September 2012

Benefits of a magic bat and Medlen’s presence

Over the past 24 hours, Kris Medlen has received the royal treatment.  He has gone nearly a month without allowing an earned run and the Braves have gone more than two years without losing a game that he has started. It seems like everybody wants to talk about him right now.

In fact, before announcing Michael Strahan as Kelly Ripa’s new morning talk show partner, I think the folks at Live with Kelly might have had aspirations to change the name of their show to Live with Kelly and Med Dog.

But before we continue to marvel at what Medlen has accomplished since joining the starting rotation, it might be time to suggest that he begins to use that magic bat that Chipper Jones and David Ross have used during the past two games.  Along with not allowing an earned run in his last 37 1/3 innings, Medlen has not had a hit in the 15 plate appearances he has totaled since last allowing an earned runs.  Just trying to provide fair and balanced coverage here.

Now back to the bat.

With doom and gloom surrounding the Braves around 8:35 p.m. ET on Sunday night, Jones stepped to the plate and hit a 428-foot walk-off home run that capped a five-run ninth inning comeback and gave his teammates a chance to relax in a celebratory manner.  As a veteran player was leaving the clubhouse that night, he yelled, “We’ve won a game, now every one can breathe.”    He said this in a light-hearted manner.  But there was some validity in the statement.

Less than 24 hours later, Ross grabbed this same bat and drilled the two-run double that essentially took an abrupt left hand turn once it reached center field during Monday’s four-run third inning against the Rockies.

“I’ve hit a couple like that in BP, but never in the game,” Ross said. “I thought when I hit it, I was like shoot, it’s right at (Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler).  He’s going to catch that one.  He’s a good outfielder.  It just took a left turn halfway out there. He asked me if I could teach him that.  I said, ‘I have no idea buddy.  That’s angels in the outfield.’”

Less than 24 hours after some of you were thinking that nothing was going the Braves’ way, the Braves were building a 3-0 lead over the Rockies without a hit and watching Medlen once again prove to be a calming influence.

Medlen was masterful as he recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts and did not issue a walk while limiting the Rockies to an unearned run in Monday’s victory.  He became the fifth pitcher in Braves history to record at least 12 strikeouts and not issue a walk in a complete game.

The other Braves to do this were Greg Maddux (June 27, 1998 vs. Blue Jays), Kevin Millwood (April 14, 1998 vs. Pirates), Bob Sadowski (Sept. 5, 1963 vs. Pirates)  John Smoltz (Sept. 6, 1998 vs. Mets).   It ‘s incredible that this occurred three times during the 1998 season.

In the seven starts Medlen has made since making the switch from the bullpen to the starting rotation, he has gone 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA.  He has recorded 50 strikeouts and issued five walks in 49 2/3 innings.  And opponents have hit .206 against him with a .228 on-base percentage.

Medlen’s ERA is more than a run better than the second-best mark (Felix Hernandez 1.65 ERA) during this span.  Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and A.J. Burnett are the only other pitchers to register more than 50 strikeouts during this time.  Each has issued at least 10 walks.

Uggla reacts to being removed from a starting role

One day later, it was easier to understand why Dan Uggla was so upset on Sunday.  It was not simply because he was not given a chance to halt his career-long struggles against Cole Hamels.  It had much more to do with the fact that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had just informed him that he was not sure how much he would play over the remainder of the season.

Uggla vented his frustrations toward Gonzalez on Sunday and then spoke to about the matter.  When he was not in the lineup again for Monday afternoon’s game against the Rockies, he provided some more information about the meeting.

“He didn’t really explain anything to me,” Uggla said.  “He just said we need to make a change and I do not know how much playing time you are going to get (the rest of the season).”

Uggla voiced his displeasure in a vociferous manner while meeting with Gonzalez on Sunday afternoon.

“I think he took it the right way,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously it’s uncomfortable and it’s hard, especially with the relationship I have with him.   You want  your players to be upset if they are not in there.  But knowing him going through September, he’s either going to have a big at-bat when he pinch hits.  Or we’re going to put him in a game and he’s going to have a big game that gets us to the postseason.”

