Results tagged ‘ Derek Lowe ’

Second week of camp begins

Martin Prado has been one of the first players to arrive at the stadium during Spring Training and he has always been the last to leave this year.  To Brian McCann and those who have known Prado throughout his professional career, this simply isn’t a surprise. 

“You’re not going to find a guy who works harder than him,” McCann said early Monday morning. 

Strength and conditioning coach Phil Falco could only nod his head when he was asked if he basically has to tell Prado that it’s time to leave the weight room.

But Prado has never seemed to believe enough is enough until the late afternoon hours arrive.  Like clockwork, he has been leaving the Spring Training headquarters around 2:45 p.m. ET, or approximately 90 minutes after most of his teammates. 

Prado spent the past two Spring Trainings inspired by the belief that he had to fight for a roster spot.  This year, he’s fighting to prove he can make the quick transition to left field and continue to be the dependable offensive contributor that he has been the past couple of years.

He has spent most of his time focusing on taking fly balls in left field.  But with the realization that he will eventually move back to the infield (this year or within the next couple of seasons), he has also continued to take grounders with Chipper Jones at third base.

PradChip.JPGSpeaking of Chipper, he has had two good days since his surgically-repaired left knee proved to be sore during Saturday’s workout.  As mentioned multiple times, he’s going to have good days and he’s going to have bad days. 

The Braves can only hope that once the middle of March rolls around there are few mentions about his knee. 

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he isn’t ready to announce his Opening Day starter.  But it seems quite obvious that he will choose either Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe, who has made both of the previous Opening Day starts for the Braves.

With this being said, Gonzalez said he will reveal his Grapefruit League rotation tomorrow.  This might provide at least some clue whether Hudson or Lowe will be on the mound for Opening Day in D.C.  

Relaxed setting as pitchers and catchers report

When a member of the Braves clubhouse staff asked if Brian McCann had been seen Monday morning, one of the All-Star catcher’s teammates said “no” and suggested “he’s probably home relaxing and enjoying one of the last day’s off he’ll have in a while.” 

Once the exhibition season begins McCann and his teammates will gain occasional chances to catch your breath.  But as many of the Braves gathered at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex Monday morning, they were celebrating the dawn of a new season and getting ready for the daily grind that will begin Tuesday — when the club’s pitchers and catchers stage their first workout of the season. 

There was a sense of excitement Monday morning when Braves pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.  The always-enthusiastic and suddenly slimmer Peter Moylan took time to introduce himself to Dan Uggla and marvel at Nate McLouth’s bleach-blonde hair before playing catch. 

Moylan, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were among those who took time to play catch Monday.  Martin Prado, Jordan Schafer and Uggla took a few swings in the batting cages before the morning hours concluded. 

So far Fredi Gonzalez’s camp has the same exact feel as those conducted by Bobby Cox.  There will obviously be some changes.  But Uggla’s description of Gonzalez’s camps with the Marlins sound a lot like what the Braves experienced under Cox’s direction. 

Once they concluded a Monday morning meeting,  members of the Major League and Minor League coaching staffs and the front office went to a local golf course to enjoy a round together.

Courtesy of a late-morning text, Lowe revealed that McCann wasn’t simply taking it easy Monday.  The veteran pitcher was scheduled to tee off with his catcher at 11:30 a.m.

There will be plenty of other rounds of golf completed over the next couple of weeks.  But most of the rounds will be staged in the afternoon hours.  The pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout Tuesday morning and the first full-squad workout will be held Saturday. 

Because they were injured at the end of last season, Chipper Jones and Prado will both be able to participate on the field during the workouts for pitchers and catchers.

Prado will be taking time to better acquaint himself with the left field position that he acquired once Uggla was obtained via November’s trade with the Marlins.

While the Braves said Prado has played the position consistently during Winter Ball, the former second baseman said his time in the outfield has been rather limited.

“There’s a bunch of stuff I have to work on,” Prado said. “I’m asking everybody for tips.”

When Opening Day arrives six weeks from now,  Prado might find himself quite comfortable with his new surroundings. 

