Results tagged ‘ Bobby Cox ’

Lowe has provided value

When Derek Lowe looks back on this season, he’s going to remember plenty of disappointment.   What started out as a promising first year in Atlanta quickly fizzled into one that brought greater reason to wonder how much the Braves might regret giving him a four-year, $60 million contract in January. 

Still through all the troubles, which essentially started during the middle portion of June, Lowe has managed to compile a team-high 15 wins this season, a total that has so far been reached by just five other National League hurlers.

Lowe will be the first to admit that it’s not wise to judge a pitcher’s season via a win-loss record.  But with that being said, dating back to the beginning of the 2000 season, he’s recorded just the 14th 15-win season for a Braves pitcher.

If Jair Jurrjens were to notch his 13th win tonight, the Braves will still have a chance to have three 15-game winners (Lowe and Javy Vazquez included) for the first time since 2002 when Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux all reached that mark.  

Through his first 13 starts this season, Lowe went 7-3 with a 3.44 ERA and limited opponents to a .240 batting average.  In the 19 starts that have followed, he has gone 8-6 with a 5.47 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .343 batting average.

As he was speaking after last night’s win over the Mets, Lowe was interrupted by a reporter who had joined the scrum as Lowe was alluding to the fact that the Braves have 12 more games to hope to gain the miracle to join the postseason mix.

Having heard just part of the statement, the reporter  asked, “what were you talking about, (stinking) 12 games ago or something?

Lowe responded with, “I’ve (stunk) in a lot more than 12 games.  Come on.”
When Lowe has struggled this year, there’s no doubt that he’s created a couple of ugly results.   But the Braves still have managed to win 20 of the 32 games that he’s started and there have been just six occasions this year when he’s allowed more than three earned runs. 

While Lowe might not have been the ace that some were hoping he’d suddenly become, he still has proven to be a solid member of the rotation and a strong clubhouse figure,  whose unmatched work ethic has provided a good example to many of the younger players. 

With Tommy Hanson, Jurrjens, and likely either Vazquez or Tim Hudson in place next year, the Braves don’t necessarily need Lowe to serve as an ace.   They can only hope that his dedication to conditioning allows him to continue proving to be a productive presence over the next three years.
As we enter the final days of this season, I’d still have to say the Braves should feel fortunate that they provided the large contract to Lowe and didn’t incur the financial and health-related burdens that Jake Peavy or A.J. Burnett would have brought. 

Cox’s future:  Braves manager Bobby Cox still hasn’t revealed his plans for the 2010 season.  But  he has at least provided another hint that he’ll be back next year. 

While talking about next year’s schedule, he asked, “when are we going to Minnesota next year?”

Cox will also refer to the Braves as “we”.  But at the same time I think this provided even more reason to believe that he’s not ready to enter into retirement.  

Citi Field:  While the Mets might not like the dimensions at Citi Field, the Braves have found the new park to be quite accommodating.   

During their seven games in New York this season, the Braves have outhomered the Mets 10-3.  In other words, they compiled 21 percent of the total (48) the Mets have hit in their first 76 home games this year. 

With his solo shot off Derek Lowe last night, Daniel Murphy became the all-time home run leader at  Citi Field with a grand total of six.   In 23 at-bats (or 207 fewer than Murhpy), Matt Diaz has cleared this stadium’s walls three times. 

Does this portion of the schedule still elicit optimism?

The Braves are about to embark on that portion of their schedule that looked so appealing as recently as Thursday, when there was still seemingly some reason to feel optimistic about their postseason hopes.  

Mathematically the Braves are still alive and while closing the season against the Nationals (seven games), Mets (three games) and Marlins (three games), they certainly have the chance to finish the season in impressive fashion.  

But while losing two of three to the Phillies this past weekend, the Braves fell 5 games behind the Rockies in the National League Wild Card race and seemingly lost the opportunity to fully take advantage of the schedule that awaits them.   

