David Ross will miss at least a couple of days with a right groin strain that he suffered during Friday night’s loss to the Nationals.  The Braves could not progress through the next couple of days with both Ross and Jones unavailable.

Jones’ badly bruised left leg looked ugly yesterday and it was becoming apparent that he would not be available within the next couple days.  Unfortunately the Braves used him as a pinch hitter during Wednesday night’s game.   Had he not been utilized in that role, he would have been eligible for activation on June 3.   Now he will be on the disabled list until at least June 8.

The Braves were hoping to allow Brian McCann to spend Friday night regaining the energy he had lost while missing the three previous games because of the flu.  But McCann was forced to enter the game when Ross injured his groin during a second inning plate appearance.

Updated:

Surprisingly McCann was not back in the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s game.  He was feeling weak during the final innings of Friday night’s game.

The Braves promoted catcher J.C. Boscan from Gwinnett to take Jones’ roster spot and then inserted Saturday afternoon’s lineup.  Nothing like a career Minor League catcher coming back to the big leagues in time for a matchup against Strasburg.

But isn’t that just the way things have been going for the Braves lately?

 

 

Nationals provide challenge for slumping Braves

The Braves can take solace in the fact that the most turbulent storm they have experienced thus far has not yet proven destructive.  Despite losing five of their past six games, they still enter this weekend’s series against the first-place Nationals sitting just one game out of first place in the congested National League East race.

We know that either the Braves or Nationals (or both) will be sitting in first place by the end of this weekend. But that means a whole lot of nothing within a division in which each of the five members has a .500 record or better at this point of the season.  Given where they stand  — four games out of first place — despite all that has gone wrong this year, would you really be surprised if the last-place Phillies end up winning a sixth consecutive division title.

Still the Braves have plenty to prove this weekend.  Along with attempting to win the first series of the year against the upstart Nationals, they are challenged with the task of distancing themselves from the four-game series sweep experienced in Cincinnati this past weekend. The last time they were on the wrong end of a four-game sweep was April 26-29, 2010 in St. Louis.

The Braves responded by returning home to complete a three-game sweep of the Astros.

But these Nationals are not those Astros or any of the other Nationals/Expos teams that you have seen over the past couple decades.  Armed with a strong starting rotation, this team is a legitimate playoff threat.

The buzz surrounding this year’s Nationals club has only intensified since phenom Bryce Harper arrived on the Major League scene.  The 19-year-old outfielder with the powerful bat, rocket arm and impressive speed has provided Washington’s offense a boost as he has batted .265 with two home runs, a .350 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage in the first 24 games of his career.

But the rock solid pitching staff that is most responsible for the team’s first-place status has not been as formidable since the young outfielder arrived on the scene.

While going 14-6 before Harper’s arrival, the Nationals posted a 2.25 ERA and scored 3.55 runs per game.

While going 12-12 since Harper arrived, the Nationals have posted a 3.45 ERA and scored 3.83 runs per game.

The Nationals’ top offensive contributor this year has been Adam LaRoche, who obviously forgot he usually does not hitting until June or July.  LaRoche enters this weekend’s series having batted .297 with eight home runs and a .937 OPS.  But he enters this weekend with two hits, a home run and a triple, in his past 24 at-bats.

LaRoche is one of the most genuine and likable guys you could ever meet in any walk of life.  One of the primary reasons he was such a popular clubhouse figure in Atlanta was displayed on the evening of Aug. 13, 2009, when he spent a portion of his offday sitting in the front row at Coolray Field watching Tim Hudson complete a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett.

The Braves had just re-acquired LaRoche from the Red Sox two weeks earlier and he was living at least 45 traffic-free minutes away from Coolray Field.  But he and Gwinnett County resident Brian McCann were there that evening showing their support for Hudson.

Tonight, LaRoche will be reminded of what it is like to face  Hudson while wearing a Nationals’ uniform.

Hudson has gone 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA in 23 career starts against the Nationals/Expos. He has allowed one run or fewer in 14 of those outings.  In four starts against this club last year, he went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA.

While the Braves seemingly have the right guy on the mound for this series opener, they are going to have to find a way to score some runs.  With Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and McCann all dealing with different ailments, the club has totaled 12 runs in its past six games.

Jones’ badly bruised left leg has not healed as quickly as hoped and Freeman now hoping to cure his recent vision problems with prescription glasses he will wear instead of contacts during games.  McCann has missed three straight games with the flu.

Check back later this afternoon for updates on each of these three players.  Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

Heyward’s struggles:  During the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals took Ross Detwiler with the sixth overall selection and the Braves nabbed Jason Heyward with the 14th overall selection.  Both of these players will be looking to halt their recent woes during Friday night’s series opener.