But as he enters the long journey otherwise known as the baseball season, Prado can only view this as one of the many challenges that he and his teammates are destined to encounter.

“We’re like every other team,” Lowe said. “In Spring Training,
everybody thinks they’re going to win.  There’s no negativity yet. 
Nothing bad has happened.  Everybody likes the acquisitions that their
teams have made. We’re no different.” 

 

 

Trade talks could soon heat up for the Braves

There hasn’t been a lot of buzz surrounding the Braves during the early portion of this Hot Stove Season.  But there’s a sense that things might heat up after Frank Wren assembles with his peers at the general manager meetings in Orlando early next week.

While the Braves might eventually land a veteran reliever or possibly another starting pitcher on the free-agent market, their primary focus is to find at least one outfielder.  With anywhere from $10-15 million to spend, it appears they’ll most likely fill this need via the trade market. 

The Braves have seemingly shown some interest in free agent outfielder Pat Burrell, who rejuvenated his career while helping the Giants win the World Series.  But early indications are that the veteran, defensively-challenged outfielder might prove to be too expensive.

Thus it appears more likely that the Braves will find themselves taking a gamble on an outfielder available via trade.   The Dodgers don’t seem interested in trading Matt Kemp and the Braves don’t seem too interested in even contemplating the idea of taking a chance on B.J. Upton.

There’s a chance that Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) or Colby Rasmus could be acquired for the right price.  But the Braves seem intent on finding a right-handed outfielder to fill their already left-handed heavy lineup.

Thus it seems more likely that they would pursue somebody like Josh Willingham from the Nationals or maybe a potential leadoff hitter like Rajai Davis from the A’s.

Davis produced a mediocre .320 on-base percentage while hitting .284 and recording 50 stolen bases this past year.  Willingham’s injury woes increased this past summer when he was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery in August to repair meniscus in his left knee. 

With limited funds, the Braves are likely going to have to acquire an outfielder who will be viewed as “having some warts.”   But as the Giants proved this past year, you can benefit from taking chances on guys like Burrell and Aubrey Huff when you have a solid pitching staff. 

The Braves will have a better idea of how much money they can spend once they determine where Kenshin Kawakami will be pitching next year.  A month ago, it appeared they had found a Japanese club willing to acquire Kawakami and offset about $3 million of the $6.67 million the Braves owe him in the final year of his contract.

There has sense been some reason to believe that Kawakami would rather continue pitching in the United States.  The Yomuri Giants were believed to be one of the clubs interested in the 34-year-old right-hander. 

Kawakami has said that he doesn’t like pitching in the Tokyo Dome, which serves as the Giants home.  My only response to that is, “Would he rather pitch in Gwinnett County’s Coolray Field?

If they need additional funds to land the outfielder they are seeking or simply need to enhance a trade package, the Braves might opt to trade one of their projected starters for the 2011 season.  They won’t deal Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson or Mike Minor.  Nor do they seem very excited about the possibility of trading Jair Jurrjens.

Thus we’re back where we were last year, when they were contemplating the idea of trading either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. But this year, it doesn’t appear they’ll be actively shopping Lowe like they were last year before reaching the point where they had to deal Vazquez to the Yankees. 

Having gone 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five regular season starts and then impressing in his two postseason starts, Lowe certainly looks more appealing than he did at this time last year.  But the Braves would certainly be hard pressed to deal him without eating at least a portion of the $30 million they owe him over the next two years. 

If the Braves end up trading a pitcher, Vazquez will certainly be among the pitchers that they target to fill the rotation void.  But there is a belief that the Nationals or Marlins will be willing to offer more to give him a chance to rekindle the success he enjoyed in the NL East in 2009.

Minor League hires: When the Braves announce their Minor League coaching staff within the next couple of days, there will be a couple of familiar names.  Former Orioles manager Dave Trembley has reportedly been hired to serve as the Minor League field coordinator. 

In addition, Jonathan Schuerholz is expected to be named the manager for the Gulf Coast League Braves.  Schuerholz is the son of former Braves GM and current president John Schuerholz.