Trying to keep things positive after Sunday afternoon’s loss, Chipper Jones said that teams there are a number of instances throughout the season when clubs lose five and six games in a row.  

Well over the past month, the Rockies have encountered two lengthy skids that didn’t prove devastating to their postseason hopes.    While Colorado lost five straight from Aug. 26-30, the Braves gained two games and moved to within 3 games of the Wild Card’s top spot.

When the Rockies lost four straight from Sept. 12-15, the Braves gained 3 games and still found themselves five games back and further lamenting what they’d squandered during the first week of this month, when they squandered two sixth-inning leads against the Marlins and then got swept at home by the Reds.  

While the postseason aspirations are now truly hanging by a thread, the next couple of weeks should prove to be interesting for the Braves, who within the next week could learn whether Bobby Cox has decided to return to serve as their manager for at least one more season.   

Escobar’s removal:  It was somewhat surprising to see Cox remove Yunel Escobar from Friday night’s game after the shortstop made the fatal mistake of jogging toward first base in the same manner that Garret Anderson and many of the games other veteran do on a regular basis.  

Less than an hour earlier, I was telling a scout about how much better Escobar’s attitude had been.   Since his “talk to me when I get three hits” episode right after the All-Star break, he’s actually been pretty easy to deal with.  More importantly, he was seemingly smiling and interacting with his teammates more in the clubhouse.

During Thursday night’s game when he had slid in ahead of a tag at the plate and was ruled out, Escobar probably shouldn’t have shown up umpire Dan Iassogna by pointing toward Martin Prado and asking his opinion.  But at the same time, I thought the Braves shortstop displayed  his improved maturity when he didn’t react when Iassogna was seemingly baiting him to say something to him.  

Still even with all of the access that I get to the club, I still don’t see everything that evolves in that clubhouse.   Thus I have to think that Escobar’s removal from Friday’s game was based on something more than his decision to lackadaisically move toward first base.

There are still occasions when Escobar proves to be melodramatic.  The latest instance occurred on Saturday night, when he got hit in the left arm with Pedro Martinez’s 71 mph curveball and then remained on the ground before looking into the Braves dugout to see if the trainers were going to come out to check on him.

It was quite obvious that Escobar didn’t gain any additional supporters in the Braves clubhouse on Sunday, when he revealed that the damage created by this slow curve was going to prevent him from playing in the series finale against the Phillies.

LaRoche returns:   Adam LaRoche arrived at Citi Field today and told Cox that he was ready to return to action.  LaRoche is still feeling some discomfort in the middle of his back when he begins to swing.

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Jones 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Anderson 7
LaRoche 3
Diaz 8
Lowe 1 

Cox has earned the right to wait before determining his future

Just as the Braves are providing reason to wonder if they’re capable of what seemed to be the impossible last week, we now find ourselves going back to a topic that we touched on when they were struggling in June.   

At the time, I pointed out that time had allowed me to learn that I’d shown my youth four or five years ago, when I wrote that Braves manager Bobby Cox had earned the right to manage this club as long as he wanted.

Cox has repeatedly said that he’ll continue to manage as long as he possesses a passion for the competition that awaits him when he takes his seat on the bench on a nightly basis.

Via the relationship that I’ve formed with Bobby over the last nine years, I can honestly say that passion is going to be extend beyond the time, when age prevents him from possessing the mental capacities necessary to capably handle all of the daily responsibilities a manager possesses.  

With his bullpen decisions and the stubborn loyalty he’s shown Greg Norton, Cox has caused many of us to wonder if that time has already arrived.  

And behind those closed doors in the Braves front office, you can be assured that the Braves execs have assumed their responsibility of evaluating whether Cox is still the right man for the job.

But at the end of the day, Cox obviously can’t and won’t be treated just like any other individual in his role.   When Chipper Jones has referred to him as the grandfatherly figure that we’ve all come to love, he speaks for players, coaches, execs and media members.  