Entering Friday night’s matchup against Hudson, Detwiler has gone 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA in his past three starts. He has gone 1-0 with a 3.14 ERA in three starts against the Braves.  But it might be more telling to point out that he has not allowed a run in the 11 innings he has totaled in his past two starts against Atlanta.

Heyward’s troubles have lasted significantly longer than Detwiler’s.  He has batted .189 with three home runs, a .295 on-base percentage and a .330 slugging percentage.

Since hitting his game-winning home run in the 12th inning of a May 11 game in St. Louis, Heyward’s slash line looks like this .174/.240/.239.   He has struck out 15 times and drawn three walks in the 50 plate appearances that have been included in this span.

Bourn’s surprising Great American power:  Michael Bourn hit three home runs in his final 12 at-bats during this week’s series at Cincinnati’s Great Home Run Ball Park. He had totaled three home runs in his previous 925 at-bats before this span.

Bourn has actually hit each of his four homers this year within his past 56 at-bats.  This leaves him one home run shy of the career-high total of five that he produced in 2008.  It’s hard to project when he might match this total.  The Braves will not be making another regular season visit to Cincinnati this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Significance of Chipper’s influence is alarming

Remember when the Braves overcame a deficit of at least five runs in three consecutive games during the early days of this month?  Well they have scored as many as five runs in just five of their past 16 games and been limited to two runs or fewer in seven times during this same span.

Accounting for Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Reds, the Braves have scored two runs or fewer in 15 of their past 45 games.  Given how potent the offense has been during stretches this year, it’s hard to imagine this club has not scored as many as three runs in one-third of the games played thus far.

Given that four of the occasions have occurred within the past five games, maybe there is not much reason to be overly concerned. But it is definitely concerning to see that Chipper Jones has been out of the starting lineup in 11 of the 15 games in which the Braves have scored two runs or fewer.

As great as it has been to see Jones create so many special moments during the early stages of his final season, it has been alarming to see just how much influence his presence has in the Braves lineup.

Had Michael Bourn not enjoyed his first career multi-homer game on Tuesday night, the Braves would be going into tonight’s series finale in Cincinnati having scored two runs or fewer in each of the five games that have been played since Jones was sidelined by a badly bruised left calf.

The Braves are 19-5 in the 24 games that Jones has started this year and 7-14 in the 21 games that he has not. Sorry but a club should not be relying this heavily on a 40-year-old veteran whose knee surgery total (3) since Aug. 10, 2010 trumps the combined home run total (2) produced by Juan Pierre and Jamey Carroll during the same span.

As the Braves attempt to avoid a four-game sweep tonight, they will have to do so without Jones.  He will need at least one more day to rest his leg.  The club can only hope he will be ready to play during this weekend’s key series against the first-place Nationals at Turner Field.

Jones’ success this year has been fueled by the fact that he has benefited from regular opportunities to rest.  So far the formula has worked as he has primarily missed just a game or two before returning to the lineup.  But this week has provided a glimpse of what could happen if he suffers another injury that keeps him sidelined for an extended period this year.

At the same time, it must be remembered that this week’s woes have also been influenced by the absence of Brian McCann, who missed a third straight game on Thursday with flu-like symptoms.  Combined with his scheduled day off on Sunday,  this marks the fourth time in five games that McCann has been out of the lineup.

Some of the recent offensive woes are also a product of the troubles Freddie Freeman has had since his eyes started bothering him during the three-day stay in Denver.  In his past 15 games, the powerful first baseman’s slash line has been .164/.292/.273.

But these recent struggles endured by the Braves are not going to draw any sympathy from the Phillies, who have spent the first two months without Ryan Howard or Chase Utley.  Nor are the fans of St. Louis going to feel bad while wondering how their club will deal without Lance Berkman, who might have suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Just two weeks ago, the Braves went into St. Louis and totaled 23 runs on the way to claiming a three-game sweep of the Cardinals.  Jones started the first two games of that series and recorded two plate appearances in the series finale.

The Braves have gone 4-6 while Jones has totaled just 16 plate appearances in the 10 games that have been played since the Braves exited St. Louis.

Given McCann’s recent absence and Freeman’s recent struggles, Jones’ presence might not be as significant as the numbers indicate.  But as this trend has extended through the season’s first two months, it has become harder to simply describe it as coincidence.

 

Beachy ready to show friends and family members that he can pitch

 

A number of Brandon Beachy’s friends and family members will make the 2 1/2 mile trip from the Kokomo, Ind. area to Cincinnati to watch him start tonight’s game against the Reds.  Makes sense.  Back when he was growing up in the city, they really did not have many opportunities to drive down the street to see him pitch.