After playing his college ball at Auburn University, the younger Schuerholz played six seasons in the Braves organization, advancing as far as the Triple-A level.   He has spent the past couple seasons serving as the club’s Minor League infield instructor. 

This role provided Schuerholz the opportunity to be around the game on a daily basis and spend countless hours interacting with the likes of Triple-A Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage and former Double-A Mississippi Phil Wellman.        

 

 

Cox at least thinking about using Huddy and Lowe on short rest

Braves manager Bobby confirmed that he is at least thinking about the possibility of using some of his veteran starters on short rest during the season’s final week. 

This could certainly have an adverse effect on how Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe would fare in the postseason. But as his club entered Saturday staring at a half-game deficit in the Wild Card standings and facing the reality that Jair Jurrjens likely won’t be available for more than a week, Cox simply has to find a way to get to the playoffs. 

“You’ve got to start thinking that way,” Cox said.  
 
The Braves could send Tommy Hanson to the mound with regular rest during Monday’s series opener against the Marlins.   Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe could then be asked to pitch the final two games on short rest.   <p>

Lowe has gone 2-1 with a 5.09 ERA in the four regular season starts he has made with three days of rest.  He pitched effectively in three of his four outings.  But while making his most recent attempt on May 18, 2008, he allowed the Angels 10 hits and seven earned runs in five innings.   <p>

Hudson has proven more successful, going 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in the three regular season starts he has made with one fewer than the normal four days of rest.   He tossed eight scoreless innings while making his May 24, 2005 start against the Mets on short rest and found similar success while limiting the Marlins to one run in seven innings on Sept. 17, 2006.   <p> 

Hudson’s only other start on short rest occurred July 18, 2006, when he limited the Cardinals to one run through the first five innings and then allowed them to tally four runs in the sixth inning.  <p>

Lowe set to start against Pirates Wednesday

We’ll keep this short on this short morning…

Derek Lowe played catch this morning and returned to the clubhouse to confirm that he will make Wednesday’s scheduled start in Pittsburgh.  While there might be some lingering discomfort behind his right elbow, he isn’t dealing with the pain that was present when he allowed the Marlins five earned runs in just three innings last Sunday. 

Lowe says he has spent most of the past decade pitching with a bone chip in his elbow. The Braves just need him to make at least five more starts this year while battling whatever discomfort it causes.  

If he needs to rest when October arrives, the Braves could easily keep him off the Division Series roster and throw him on the National League Championship Series roster if necessary.

  • Troy Glaus will bat fifth and start at first base today.  He says he hasn’t forgotten how to play first base over the course of the past three weeks.  The Braves are simply hoping that he remembers how to hit like he did three months ago.
  • “It is what it is” is one of the most worthless phrases in the English language.  But I really don’t know if there is any other way to react to the fact that the Marlins have chosen to become the only Major League club that won’t honor Bobby Cox in some way during his final trip to their city.  

In case you forgot, this was Cox’s response to the Marlins decision to fire his good friend and likely successor Fredi Gonzalez in June.

“I know (Marlins owner Jeffery Loria) is unpredictable. But everything that [Gonzalez]
has done for that guy, are [you] kidding me? Every year, they’ve played
their [butts] off. That guy didn’t appreciate anything. He’s one of
those guys that thinks you change [just to change]. He’s always wanting
to fire the coaches. Always. That’s his history. He lost a good one
there.”
  

Kawakami has at least been as effective as Lowe

When Derek Lowe was drawing significant run support and Kenshin Kawakami couldn’t buy a win during the early portion of the season, it was easy to argue that Kawakami had actually been more effective during his starts. 

Now that Lowe is sidelined with discomfort behind his right elbow, I’ve heard many people ask what can the Braves expect out of Kawakami while he fills in for the injured sinkerballer. 

The simple answer is, “basically the same thing that they could expect from Lowe.” It’s been a flip of the coin whenever either of these two hurlers have taken the mound this year. 

