Results tagged ‘ Chipper Jones ’

Braves bats have recently slumbered at Turner Field

Had the Padres bullpen kept things relatively clean following Mat Latos’ exit on Tuesday night, it would have been a little easier for the Braves to simply tip their caps and accept the fact that they were on the wrong end of a one-run shutout loss.  

During Latos’ seven scoreless innings, the Braves recorded two hits and moved just one baserunner (Matt Diaz in the sixth) into scoring position.  During each of the next three innings that followed the 21-year-old hurler’s exit, they put a runner in scoring position with one out and still managed to register just one run.
 
While recording just one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position during those three innings, the Braves prolonged a troubling trend that has factored heavily in the that they’ve produced a pedestrian  7-6 record in their past 13 home games.   During this same span, which dates back to July 31, they’ve won seven of 10 road games.

Within their past 13 games at Turner Field, the Braves have compiled a .224 batting average and hit .223 (23-for-103) with runners in scoring position.  During their past 10 road games, they’ve batted .297 and been successful at a .397 (33-for-87) clip with runners in scoring position.

This glaring discrepancy comes within a small sample size.  But at the same time, it’s not as if the Braves possess the margin of error that will allow them to continue experience these kind of offensive struggles at Turner Field and still catch the Phillies or the Denver-based Rock-offs. 

With a second consecutive extra-inning, walk-off victory last night, the Rockies moved 5 games in front of both the Braves and Marlins, who are once again tied for third place in the National League Wild Card standings. 

Even with all of Colorado’s recent success,  it’s too early for the Braves to panic.  While they’re spending the next two nights facing a couple of Padres starters not named Latos, the Rockies will be facing the greater challenge presented by the Dodgers, who have the luxury of serving as the opposition when Josh Fogg makes his first big league start of the season tonight. 

If Fogg channels 2007 and once again becomes the “Dragon-Slayer”  that he was down the stretch that year, then Denver can prepare for another Rocktober and Atlanta can only hope the Dodgers continue to slide or that the Phillies send Brad Lidge to the mound to protect ninth-inning leads on a nightly basis.

Obviously before the Braves can make a serious push toward the postseason, they’ll need to get healthy.  With Ryan Church likely returning tonight and Nate McLouth confident that he’ll be ready when he’s eligible to come off the DL on Monday, they’re at least moving in the right direction.
 
While Martin Prado went hitless in six at-bats last night, it was at least encouraging to hear that he was able to complete a 12-inning game without dealing with any of the headaches or dizziness that had bothered him over the previous 10 days. 

The Braves also welcomed Garret Anderson back to the lineup on Tuesday night and watched him gut through a 1-for-5 performance.    Obviously outfield range isn’t one of Anderson’s assets.  But last night, it was apparent that he was still dealing with some of the lower back discomfort that has kept Church sidelined the past three games.
 
A healthy Anderson wasn’t going to get the game-winner that David Eckstein placed in the  left-center field gap.  But had Church or McLouth been in center, instead of Omar Infante, I think there’s a chance we might have at least seen a 13th inning.
 
Speaking of health, Chipper Jones certainly has said that he’s feeling some of the aches and pains that develop toward the end of a season for a 37-year-old man.  But it’s not as if his offensive struggles simply started over the course of the past nine games, during which he’s recorded one hit in 28 at-bats. 

This nine-game stretch doesn’t seem as concerning when he you account for the fact that he’s walked seven times in his past 18 plate appearances —  largely a product of the fact that the Marlins made it their mission not to let him hurt him this past weekend. 

Plus in the six games that preceded this nine-game slide, Chipper recorded 13 hits, including a pair of homers, in 23 at-bats. 

Concerns about Jones should focus on the fact that he’s hit just .241 with a .384 slugging percentage during his past 62 games.  Within this stretch, which dates back to June 10, he has seen his batting average drop from .335 to .281 and his slugging percentage drop from .565 to .462. 

Making this stretch even more maddening for Jones is the fact that he’s struggled from both sides of the plate and whether at home or on the road. 