Their best opportunities to see him pitch before he became a pro came during his three-year career as a corner infielder/closer/occasional starter at Indiana Wesleyan University.  The picture above shows Beachy proudly wearing his Wesleyan uniform.

Seven years after completing a high school career that he says consisted of him being on the mound for a total of “six or seven innings”, Beachy will take the mound tonight with the best ERA posted by any Major League pitcher pitcher through the first quarter of this season.  Just when you think it can’t, this story just continues to get better.

On the way to posting a 1.33 ERA through his first eight starts, Beachy has pitched into the seventh inning six times and surrendered seven extra-base hits (six doubles and one home run).   In last year’s 25 starts, he pitched into the seventh inning four times and allowed 40 extra-base hits.

One year after setting a modern rookie franchise record with 169 strikeouts, Beachy committed himself to make the changes necessary to last longer in games.  Often I have attempted to explain this by saying that he has been more aggressive in the strike zone.  But that has not necessarily been the case.

Beachy has thrown 64.3 percent of his pitches (549 of 854).  This is the exact percentage he posted last year while throwing 1,555 of his 2,417 pitches for strikes.

Last year, he threw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance.  This year, he has thrown 4.10 pitches per plate appearance.

So, it seems more appropriate to simply say Beachy has been more efficient this year.  This was a necessary step in his development. He threw more 100 pitches without completing as many as six innings five times last year.   On two of those occasions, he did not complete as many as five innings.

It’s safe to say Beachy has made those strides the Braves are hoping to soon see from Mike Minor, who extended his recent frustrations by allowing four runs on four solo home runs during six innings of Monday night’s loss to the Reds.  There is no doubt that the young left-hander needs to make some adjustments.

But given that he had posted an 11.76 ERA and surrendered seven homers in his previous 20 2/3 innings, there was not much reason to be confident that his fortunes were suddenly going to change against a dangerous Reds lineup at the offensive haven known as Great American Ball Park.

I equate this to taking a friend who is trying to remain sober to a pub crawl and saying, “Go get ‘em. We know you can do it.”

You can’t approach him as he battles a hangover the next morning and say,”Well now what are we going to do?”

Still I understand those of you who are wondering how much longer the Braves can afford to keep going with Minor, who has posted  10.46 ERA in his past five starts.  Some of you are still asking about Kris Medlen and others have asked about Jair Jurrjens.

Well given that Medlen has not completed more than two innings or thrown more than 26 pitches in an appearance this month, it would take at least two weeks to stretch him.  With that being said, this would still put him ahead of Jurrjens, who has allowed 16 earned runs in the nine innings that have been totaled in his past two starts with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Still before getting into when Medlen could be ready or discussing  Julio Teheran, who ended his recent struggles with seven strong innings on Tuesday afternoon for Gwinnett, the Braves need to remain patient with Minor.  He will have a chance to get healthy against a less-than-imposing Nationals offense on Friday.

If his struggles continue that evening, then the Braves may need to evaluate making a change.  But for now, despite all of his recent woes, he remains the best option to fill that rotation spot.

 

 

 

 

Minor bump in a promising career

Before reviewing some recent events and preparing for what should be an interesting week, I would like to apologize for the lack of recent activity.  As some of you might have guessed, I was sidelined by a medical issue the past week.  It has been said a kidney stone can prove more painful than giving birth. To provide some perspective for Braves fans, I would say the multiple stones and infection that haunted me the past eight days were more painful than watching Jo-Jo Reyes and Kyle Davies start opposite ends of a doubleheader in a must-win situation on the last day of regular season.

Among all Braves starters who have made at least 30 starts since the start of the 2000 season, Reyes (6.40) and Davies (6.15) own the two worst ERAs. The guy who ranks third on this list is Mike Minor, who just happens to be scheduled to start Monday night’s series opener against the Reds.  Funny how that works out, huh?

Still it is far too early to be worried about the long-term future of Minor, who has posted a 5.39 ERA in his first 32 appearances (31 starts)? Through their first 32 appearances, Tom Glavine (5.33) and Greg Maddux (5.48) owned similar marks.

While I am certainly not projecting Minor has set himself to follow the same legendary path that Glavine and Maddux navigated, I also would never say he is doomed to follow the rocky road traveled by Reyes and Davies.

Minor has acquired a confidence level that was never displayed by either of these two aforementioned pitchers.  He shouldered all of the blame when he surrendered a couple home runs in the April 30 loss to the Pirates and proved accountable when he struggled in his first Coors Field start a few days later.