In the 15 starts he made before being sent to the bullpen and then Triple-A Gwinnett, Kawakami was 1-9 with a 4.48 ERA.  Opponents hit .271 against him and compiled a .326 on-base percentage.

In the 15 starts Lowe had made before his right arm was essentially “worthless” (stole that description from Lowe),  he was 3-8 with a 4.25 ERA.  Opponents hit .271 and compiled a .336 on-base percentage during this span.

Before being sent to the bullpen, Kawakami was showing occasional signs of improvement.  He allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of his last 11 starts.  

During Kawakami’s last eight starts, he went 1-3 with a 3.40 ERA.  Opponents hit .254 against him and reached base at a .313 clip. 

In the eight starts Lowe made before his hand went numb Sunday, he was 2-4 with a 4.27 ERA.  Opponents hit .286 during this stretch and compiled a .330 on-base percentage. 

So even while throwing out the five earned runs that Lowe allowed in three innings against the Marlins last Sunday, it’s apparent that you can still argue that Kawakami has been the more effective payroll eyesore this year. 

There’s little reason to be encouraged about the fact that Kawakami allowed 26 hits, including five homers, in the 21 innings that he completed for Triple-A Gwinnett in August. 

But since I provided some generosity when accounting for Lowe’s numbers, I figure I should provide the reminder that he had been essentially idle for six weeks before heading to the Minors to stretch out his arm and develop a secondary pitch (slider) that he can throw for strikes.

Kawakami didn’t begin throwing this slider until the final week of June.  Thus it might not be smart for him to test it against Dan Uggla, who has four hits, including a homer and a double, in nine at-bats against the Japanese right-hander.

I also wouldn’t suggest Kawakami doing anything to infuriate Gaby Sanchez.  The Marlins first baseman is in the lineup tonight.  Thus I’m going to have to assume he has appealed the the three-game suspension in response to the Bill Goldberg clothesline that he delivered to Nyjer Morgan Wednesday night.

When the Braves pounded Ricky Nolasco for six runs in just two innings Saturday, it was apparent that something might not be right.  The Marlins right-hander had notched a 16-strikeout performance and an  11-strikeout performance in two of his three previous starts against Atlanta.  

With Nolasco sidelined by a torn meniscus in his right knee, the Marlins will send Andrew Miller to the mound for tonight’s series opener.  The once highly-regarded left-hander will be making just his second Major League start this season.  He went 1-8 with a 6.01 ERA in 18 starts with Double-A Jacksonville this year. 

Add the one win Miller notched for Class A-Advanced Jupiter and we now at least have three combined wins between tonight’s starting pitchers.  The Braves and Marlins might light up the scoreboard like the University of Miami did last night on this severely damaged turf. 

Wait until you see the dead grass (especially behind second base) on television tonight.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

 
   

Without Holliday, Coors Field might feel like a vacation spot for Lowe

Once Todd Helton retires or at least ends his long career with the Rockies, Tim Hudson will finally understand what it’s like to exit Coors Field without frustration.   This belief is strengthened by what transpired last year when Derek Lowe learned how tranquil Denver can be without the presence of Matt Holliday.
 
Against Lowe, Holliday hasn’t matched the perfection that Helton has produced while recording hits in each of the eight at-bats he’s ever recorded against Hudson at Coors Field.  

But Holliday is certainly a primary reason that Lowe will return to Blake Street tonight having gone 3-4 with a 5.66 ERA in nine career starts at Coors Field.    The All-Star outfielder batted .650  (13-for-20) with a 1.167 OPS against the veteran sinkerballer in Denver.  He has been just a .333 (5-for-15) hitter against  him in environments that don’t include the thin Rocky Mountain air.

When Lowe made his Coors Field debut for the Red Sox during Holliday’s 2004 rookie season, he tossed seven scoreless innings.  He has allowed four earned runs or more in five of his other eight starts at this spacious park that is an offensive haven, with or without the humidor. 

When Holliday was a member of the A’s on July 10 of last year, Lowe exorcised some of his Coors Field demons by limiting the Rockies to one run and four hits over six innings.  During his third start of this season,  he recorded yet another win against  the Holliday-less Rockies.  