Here are some of Jones’ splits during this 62-game stretch:
Vs. LHP   .235 (18-for-91) batting average, .330 on-base percentage, .395 slugging percentage
Vs. RHP  .244 (33-for-135) BA, .384 OBP, .378 SLG
Home:   .239 (28-for-117) BA, .343 OBP, .385 SLG
Road:    .242 (24-for-99) BA, .389 OBP, .384 SLG

Now that the Braves are returning to health, Jones might be given more opportunities to benefit from the rest provided by a day off.   But at the same time, this wouldn’t guarantee an immediate revival.  After straining his left oblique muscle on Aug. 7, he missed three games and didn’t return to the lineup until Aug. 11.
 
If Jones feels that he needs a day off, Braves manager Bobby Cox will likely be more apt to give him one during one of these final two games against the Padres. 

With the Braves heading to Philadelphia this weekend knowing just how significant it would be to exit with a three-game sweep, they’ll need Jones in the lineup  for each of those three games against the Phillies. 

 

Infante returns to face red-hot Nationals

Coming off a weekend during which Kris Medlen was one of the many players that proved to be huge at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are back at Turner Field to host the red-hot Nationals.  
Do I get any kind of bonus Scrabble points for describing Medlen as huge and the Nationals as red-hot in the same sentence?  

During my nine seasons on this beat, I’d have to say this past weekend’s four-game set in Los Angeles was one of the best series that I’ve witnessed.   How many times do you see a team bounce back from a potentially demoralizing walk-off loss with consecutive extra-inning victories and then end  up taking three of four against a team that entered the series possessing the best record in the Majors?

While their pitching staff has been weakened by injuries, the Dodgers still are one of the National League’s elite teams and this weekend, the Braves proved to themselves and everybody else that they have the potential to work their way into that same category.   

But everything that was accomplished in Los Angeles will go to waste if the Braves aren’t able to prolong this successful run against the Nationals, who have posted a 3.88 ERA and compiled a .322 batting average during the eight-game winning streak that they carry into tonight’s series opener.  

The Braves have lost 16 of their past 27 games against the Nationals and they realize that taking care of business during these next two days would put themselves in great position this weekend, when they welcome the Phillies to town and have the opportunity to directly affect how things look at the top of the NL East standings.

Chipper Jones seemingly understands the importance of these two games.  When he arrived at his locker before Tuesday’s batting practice he was told that his name wasn’t in tonight’s lineup.

“It’s not in there?” Jones said. “Excuse me a second.”  

A few minutes later after having a brief discussion with Bobby Cox, Jones returned and said that he was back in the lineup.  

Jones strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice and was absent while the Braves won three straight against the Dodgers.   The ailment bothered him while he was in Los Angeles, but when he awoke on Tuesday he felt no discomfort and was determined to play.  

“If I can play at all right now, I’m going to play,” Jones said.  

Jones’ return to the lineup led the Braves to shift Omar Infante from third base to second base.  Martin Prado was positioned at first base because Cox opted to sit LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.  

Since joining the Braves LaRoche has five hits in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.  But he’s batting just .171 (7-for-41) against them since July 1 and is hitless in six career at-bats against Lannan.  

When the Braves activated Infante from the disabled list, they optioned Diory Hernandez to Triple-A Gwinnett.  With Infante’s presence, the Braves no longer needed to keep Hernandez around to serve as Yunel Esobar’s backup. 

While Greg Norton has hit just .138 this year and .087 (4-for-46) from the left side of the plate, it still seemingly made more sense to keep him around with the hope that he’ll turn things around.   It’s not as if Hernandez gave the Braves reason to believe he could be a valuable right-handed bat off the bench.   He’d hit just .143 in the 42 at-bats he’d compiled dating back to June 28. 

It was somewhat concerning to see Nate McLouth return to the bench during Tuesday’s batting practice and tell Bobby Cox that he was still feeling some discomfort in the same left hamstring that sidelined him for a week earlier this year.
 
McLouth, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday’s 10th inning,  said he really doesn’t feel any discomfort until he attempts to push off while attempting to run down a fly ball.
  
Given McLouth’s blue-collar, win-at-all-costs approach to the game, it’s definitely in his best interest to wait a few more days before returning to regular action.   If he were to push himself attempting to score from second base or while running into one of the outfield gaps, he could incur an injury that would certainly handicap the Braves during this stretch run.  

Cox rests McCann and McLouth against Kershaw

When he arrived at Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon to prepare to face the potent Dodgers lineup, Kenshin Kawakami could have taken one look at his lineup and wondered if he was back at Spring Training. 