With John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the Braves have already experienced two emotionally-challenging goodbyes this year.  Pushing Cox out before he’s ready to say goodbye would prove to be even harder and possibly much more damaging.  

When Cox arrived to serve as the Braves general manager in 1986, the club was the laughingstock of baseball.  Those 14 consecutive division titles that soon followed were more than just a product of the contributions he provided when he assumed the managerial role midway through the 1990 season.  

Cox brought a sense of professionalism to the Braves organization and rebuilt the farm system that John Schuerholz successfully continued to procure once he assumed the GM role.   

Without Cox, there may have never been a Doyle Alexander-for-John Smoltz trade and a less patient GM might have traded Glavine after he won just 33 of his first 74 decisions.   And aren’t you still thankful that he took Todd Van Poppel’s advice and took some kid named Chipper Jones with the first pick in the 1990 Draft.

That’s why at the end of the day, I think you could argue that Cox ranks right there with Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn as the greatest legends to ever grace the organization.  

Because of all that he’s provided this organization, Cox has indeed earned the right to stick around at least one more year.  But at the same time, the 68-year-old skipper may have to push some of his stubborn loyalties aside and do so with the understanding that there will have to be some changes made to his coaching staff before the start of the 2010 season.

Like was mentioned in this forum a few months ago, Cox isn’t any different than Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, who have been forced to rely more heavily on their coaching staffs as they’ve continued to win their battles against Father Time.  

This isn’t to say there would have to be a major overhaul on the coaching staff.  But the organization could benefit from parting ways with a couple members of Cox’s staff and also changing the roles of some of the other current coaches.  

Before any of these decisions are made, Cox will have to tell the Braves that he is indeed committed to returning for the 2010 season.  

Like each of us, Cox is affected by the daily change of emotions the game of baseball brings.   While he might have exited the Sept. 6 game against the Reds wondering if it was truly time to spend more time with his wife and family, the six wins in the seven games that have followed have certainly altered his mindset.

In a perfect world, it would be nice to have already learned whether Cox wants at least one more chance to skipper the organization that he once resurrected.  But at the same time, I think it’s safe to say that he’s also earned the right to delay this decision for at least a few more days or weeks.  

Soriano battling some right shoulder discomfort

Mike Gonzalez was ready and somewhat expecting to pitch the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Phillies.  He knew the situation would allow him to begin the inning against two left-handed batters and was also cognizant of the fact that Rafael Soriano had been battling some discomfort behind his right shoulder.
But after Gonzalez prolonged his recent success with an impressive eighth-inning escape act, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to stick by the book and insert his closer into the ninth inning of a tie game at home.
Four pitches later, Ryan Howard prolonged Soriano’s recent struggles against left-handed hitters with a game-winning leadoff homer. 

When Soriano arrived at Turner Field on Saturday, he admitted that he’s been feeling some muscular discomfort behind his right shoulder.  But the once-dominant closer wasn’t willing to use this ailment as an excuse to explain the fact that he’s now allowed three game-winning homers over the course of his past eight starts. 

“He’s just tired,” Gonzalez said.  “He’s been used a lot.  I know how Soriano works and I think these couple of days are going to be great for him.”

The Braves wouldn’t say that Soriano wasn’t available for Saturday afternoon’s game.   As for the right-handed reliever, when asked about his availability, he said that he thought he could pitch again as soon as Sunday.  
Soriano was pitching on Friday night with five days rest.   After he felt some fatigue after pitching for a fourth straight day last Saturday night in Los Angeles, he asked the Braves not to make him available during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games against the Nationals. 

“He’s throwing 95 (mph) with every pitch,” said Cox in reference to Soriano, who did hit at least 94 with each of the five four-seam fastballs he threw during Friday’s ninth inning.
While he may have possessed his ability to maximize the velocity of his fastball, Soriano is still looking to regain the success he’d possessed while limiting left-handed hitters to a .179 batting average and zero homers before the All-Star break. 