Minor’s recent inability to command his secondary pitches  (change and curve) have hurt him when he has gone through the lineup for a second time in both of his past two starts.  He allowed two hits and one run through the first three innings of his 4 2/3 inning outing against the Cardinals on April 11.

It appeared the young left-hander had halted his recent woes when he issued one walk and faced one more than the minimum during the first three innings of last week’s start against the Marlins.  But proceeded to allow three hits and issue a walk during the next two innings of yet another 4 2/3 inning effort.

Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park certainly does not provide an optimal environment for a young pitcher attempting to get healthy.  But it is still far too early to give up on Minor.   Just a month ago, he allowed four earned runs in a 21 inning stretch that encompassed starts against the Brewers, D-backs and Dodgers.

Odds and ends:  The 26-16 record the Braves carried into Monday was their best through 42 games since the 2003 club began 29-13.  Remember this year marked the first time the Braves had been swept in a three-game series to begin a season since 2003.

Martin Prado has hit .381 with a .459 on-base percentage and .571 slugging percentage over his past 22 games.   His 1.031 OPS during this span, dating back to April 27, ranks 10th in the National League and easily leads all Braves players.  Chipper Jones ranks second with his .826 mark.

The Braves traded Drew Sutton to the Pirates on Sunday for cash considerations.  Sutton hit .270 with a .746 OPS in 38 games for Triple-A Gwinnett.

 

 

 

Reds to honor Chipper with commemorative bases

Photo/Cincinnati Reds

 

The Reds will honor Chipper Jones’ last scheduled trip to Cincinnati by utilizing bases adorned with a commemorative message on one side.  At some point during this week’s four-game series in the Queen City, Jones will be presented with one of these bases pictured above.

This is one of the classiest gestures a club has made to recognize Jones’ farewell tour.  The veteran third baseman, who will retire at the end of this year, has batted .259 with eight home runs and a .804 OPS in 55 career games in Cincinnati.  He has hit .333 with three homers and a .931 OPS in 20 games at Great American Ball Park.

The Braves are hoping Jones will return to the lineup during this week’s series.  He missed the final two games of this weekend’s series in Tampa with a bruised left calf that he suffered when he was hit with a line drive during Friday night’s series opener.

 

Chipper ready to say goodbye to Wrigley

(Getty Images)

Barring a playoff matchup, this afternoon will be the last time we see Chipper Jones hitting with the Wrigley Field brick positioned behind him.  But those of you who follow the Braves closely probably know Jones will not be shedding a tear while bidding adieu to this historic ballpark.

A couple weeks ago, Jones told Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown, “I will be in the front row when they blow up Wrigley Field. The ballpark is awful.”

There is something special about entering this 98-year-old stadium.  You have the ivy, old-time scoreboard and thoughts about the day that Babe Ruth might have pointed toward the center field fence before hitting a homer during the 1932 World Series.

Then away from the playing field, you have an incredibly small visitors’ clubhouse and all of the other amenities that verify this stadium is indeed 98 years old.

Jones’ reasoning for disliking this historic stadium might also have something to do with the fact that he entered Wednesday having batted .220 with 10 homers and a .685 OPS in 200 career at-bats here.

When asked about some of his greatest memories at Wrigley Field, Jones vividly remembered all of the details of the two-homer game he produced on Aug. 22, 2005.

“I had a two-homer game off (Carlos) Zambrano and (Kerry) Wood in the same game,” Jones said. ” That was a really cool game because I think we were coming down to the end.  (Tim Hudson) pitched a (heck) of a game. I hit a two-run homer off Zambrano in like the third or fourth.  Then Huddy gave up a two-run homer to Derrek Lee in like the sixth and then I hit another two-run homer off Wood in the top of the eighth or ninth.  That was special taking Zambrano and Wood deep in the same game.”

These details were nearly spot on.  Jones hit a two-run homer in the fourth off Zambrano and Lee actually tied the game with a solo homer off Hudson in the seventh.  Then in the top of the ninth, Jones hit another two-run homer off Wood to give the Braves a 4-2 win.

Then of course Jones remembers the two-homer game he enjoyed in Game 4 of the 2003 National League Division Series.  Unfortunately, memories of that game also rekindle visions of the dominance Mark Prior and Wood displayed during that best-of-five series.

“Two homers, sending them back to Atlanta for Game 5 and a Kerry Wood (butt) whoopin’ again,” Jones said.  “But at least we had a shot.”

Jones’ presence in Wednesday’s lineup further proved his surgically-repaired left knee is improving.  This marked the just the second time this year that he has been in the starting lineup for three straight days.

With Hudson on the mound for this afternoon’s series finale, Jack Wilson got another start.  Because of Hudson’s high ground ball percentage, Wilson will likely continue to serve as his “personal shortstop.” 

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