Already without Chipper Jones, who will need at least a few more days to allow his strained left oblique muscle to heal, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to give both Brian McCann and Nate McLouth a chance to rest on a night when Clayton Kershaw could have put their left-handed swings to sleep. 

Heading into Saturday night’s start agaisnt the Braves, Kershaw had limited left-handed batters to a .174 batting average and .252 on-base percentage.  Thus manager Bobby Cox opted to fill his lineup with as many right-handed hitters as possible and put both McCann and McLouth in position to bring their left-handed bats off the bench. 

Filling in for McLouth, Ryan Church was given his first opportunity to start in center field for the Braves.   McCann was obviously replaced with his dependable backup David Ross, who has actually hit right-handed pitchers better (.311 batting averge in 61 at-bats) than he has left-handers  (.229 in 35 at-bats).

Entering this season, McCann had hit .282 in 465 career at-bats against left-handed pitchers and .303 in 1,167 at-bats against right-handers.   This year there has been a much greater discrpency between this splits for the All-Star catcher. 

McCann has hit .336 with 11 homers and a 1.020 OPS in 214 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year.  But in 106 at-bats against left-handers, he has hit .189 with one homer and a .511 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). 

Jones, who strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice, said that he didn’t feel any discomfort while simply walking around on Saturday.  But the ailment is still bothering whenever he attempts to move side-to-side.

While there’s still a chance the Jones might return to the lineup on Tuesday, he likely won’t truly know his status until he arrives at Turner Field that day to prepare for the series opener against the Nationals.     

Chipper scratched with strained left oblique

Chipper Jones was scratched from Friday night’s game against the Dodgers because of a strained left oblique muscle that he suffered during batting practice.  The Braves third baseman will likely provide more information after the game. 

Jones strained his right oblique muscle while competing in this year’s World Baseball Classic.  After he aggravated the same ailment a few days later and returned to Braves camp, he returned to action within the next week.

Braves new lineup for Friday:

McLouth cf

Prado 3b

Anderson lf

McCann c

LaRoche 1b

Escobar ss

Church rf

Johnson 2b

Jurrjens p

  

Traveling to the park in style

buck commander.jpg

If you saw the Buck Commander bus heading toward Turner Field early Saturday afternoon,  there’s a chance you saw all of the bearded men pictured on the side and simply assumed that you’d just seen ZZ Top’s new tour bus.  
 
But I’m going to have to guess that there weren’t too many of you, who realized that Chipper Jones was on board and simply allowing his good friend and business partner Willie Robertson to give him a lift to the park
.  
Robertson, who was in Atlanta this weekend for a hunting-related convention, is the founder and president of the Buck Commander company that is financially supported by a handful of Major Leaguers, including Jones and Adam LaRoche.
 
After making his debut with the Braves during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Dodgers, LaRoche jokingly said that he was going to spend the next two months living in the bus and keep it parked in Jones’ driveway.
 
When told of LaRoche’s plan, Jones provided his best Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson impersonation by simply raising his eyebrow.
 
Still LaRoche was given the opportunity to drive the bus back to Jones’ residence on Saturday night and in the process, he thinks there’s a chance that he might have caused Jones’ wife, Sharon, some aggravation.
 
“I think I ran over some of Sharon’s plants or flowers  pulling it in there,” LaRoche said.

Escobar update:  While taking batting practice in the indoor cage this afternoon, Yunel Escobar had some trouble getting his bat around on the inside fastball.  The swelling around his right wrist has subsided.  But he likely won’t know if he’ll be able to play during Monday’s series opener in San Diego, until he has the opportunity to take some swings and make some throws during the afternoon hours.  <p>
 
Hudson update:  Because he believes there’s a chance he could resume his Minor League rehab assignment next weekend, Tim Hudson won’t accompany the Braves on their trip to Southern California.  Instead, he’ll stay in Atlanta and continue to rehab the mild left groin strain that he suffered before Friday’s schedule rehab start.  
Hudson remains hopeful that this ailment won’t prevent him from rejoining the Atlanta rotation some time this month.

Norton’s rainbow:  While Greg Norton was certainly due to record pinch hits on both Friday and Saturday, there wouldn’t have been much reason to believe this would be the time he’d break out of this slump if you would have seen the multi-colored bruise he gained on his calf courtesy of a foul tip on Thursday night.
 