Since the break left-handed hitters have hit .435 (10-for-23) against Soriano and accounted for each of the game-winning homers that he’s surrendered.   As for right-handed hitters, they have gone hitless in the 18 at-bats they’ve recorded against the stone-faced right-hander since the break.
“When he’s on, nobody hits against him,” Gonzalez said. 

With the Phillies sending two left-handed hitters (Howard and Ibanez) to the plate to begin the ninth inning, Gonzalez admits he was among those who wondered if he’d be given a chance to make his third multi-inning appearance of the season.  He hasn’t allowed a run during the previous two he’s completed this year. 

“I was definitely ready to go and in that situation, I kind of thought that also,” Gonzalez said after being told many fans questioned why he wasn’t used. “But then again, it was the ninth inning and you know you’ve got to put your closer in there. 

“I would have totally understood (going two innings) it if would have given Soriano another day.  Another day is huge.  I would have sacrificed two innings yesterday and then come back today to see how I felt.” 

Howard, who has hit .193 and accounted for just three of his 28 homers  against left-handed pitchers this year, took advantage of Cox’s decision to go with Soriano.  The Phillies first baseman is now hitting .311 against right-handed pitchers.  

Since July 1, Howard has hit .150  (6-for-40) with zero homers against left-handed pitchers and .337 with eight homers against right-handed pitchers.

Meanwhile Gonzalez has limited left-handed hitters to a .159 (7-for-44) batting average and just two extra-base hits (two doubles) since June 1. 

Soriano rebounded from Howard’s homer by striking out the next three batters he faced, including Ibanez, a left-handed threat, who is hitting .289 with 17 homers against right-handed pitchers this year.  But by then, the damage had already been done.

“(Soriano) didn’t have any trouble against Ibanez and he’s a much better hitter than most lefties,” Cox said. 

Optimism abounds in the Braves clubhouse

After losing the first three games of a four-game series at Turner Field last week, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that the Braves were the best team that he’d seen throughout the year.   Given that he’s already seen the  Dodgers nine times, that was certainly an encouraging compliment.  

Then while talking on Monday afternoon about the fact that he doesn’t see a glaring need to make a move before Friday’s Trade Deadline, Braves general manager Frank Wren said that he felt his club was playing better than it has in the past three or four years.  

These comments certainly weren’t expected to be heard on July 5, when the Braves lost a second straight game against the Nationals.  But while winning 12 of the 18 games that have followed, they have made believers out of a number of people, including Chipper Jones.  

“It doesn’t matter which pitcher we use, we are capable of beating any team that is going to make the playoffs this year,” Jones said before the Braves opened a three-game series against the Marlins on Tuesday night at Land Shark Stadium.  

While Jones wasn’t specifically asked if this comment pertained to Wednesday’s pitching matchup which pits Josh Johnson against Kenshin Kawakami,  it’s easy to deduce that there’s a sense of confidence that wasn’t present in the Braves clubhouse during the first three months of this season or last year, when Kawakami would have spent the final two months as the number one or two starter.  

Like every other Major League club, the Braves certainly have flaws.  But with a starting rotation that has produced a Major League-best 3.62 ERA, they possess the one area of strength that the Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees  and some of the game’s other top powers are still looking to improve.  

While we don’t know exactly what to expect when Tim Hudson returns, the Braves feel like his return in August will give them the same kind of benefit they would receive from making a blockbuster trade before this week’s  deadline.

Making his third Minor League rehab start on Monday night, Hudson allowed four hits over four scoreless innings against Triple-A Lehigh Valley.   After the 41-pitch effort, the veteran right-hander once again said that he was encouraged about the progress of his arm strength.   
Hudson, who is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, is essentially in Spring Training mode and thus will need to make at least six starts before being deemed ready to be placed in the Atlanta rotation.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox confirmed that Hudson will need at least three more starts and possibly a fourth.   If he is deemed ready after three starts, the 34-year-old right-hander could be ready by Aug. 16, which is nine days earlier than he was projecting before he began this rehab process.  