Gonzalez has shown patience with Uggla, who has batted .152 with a .276 slugging percentage in his past 73 games.  But it appears he plans to utilize Martin Prado as his regular second baseman for the remainder of the season.  Jose Constanza could play left field against right-handed starters.  Reed Johnson, who had three hits in Sunday’s win over the Phillies, could play left field when the opposing team is starting a left-handed pitcher.

“It’s not a doghouse situation,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a situation where you feel you have to do something for the team. It’s hard because of the relationship.”

When the Braves had a chance to acquire Uggla in November 2010, it was Gonzalez who gave a ringing endorsement.  He had served as the veteran second baseman’s manager with the Marlins from 2007-2010.  This relationship likely led him to be more patient with Uggla than he would have been with other players in a similar situation.

Gonzalez admitted it was also tough to pull Uggla back from the on-deck circle after planning to pinch-hit him before the Phillies brought in right-handed closer Jonathan Papelbon on Friday night.   This led the Braves to counter with left-handed hitter Lyle Overbay, who has had some success against Papelbon.

“I understand what my numbers are,” Uggla said. “I’m not blind to any of that, but at the same time, I’m part of the team that got us to where we are now.   Numbers do not mean anything to me in September. Some people don’t see it that way. Do I agree with it? No. But it’s  not my call. All I can do is pull for my teammates and do what I can when I get an opportunity.”

McCann and Chipper rest:  Brian McCann was out of the lineup again on Monday as he continued to gain the necessary rest after getting a second cortisone shot in his right shoulder on Saturday night.  McCann, who could return to action on Tuesday, also received an injection on Aug. 7…Chipper Jones also rested his 40-year-old legs on Monday afternoon.  This was the plan before he hit a walk-off three-run homer in Sunday’s five-run ninth inning against the Phillies.

Odds and ends: Uggla not happy; Chipper not planning a team meeting

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez shuffled his lineup for Sunday afternoon’s matchup against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels.  He moved Jason Heyward down in the lineup and stuck with his plan to keep Dan Uggla out of the lineup when he there is not a favorable matchup.

Gonzalez revealed this plan last Sunday before a matchup against San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum. But that did not stop Uggla from taking time to argue against this decision while meeting with his manager on Sunday afternoon.

“I hit a two-run homer off (Hamels) in the last game last year to put us up,” Uggla said. “It’s not a numbers thing for me, especially in September.  It doesn’t make any sense to me at all…Nobody agrees with not playing.  It’s just because I know what I can do, especially in September when I’ve been there before in big-game situations, especially last year.  It’s frustrating to say the least.”

As Hamels was making a three-inning postseason tuned on the final day of the 2011 season, Uggla drilled a two-run homer off his nemesis.  Still he has batted just .145 (8-for-55) with two home runs in his career against the veteran left-hander.

Uggla has recorded at least one hit in each of the past five games and homered twice during this span. Still he has batted .152 with a .276 slugging percentage in his past 73 games.

When the Braves face left-handed pitching over the next few weeks, Chipper Jones might continue to spell Heyward  in the third spot of the lineup.  During Sunday’s matchup against Hamels, Jones batted third and Heyward was moved to the sixth spot.

Heyward earned the opportunity to hit in the third spot while batting .293 with 18 home runs and a .990 OPS in the 80 games he has played since June 2.  But against left-handed pitchers during this span, he has batted .225 with four home runs and a .630 OPS.  Against right-handers, he has batted .349 with 14 homers and a 1.099 OPS.

No plans for a team meeting:  Chipper Jones made it known that he has found no reason to hold a team meeting with the hope it might halt the Braves’ recent struggles.

“Trust me, when I feel like something needs to be said I say it,” Jones said. “That’s my job. I don’t need to say anything right now.  I’m not going to harp on the past. I’m not going to harp on yesterday and I’m not going to harp on tomorrow.  We show up.  We play the game as well as we can today and let the chips fall where they may.  Any other approach other than that is not a good thing.”

The Braves entered Sunday having lost 10 of their previous 14 games.  Still Jones is among those from the baseball world who seem to believe team meetings can cause more harm than good.  <p>

“We are mindless numbskulls,” Jones said.  “We need to think as little as possible.  We’re routine oriented and regimented. Any break in that makes us start thinking.  That’s when bad (stuff) starts happening.”  <p>



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