Initially Norton didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t really realize any swelling until the Braves charter flight left Ft. Lauderdale and was en route to Atlanta.   The Braves medical staff drained some of the blood out of his calf on Saturday and the veteran pinch hitter has spent the past couple days limping around with his leg heavily wrapped.
 
The bruise extends from ankle to knee and I’d detail some of the colors present if I’d actually seen them before.   Believe me when I say it’s harder to look at Norton’s calf than it was to watch Jeff Bennett attempt to keep inherited runners from scoring.
 
Minor League Rehab stints:
  Both Omar Infante and Buddy Carlyle will play for Class A Rome on Tuesday night.  Carlyle, who believes he could return to the Atlanta bullpen soon, will pitch the first two innings.  This will mark the beginning of a Minor League rehab assignment for Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand.  
 
 

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: The Great Entertainer

While driving to Greg Maddux’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony this
morning, I was thinking  I’d blog about some of my best Maddux-related
stories.  But upon further review, I decided that in the best interest
of remaining employed, I’d keep some of those hilarious comments and
events out of the eyesight of innocent children.

When I was
working on Maddux’s retirement story in December, Chipper Jones
referred to the four-time Cy Young Award winner as the “the same
dirtbag he’s always been.”

“He’s one of the grossest guys I’ve ever been
around in my life,” Jones said.  “That was part of his charm. That’s how he kept the
clubhouse mood light. That’s how he entertained himself.”

Maddux
might have occasionally tainted some sanitary socks before throwing
them back in the clubhouse bin for an unsuspecting teammate to grab. 
And there might have been some occasions when was thoroughly amused by
the telling of some of the world’s crudest jokes. 

But at the
end of the day, he was essentially just a guy’s-guy, who would have
been the one of the most popular inhabitants of the nation’s best frat
houses.

While his 355 career wins, four consecutive Cy Young
Awards and 18 Gold Glove Awards made him extraordinary, the fact that
he remained ordinary is the primary reason that he was so beloved by
teammates, coaches, media members and anybody else, who had the
pleasure to know him as something more than simply the greatest pitcher
of his generation.

During Friday’s induction ceremony, Braves
broadcaster Don Sutton may have provided Maddux the greatest compliment
while pointing out that he’d watched Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver Roberto
Clemente, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays play. 

“None of them gave
me the thrill that I got while watching you,” Sutton said.  “It was a
remarkable experience.  I used to sit up there and try to think with
you, but then I’d realize that I was as overmatched as those hitters.”

There
were a number of comical stories told throughout the day and with
little surprise some of the funniest were provided by Maddux’s longtime
pitching coach, Leo Mazzone. 

Mazzone once again told the
story about the exchange he had with Maddux during his 89-pitch,
three-hit masterpiece at Yankee Stadium in 1997.  After umpire John
Hirschbeck stopped Maddux as he came back toward the dugout after a
half-inning, Mazzone asked, “What did he say to you.”

“He told
me, I’m as good as advertised,” Maddux replied. “Isn’t that (something)
Leo, now I also have to live up to the expectations of the umpires.”

Mazzone
also talked about a dominant stretch of Maddux’s career, during which
the legendary hurler pointed out that he’d gone at least two months
without being visited on the mound by his pitching coach.

“He
said Leo you haven’t been out to the mound this year and I said, “What
for?” Mazzone said. “Then he said, “Well it gets kind of lonely out
there.”  He said, ‘I’m tired of talking to Chipper, you know you have
to pick your spots with the umpires and Eddie Perez doesn’t speak
English.”

So
after Maddux arranged for Mazzone to visit the mound when he looked
into the dugout during his next start, this was essentially the
exchange that ensued:

Maddux:  How you doing coach, how am I looking?
Mazzone:  Pretty good Mad Dog, you’ve got a three-hit shutout going.
Maddux: Well it was nice talking to you.

Jones
also repeated the story about how he ran over Maddux during the first
inning of his Opening Day start in 1995.  For those who forget, Jones,
who was beginning his first full year with the Braves, aggressively
attacked Barry Bonds’ pop-up to the first-base side of the mound and in
the process rolled the man who had won the previous three National
League Cy Young Awards.