“We’re just looking at his next start to see how he progresses and then we’ll see where he is after that,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said.  “Looking down the line, based on what we’ve been through with other guys, we’re not putting the cart before the horse.  We’ll just see how he is after his next start.”  

Once Hudson returns, the most likely move would be to place Kawakami in the bullpen.  But for now, the Braves are simply addressing this question with the familiar adage, “these things always work themselves out.”
Other injury related notes:

Omar Infante has still been feeling some expected discomfort while taking batting practice the past few days.  But Infante, who has been out since May with a broken left hand, has shown enough progress to allow the Braves to believe he could begin a Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.  

When Eric O’Flaherty issued three walks during Saturday’s loss to the Brewers, he was fighting some of the discomfort created by the unfamiliarity of pitching with a taped ankle.  The left-handed reliever turned his ankle when he stepped on a ball during batting practice on Friday night.   The ailment isn’t believed to be serious and he was available to pitch on Tuesday night.

Ryan Church hyper-extended his right elbow when he attempted to avoid a collision with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard earlier this month.  He aggravated the ailment earlier in Milwaukee earlier this weekend, when he swung and missed a pitch.
When Cox asked his right fielder if he was healthy enough to play on Tuesday night, Church responded, “Yeah, I just have to make sure that I don’t swing and miss.”   

Maddux open to helping Braves during Spring Training

Braves manager Bobby Cox has said that he’d like to have Greg Maddux serve as a special instructor during Spring Training and it appears the four-time Cy Young Award winner is interested in the possibility of spending at least a week or two in this role.

“I would 100 percent think about it, absolutely,”  said Maddux, who played for Cox in Atlanta from 1993-2003.   
After ending his 23-season Major League career with his retirement in December, Maddux opted to spend a week this year serving as a special Spring Training instructor for the Padres, who had utilized him in their starting rotation during the 2007 and ’08 seasons.

“It was pretty easy for me to get to Arizona,” Maddux said. “I played with that team the last two years so I knew all the players. It was more of a fun thing than an actual coaching experience. Having an opportunity to sit back with the coaches and hear what they say about the players, it was something I enjoyed.”

This Spring Training assignment with the Padres provided  Maddux the opportunity to remain close to his Las Vegas home.  But Cox remains hopeful that he’ll be able to lure the legendary hurler to Florida for a few weeks to benefit the Braves pitchers with his great intellect. 

“We’d love to have him,” Cox said. “He’s welcome any time.” 

While Maddux hasn’t completely closed the door on the possibility of accepting a full-time coaching role in the future, it seems he’s currently more interested in spending time with his wife and two children.
Along with watching his 12-year-old son, Chase, play baseball, Maddux has enjoyed the regular father-son outings that they’ve regularly shared on the golf course. 

“I don’t miss (playing) as much as I thought I would, which is a good thing,” Maddux said. “I’m enjoying being home. It does feel like it’s still the offseason. I still consider myself a baseball player, but it’s the offseason still. I’m enjoying going to my kids’ games and playing catch-up.” 

Cox was certainly moved on Friday, when the Braves inducted Maddux into their Hall of Fame and then retired his No. 31 jersey.   The 11-0 win his club claimed over the Mets only brightened a day the 68-year-old manager will seemingly never forget. 

“I’d have to say that was one of the best days I’ve ever experienced in baseball,”  Cox said. 

Does Cox still have some magic in his tank?

When Jeff Bennett decided to be the one doing the hitting earlier this week, Braves manager Bobby Cox said that the reliever’s decision to punch a door wasn’t exactly smart.  Then he added that it was at least encouraging to see that Bennett cared.
Using this same logic, I guess many Braves fans are proving that they still have some passion while questioning whether Cox is the right man to lead this year’s team. 

