Thoughts from Monday night’s loss

While many of you might still be stewing about the reversal of the challenge that seemingly should not have been permitted, the most influential development from Monday night’s 11-inning loss was the reminder that the Braves simply can’t rely on Luis Avilan like they did last year.   So with the Trade Deadline just a few weeks away, we are left to believe acquiring a left-handed reliever remains high on general manager Frank Wren’s wish list.

When Avilan was not given a chance to complete the decisive seventh inning of an April 10 loss against the Mets, I questioned why manager Fredi Gonzalez did not allow the left-hander to prove he could still get right-handed hitters out like he had in the past.  As the next couple of weeks passed and Avilan’s struggles grew, there was reason for me to tell Gonzalez, “I guess you were right on that one.”

I doubt there will come a point where I’ll be saying the same about last night’s decision to allow Avilan to protect the one-run lead the Braves gained in the top half of the eighth inning.  The Mets sent a right-hander (Ruben Tejada), a switch hitter (Eric Young Jr.) and two left-handed hitters to the plate to face Avilan.  After retiring the first two batters he faced, the Braves’ southpaw allowed Curtis Granderson to send a game-tying homer over the right field wall.

Walden, who has limited left-handed hitters to one hit in 21 at-bats dating back to June 15, ended the inning and kept the game tied by striking out David Wright.

While Walden will surely be used in these situations in the future, there is also reason to wonder how much faith the Braves can still have in Avilan, who has not looked anything like the guy he was when he produced a 1.52 ERA in a career-high 75 appearances last year.   On the way to producing this impressive mark, he limited right-handed hitters to a .202 batting average and .292 on-base percentage.  Left-handers hit .144 with a .219 on-base percentage against him.

This year, right-handers have batted .314 with a .397 on-base percentage against Avilan.  Lefties have batted .266 with a .344 on-base percentage.  One scout suggested that Avilan looks like a guy who “doesn’t want to break” like some of the other members of the Braves bullpen have over the past couple of years.  But per FanGraphs, his fastball velocity is actually up a tick (from 93.5 to 93.6 mph)  and his curveball velo is down just one mile per hour, from 75.8 to .74.8.

Regardless of what the issue is, the Braves have seen enough to know there is a need to fortify their bullpen with another left-handed reliever.  Those of you wondering when Jonny Venters will return would be wise to simply root for the feel-good possibility of this story.  There was never any guarantee Venters would return from a second Tommy John surgery.  But there was always definite reason to doubt he would ever again resemble the dominant reliever he was before his elbow blew out during the 2012 season.

So while everyone will be pulling for Venters to beat the odds by pitching at the big league level again, the Braves will be searching to upgrade their bullpen with a left-hander.  At the same time, with memories of Scott Downs fresh in their memories, they will be cognizant of the fact that this is not the safest of markets to shop.

It will be interesting to see how influential the eighth inning RBI single Jason Heyward recorded on Monday night proves to be.  Three pitches before slapping a curveball to center field, he had ducked away from a Josh Edgin fastball that was approaching his head.  Adding to the resulting uncomfort was the fact that he was standing in the same batter’s box where his left jaw had been fractured a little more than 10 months earlier.

Heyward’s single off Edgin snapped an 0-for-37 skid against left-handed pitchers.  As this futile stretch extended, there was reason to wonder if he was dealing with the lingering effects of last year’s traumatic experience.  But now that he has ended the drought at the scene of the crime, maybe he has slayed that mental monster that has affected so many others who have been hit in the head with a pitch.




1 Comment

Great article as always, Mr. Bowman. Addressing your last point first, I would add one other observation: Heyward has been behind on almost every pitch he has swung and missed on. After the harrowing ball thrown to his head, he got aggressive and walah!, success. We can only hope he will realize this and determined to be as aggressive as he was in determining to show himself fearless after what must have been a mind-boggling experience. That was the key to that hit- aggression and being ahead on the ball in an effort to make certain he showed the pitcher he was not only unafraid but fearless! As to the pitching situation, I will never cease to be amazed at Fredi Gonzales’ inability to call on the right pitcher at the right time in the right place. Part of my dismay with his poor pitcher selection is the fact that I know he loves his players and wants to “protect” them and make them feel all loved and seure and sure of themselves. There is much value to this player loyal approach in many situations, most of them positive and most making his players willing to walk through hell for him which is inarguably important; however, the time to worry about actions which ensure these warm and fuzzy, feel-good attributes is not in game winning/game losing situations. I have always thought that the whole “righty/lefty” consternation is waaaay overrated. I also think that pitch counts are foolishly overrated in terms of the paralyzing fear coaches feel when pitchers are in save-in-releif and closing situations are concerned and the pitcher in question may have pitched a little more frequently than usual. In fact, I’m going out on a “fundamental, traditional baseball-thought limb” and say that most relievers and closers are better the more they pitch within reason. I think this to be demonstrably true of Kimbrell, by the way.Having made these initial observations and addressing the points in your article, I’ve got to say that Fredi just made the wrong choice here- a problem that is not isolated in its frequency, unfortunately. Avilan, as much as we loved him last year is simply not ‘that guy” this year. Fredi should have pitched anyone but Avillon right there. Anyone. I will feel much better about a coach I already like a lot- Gonzales- when he becomes bolder and does not fear throwing out the “book” on righty/leftie and pitchcount foolishness. One other matter re: last nights game and this year in general: I hope I never hear (though i’m sure I will) the phrase, “we just want to win the series.” I HATE that. It calls for less than one’s best. It calls for mediocrity rather than excellence. It calls for lowered expectations. EVERY team should ALWAYS look to win EVERY game of EVERY seires! Every game! Accept nothig less! Even though we know it will not happen, at least we know we are shooting for it so that THIS game …the NEXT game…NO game is the gamee we’re giving in on….lettiing up in….not leaving it all out there on…..becoming complacent in regard to……you get the point, right, Fredi? Probably not. But, hopefully, someday he will because, in the Braves, who are regularly told, “our goal is just to win every series”, I see a team that does let up, become complacent then ahead and does, from time to time- especially when ahead-leave a good deal to be desired in their play and, thus, become mediocre instead of performing as the GREAT team that they are.

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