When he looked up and saw Maddux also
on the ground, Jones heard a message that he relayed during Friday’s
ceremony by regularly utilzing the words, “bleep” and “bleepin”.

“I got a tongue-lashing that my father never even thought about giving me,” Jones said.

Adding
a portion of the story I’d never previously heard, Jones said that
Maddux did at least congratulate him after he drove home the season’s
first run during the bottom half of the same inning.  

According to Jones, Maddux said, “Hey Larry, nice job.  That’s awesome.  Now stay the bleep away from me.”

Because
he was at  his son’s baseball tournament in Florida, Tom Glavine wasn’t
able to attend Friday’s events.  But via a video he provided a
congratulatory message and talked about how special it was to be part
of the great Braves starting rotations that included himself, John
Smoltz and Maddux.

“It’s a well-deserved honor and I hope
someday that the trio of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz can meet up again
in Cooperstown,” Glavine said.  

Will Wren be a buyer or seller?

With the three-game losing streak they carried into Tuesday, the Braves found themselves in the same position they were when they began their five-game winning streak on June 28.  Still the five-game division deficit they now face seems much more daunting than it did just a week ago, when the fumbling Phillies were coming to Turner Field.
 
While the first-place Phillies have won four straight since being swept out of Atlanta last week, the Braves have destroyed all of the positive energy they’d created before saying goodbye to their season-best five-game winning streak during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Washington D.C. 

Since being six outs away from recording a sixth straight win, the Braves have completed 20 consecutive innings without a lead and provided even more reason to believe that even with their strong starting rotation, they are destined for prolonged mediocrity.
 
Braves general manager Frank Wren finds himself essentially in the same position he was on this date last year, when his club was six games back.  At the time, he said he was going to continue monitoring the pulse of the club before determining whether he was going to move Mark Teixeira.
 
Wren remained patient until the Braves blew five-run leads on consecutive days in Philadelphia (July 26 and 27) and then opted to deal Teixeira with the handicap of having to find a trade partner that could provide a first baseman in return.

With Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Wren possesses three pitchers, who could each individually provide a greater return than Teixeira, who was traded to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

Affordable relievers who have the ability to close and durable starters prove to be in more demand than first basemen, who could prove to be just a two-month rental.

 But while still waiting for his team to experience its first string of prolonged success,  Wren really doesn’t know whether he’ll be a buyer or a top seller when this year’s trade deadline arrives. 

Without the ability to add to his payroll, his position as a buyer in search of another bat will certainly be financially hindered.
  
But with these three pitchers, he could prove to be an attractive seller with the ability to start building for the future. 

Until they definitely fall out of the postseason picture, the Braves won’t even attempt to trade Vazquez.   Thoughts of moving him to gain funds to add a bat are erased by the reality that the Braves need him in a rotation that won’t include Tim Hudson until at least the final week of August.
 
And if Wren isn’t blown away with any offers for Vazquez, there isn’t any definite need to trade the 32-year-old right-hander, who is set to make $11.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.
 
Hudson, who is one year older and coming back from Tommy John surgery, has a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Of course any concerns about his health could be trumped by the concerns created by the fact that Vazquez has proven to be one of those inconsistent pitchers, who encounters success on an every-other-year basis.

With both Gonzalez and Soriano being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to ask for significant returns if they reach a point where they decide to trade either or both of these closers. 
 
Instead of simply settling for the best available return like they did with Teixeira, they’ll be content to allow both Gonzalez and Soriano enter the free agent market, with the understanding that they’ll either bring one back or at least be compensated with the draft picks their departures would provide.  

There was very little chance that Teixeira was going to accept the arbitration offer that the Braves would have provided had they kept him through the remainder of the 2008 season, with the desire to at least receive draft pick compensation. 

Of course had Teixeira accepted an arb offer, the financial ramifications would have been much greater than those provided by the small risk the Braves would  take if they reach a point in December, where they have to offer arbitration to either Soriano or Gonzalez.  

Wren has already assumed the role of buyer once this year with his June 3 acquisition of Nate McLouth, who is a hitter that many offensively-needy teams would currently covet.
  
Still while McLouth has proven to be a definite upgrade, the Braves won just 13 of the 30 games they’ve played since he joined their lineup.   Of course four of those wins were notched last week, when McLouth was sidelined with a sore left hamstring.