Dating back to the days when Cox was leading the Braves into the postseason on an annual basis, there was always a small group of fans who questioned his tactical approach.  But this seems to be the first year that a growing legion is questioning whether his time has passed.
As our faithful blogger Rother pointed out in the comments section earlier this week, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are among the most recent coaching legends who have heard fans question whether they’re too old to prolong the traditions of excellence that they established at their respective universities. 
Like Bowden with Florida State and Paterno with Penn State, Cox is the man most responsible for the fact that the Braves transformed from laughingstock to a perennial championship contender.  He rebuilt the Minor League system during the late 1980’s and then served as an unmatched general while leading the Braves to an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles. 

About five years ago, I wrote that Cox had earned the right to continue managing the Braves as long as he desires.  As I’ve had the opportunity to be around this game longer, I’ve come to view that as a  short-sighted comment that should never be made in reference to any legend, regardless of their accomplishments. 
Still I’m not ready to concede that Cox isn’t the right man for this job.   This year’s team possesses flaws that extend beyond the fact that the offense hasn’t adequately backed a strong starting rotation.   But while this clubhouse might not be as harmonious as some of the recent ones that have existed in Atlanta, the fault shouldn’t squarely be placed on the manager.
The Braves have pushed for Yunel Escobar to enhance his knowledge of the English language and he told them that he intended to do so this past offseason.  But other than the expletive he mouthed toward the press box after being charged with an error on Thursday, I haven’t seen him provide much indication that he’s willing to speak anything other than Spanish.

With limited communication skills and his stubborn personality, Escobar has proven to be both unable and unwilling to fully grasp the messages that veterans like Chipper Jones and the Braves coaching staff have attempted to deliver over the course of his two years at the Major League level.
Like Bowden and Paterno, Cox has reached a point where he has to rely more heavily on his assistant coaches.  Within this framework, the responsibility of guiding Escobar has been placed on the shoulders of bench coach Chino Cadahia, who at least attempted to show provide some discipline after the shortstop displayed his unprofessional reactions on Thursday.
As for Garret Anderson,  there isn’t anybody who was going to be able to alter the lifeless approach that he’s developed throughout his 16-season Major League career.
Provided no other external alternatives, Cox pushed for the Braves to sign Anderson during February’s final week and the veteran outfielder has at least rewarded him with consistent offensive production that lacks power.
But while Anderson’s bat has been solid, his defensive skills have proven to be worse than expected.   His limited range has been on display throughout the season and he certainly didn’t gain any supporters  on Friday night, when he didn’t even react to Dustin Pedroia’s high chopper  until it landed in shallow left field.
Instead of publicly ripping Escobar or Anderson, Cox has continued to shower them with the same kind of support that Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson have been provided while proving to be this year’s top two offensive disappointments.
While this approach might prove maddening to fans while the team is losing, it’s one that allowed for the dramatic turnarounds the 1991, 1993 and 2004 clubs experienced on their way to division titles. 

So for now, I’m just going to maintain the belief that Cox has earned the right to prove he still has some magic in the tank.  

Every pitch counts

When you dissect the progression of a baseball season, you can lead yourself to believe that every pitch has the potential to produce consequences that extend beyond the game during which it was thrown.
Had plate umpire Bill Hohn called a strike on the 0-2 fastball that Eric O’Flaherty threw during Sunday afternoon’s game at Fenway Park, J.D. Drew wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deliver the next pitch off the Green Monster for a one-out, go-ahead RBI single. 

The Braves believe Hohn’s call cost them that series finale against the Red Sox.  Extending this arguable belief, did this call also deny them the opportunity to carry a four-game winning streak into tonight’s series finale against the Yankees?

If Drew had been called out on strikes, with first base open, two outs and left-handed slugger David Ortiz on deck, Cox said that he still would have called upon Peter Moylan to face the right-handed hitting Kevin Youkilis. 