There’s no doubt that McLouth is going to make an impact in Atlanta beyond this year.  He’s a legit five-tool player, whose presence in Atlanta would already been much more celebrated had he not arrived just in time to see both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann start to endure simultaneous struggles. 

Over his past 21 games, McCann has hit .250 with two homers and seven RBIs.  The always-dependable All-Star catcher also has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

As for Jones, over the course of his past 25 games, he has hit .213 with one homer and nine RBIs. 

While winning just 10 of their past 25 games, the Braves have received a total of 19 RBIs from McCann and Jones.
  
There’s no doubt that McCann and Jones will turn things around.  But will they do so before Wren is forced to make the decision to enter the trade market as a seller? 

Kawakami appears to be fine

As soon as Joba Chamberlain’s line drive struck Kenshin Kawakami’s neck during Wednesday night’s game at Turner Field, I immediately thought about the Lance Berkman liner that struck Horacio Ramirez in the right side of the head during the 2006 season. 

One of the most horrific scenes in baseball is the comebacker that strikes a pitcher in the head.  Immediate thoughts rest on their physical well being.   Then when provided the confidence that they’re physically healthy, you can’t help but worry about how the event might affect them mentally when they return to the mound. 

Based on what I could gather from Kawakami during Wednesday’s postgame interview, he’s looking forward to getting back on the mound as soon as possible. As he spoke, it was easy to see the bruise that had formed at the base of the right side of his neck.  

While all of the questions were simply aimed toward his well-being, Kawakami twice mentioned the disappointment he felt when this event forced him to leave after just three innings of what resulted as an 8-4 Yankees victory.   

The loss is disappointing,” said Kawakami, who was perfect through his three innings. ”  “I’m happy that it just missed vital parts though. It could have been worse.”

Chamberlain, who had just five previous career plate appearances, was an avid Braves fan and his favorite player was Chipper Jones. 

Before Wednesday’s game, Jones signed a jersey for Chamberlain.  Then a short time later, he found himself joining the 23-year-old hurler and many others who were simply staring at Kawakami with the hope that he had avoided a serious injury.  
.
“When I hit the ball off [Kawakami], (Chipper) came over and said, ‘You’re not supposed to take out my pitcher,'” Chamberlain said. “He signed a jersey for me. I’m 23 and I’ve looked up to that man for a long time. It was pretty special for me.”

Red Sox fans provide Lowe some love

Derek Lowe didn’t know how he’d be received by the Red Sox fans tonight.  But as he made his way toward the bullpen to warm up, they provided a nice ovation that proved they haven’t forgotten the significant role he played during the 2004 postseason. 

While becoming the first pitcher to ever gain wins in three clinching games during the same postseason, Lowe helped the Red Sox end their 86-year drought with the 2004 World Series title.  <p>

Five years later, Lowe finally finds himself with another opportunity to pitch in front of the fans who saw him develop from a young middle reliever to a postseason hero.   This will actually be his first career start against the Red Sox. 

While Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Tim Wakefield are the only current Red Sox remaining from that 2004 world championship team, Lowe will certainly find some familiarity with the environment.  In the 46 starts he’s made at Fenway Park dating back to the beginning of the 2002 season, he is 28-10 with a 3.20 ERA. 

(And we interupt this blog to say that the Red Sox fans once again provided a nice roar when the public address announcer said Lowe’s name while announcing starting lineups.)

Frenchy update: The Royals are watching Jeff Francoeur this weekend and there’s still obviously a chance that Dayton Moore could be prompted to make a deal for the 25-year-old outfielder. 

But to make this deal work, the Braves may need to be willing to assume the baggage and cost that Jose Guillen would bring.  Guillen is making $12 million this season and he’ll be owed and equal amount before his contract expires at the end of the 2010 season. 

Smoltz’s humor: Chipper Jones wasn’t happy when the official scorer awarded him a seventh-inning single on Friday and then later opted to charge Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell with an error 

Knowing that Jones wasn’t happy, John Smoltz approached his good friend today and attempted to further stir the pot by saying that he was the one who had called the press box to persuade the official scorer to reverse his original ruling. 

After saying, “You’ve got to be (kidding) me,”  Jones laughed with Smoltz, Francoeur and some of the other Braves who were in on the joke.       

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