But had first base umpire first base umpire Tim Welke not ruled in Jake Fox’s favor on a bang-bang play  with two outs in the seventh inning of Monday night’s win over the Cubs, Cox wouldn’t have needed to replace Javier Vazquez with Moylan, who needed just two pitches to end that threat and his evening.

After needing 14 pitches to erase Tommy Hanson’s potential sixth-inning damage and toss a perfect seventh inning during Tuesday night’s win over the Yankees,  Moylan was given a night to rest. 

Thus he was unavailable when Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game.   Had the Braves gotten the desired ruling from Welke, there’s seemingly reason to believe that the Aussie would have been the one facing A-Rod.
Instead, the Braves were forced to call upon Jeff Bennett, who allowed A-Rod to halt a 1-for-24 skid with a two-run single that gave the Yankees a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. 

There’s no guarantee that Moylan wouldn’t have allowed A-Rod to deliver the clutch hit.   But they certainly likely would have had the option to stay away from Bennett, who opted to challenge the veteran third baseman with four consecutive fastballs before seeing his 0-2 delivery deposited into center field.

Bennett, who was the one who surrendered Nick Green’s walk-off shot on Sunday, was inching closer toward ending his days in Atlanta.  But he’s at least bought himself some time with the fractured left hand he suffered when he punched a door after Wednesday’s sixth inning.  

When you’ve seen opponents hit .316 against you in 33 appearances and .295 with runners in scoring position, there seemingly must come a time when you’re the one who wants to do some hitting.   All indications are that the defenseless door  simply suffered a bruise similar to the one on Kenshin Kawakami’s neck. 

Kawakami, who was hit on the right side of his neck with a Joba Chamberlain line drive on Wednesday night, reported that he was feeling better than expected on Thursday.   Still with an offday on Monday, the Braves will likely skip his next turn in the rotation and allow him to make his next start during the July 4 game in Washington D.C.  

Tonight’s lineup:   With left-hander Andy Pettitte starting tonight’s series finale for the Yankees, Cox opted to keep Garret Anderson’s hot bat in the lineup.  But he did stick with his second base platoon with the insertion of Martin Prado, who is batting second.  

Yunel Escobar, who leads the club with 36 RBIs, is batting in the fifth spot.  Escobar is hitting .385 (25-for-65) with runners in scoring position.  

Cincy has become a nightmare destination

After Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to the Reds, Braves manager Bobby Cox essentially said that if you record 12 hits, you’ve got to win.   But since Great American Ball Park started to become his team’s house of horrors two years ago, Cox has come to realize this isn’t necessarily true.
While winning just two of the past 10 games they’ve played at GABP dating back to Aug. 21, 2007, the Braves have won just one of the six games during which they’ve recorded a  double-digit hit total. Their other win during this span occurred on April 24, when they tallied four hits, the first of which came courtesy of  Jeff Francoeur’s  two-out, fifth-inning homer.
So much has occurred over the course of these 10 games that it’s hard to pinpoint why Cincinnati has recently caused Cox more heartburn than Skyline Chili.   This skid started with Jo-Jo Reyes blowing a three-run second-inning lead by allowing the Reds to produce a five-run third-inning.
One day later, Edgar Renteria came off the disabled list and then went right back on it before even having the opportunity to do anything more than check his swing during his first-inning at-bat.   Then to cap off that three-game stretch in August of 2007, Adam Dunn continued his assault of Bob Wickman with a 12th-inning, walk-off homer.
Given that Wickman was released the following day, I guess you can say something good has come out of this 10-game stretch, during which the Braves have competed against the Bengals for the right to be considered the least successful team in Cincinnati.
Looking back at last night’s game, things might have certainly been different had Francoeur not grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth.
But things like this are going to happen.  Former American League MVP Justin Morneau has grounded into 16 double plays (third-most in the Majors) during the 240 at-bats he’s compiled with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2008 season.   But he’s also compiled a .350 batting average and collected 130 RBIs in these situations.
The frustration that stemmed from Tuesday’s sixth-inning has to do with the fact that these situations seem to always find Francoeur.   The 250 at-bats he’s had w/ RISP since the start of 2008 ranks as the fourth-highest total in the Majors  —  a distinction that is partly  product of the fact that his aggressive nature limits his walk total and consequently increases his at-bats total.
If completely ignoring the big picture by solely looking at this from an RBI perspective, you would be able to say that Francoeur compares to Alex Rodriguez.  In 285 plate appearances w/ RISP since the start of 2008, Francoeur has tallied 85 RBIs, which is just one shy of the mark A-Rod has collected in 274 plate appearances.
But upon exiting the delusional world, it’s obvious that A-Rod has proven more productive while hitting .262 with a .403 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage during this span.
Those numbers don’t seemingly scream $59 million (A-Rod’s combined salaries in 2008 and 2009) worth of production, but they’re certainly more impressive than the ones posted by Francoeur, who has hit .216 with a .284 on-base percentage and .316 slugging percentage w/ RISP since the start of last season. 
Among the 14 Major Leaguers who have had at least 275 plate appearances w/RISP  since the start of last season, Francoeur and Rockies third baseman Garret Atkins (.226) are the only ones who haven’t hit at least .250 or compiled a .300 on-base percentage.

Among the 46 players who have had at least 250 plate appearances w/RISP since the start of last season, Francoeur’s .316 slugging percentage ranks dead last.  Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano’s .371 mark ranks as the second-worst.
Now re-entering the optimistic world and taking the approach that you’re only as good as your last at-bat, we’ll say Francoeur took a step in the right direction while scoring Chipper Jones from third base with his eighth-inning single on Tuesday night.
Unfortunately for the Braves, that single, which brought them within a run, only served as a tease.  Jones’ throwing error helped the Reds tally four unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth against Mike Gonzalez, who had allowed six hits while holding opponents scoreless over his previous nine innings.
This was another instance where Gonzalez encountered struggles during a non-save situation.  Just four of the 13 runs  he’s surrendered this year have come in save situations.  Five of the nine runs he’s allowed in non-save situations have been unearned. 

In 14 save situations, Gonzalez has limited opponents to a .200 batting average and .302 on-base percentage.  In his 17 appearances without a save on the line, he has allowed a .270 batting average and .378 on-base percentage. 
Yankees and Red Sox tickets:
  Tickets remain for next week’s games against the Red Sox (June 23-35) and Yankees (June 26-28).   While purchasing these at, you can also buy a daily parking pass that will admit you to one of the team’s lots.  Fans without these passes or season permits will have to find other parking options or utilize MARTA.

Glavine enjoys successful bullpen session

Three weeks ago, it seemed like Tom Glavine’s next big step might be preparing his retirement speech.  But the 43-year-old left-hander’s troublesome shoulder has steadily proved to be less bothersome and he made another good impression during a bullpen session at Citizens Bank Park on Friday afternoon. 

“He looked good,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He had some life and he felt good.” 

While primarily using a moderated effort level, Glavine threw approximately 90 pitches and revealed no signs of concerning discomfort.  He utilized all of his pitches and according to some bystanders did so with impressive precission. 

“Everything went well,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. “He threw all of his pitches and each of them looked sharp.” 

This was just the second time that Glavine has thrown off a mound since shoulder discomfort forced him to exit a Minor League rehab start with Double-A Mississippi on April 12.  As long as he recovers well, he’ll likely increase his effort level during another bullpen session early next week. 

During this next bullpen session, Glavine may attempt to essentially simulate a two or three-inning outing.  Right now, building arm strength is more important to him than getting used to throwing to hitters again. 

With the possibility that he may need to make just one or two Minor League rehab starts, there’s certainly a chance that he could rejoin the Atlanta rotation before the end of this month.

After completing Friday’s session, Glavine flew back to Atlanta to be present this weekend for his son’s First Communion.  

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