Lowe has gone 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in his past five starts against the Rockies, dating back to June 2, 2008.   It should be noted that just one of these starts was made in Denver. 
Another thing going for Lowe is the fact that the Rockies aren’t planning to wear “Nationals” across their chests tonight.  

Lowe has gone 3-6 with a 3.65 ERA in his past 13 starts.   In the 10 starts that weren’t made against the Nationals during this span, he has gone 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA.  

Heyward heating up
:  Before grounding into a double play to end the seventh inning last night, Jason Heyward had reached base safely in 10 consecutive plate appearances and recorded hits in seven consecutive at-bats.
  
Over his past three games, Heyward has recorded nine hits in 13 at-bats.   Not bad considering he had totaled just nine hits in his previous 56 at-bats this month.   Before starting this mini-surge on Saturday, the rookie All-Star had hit .171 over his previous 21 games. 

After Sunday’s four-hit, two-homer performance at Wrigley Field, Heyward admitted  he’s still feeling some discomfort in the bruised right thumb that plagued him throughout June and sidelined him during the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break.  

Still while health has played a part, his inconsistencies are also a product of the fact that this 21-year-old outfielder is still going through the sometimes cruel initiation process that has welcomed almost everybody who has had the opportunity to play in the Majors. 

Through May, Heyward was on pace for a 30-homer season and seemingly destined to be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.   The thumb injury opened the door for Giants catcher Buster Posey and Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez to join the Braves outfielder as top NL ROY candidates.

If the past couple days are an indication of things to come, Heyward could certainly end the season hitting above .280 with 18-20 homers and 80-plus RBIs.  Entering his first Major League season, I don’t think much more should have been expected from him.

One more late night:  If any of you need to go to bed before the conclusion of tonight’s game, but still want to know the outcome before you wake up, I suggest you simply watch what transpires in Philadelphia tonight.
 
Since trading wins and losses on Aug. 13 and 14, the Braves and Phillies have experienced the same verdict during each of the past eight days that they both have played games.

The Braves own the same 2 -game lead they held over the Phillies at the end of play on Aug. 1.  They are also 3 1/2 games in front of the Cardinals and Giants, who both sit a game behind the front-running Phillies in the NL Wild Card race. 
 

Lipka gives the Braves the speed they need

Surprised that Bryce Bentz fell into their laps, I figured the Braves would take him with the 35th overall selection in this year’s Draft.  But like many other clubs, they found an option more appealing than the East Tennessee State outfielder. 

With Bentz, the Braves would have landed a proven college hitter who possesses some of the power potential they need to integrate into their Minor League system.  With Matt Lipka, they gained an athletic shortstop who possesses speed, an asset that an 18-year-old kid isn’t going to suddenly develop.

Young prospects can mature into a power hitter and correct the mechanics of their swing.  But they aren’t going to suddenly have the kind of top-notch speed that Lipka already possesses.    

A two-time All-State wide receiver in Texas’ Class 4-A system, Lipka will likely eventually become a center fielder.  Clocked at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash, he will be groomed to be the leadoff hitter that the Braves haven’t been able to develop since some 19 or 21-year-old kid named Rafael Furcal arrived in Atlanta in 2000.  

When I asked Lipka about his offensive stats tonight, he asked me if I wanted his football or baseball numbers.  Then when he told me he hit eight triples this year, he made sure to let me know that he attempted to alter his offensive approach this year to help highlight his speed.

For more about Lipka, click here to read some thoughts from him and Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio.

When the Draft starts up again tomorrow at noon on MLB.com, the Braves will have the third pick (53rd overall).  They will have another second-round pick (70th overall) and a third-round pick to give them four of the Draft’s first 101 selections. 

Look for the Braves to continue attempting to stockpile some offensive players with these selections.  But you can bet they’ll also attempt to take advantage of a Draft loaded with right-handed pitchers. 

West Virginia’s Jedd Gyorko is still available and I’m not mentioning his name yet again simply because he’s a fellow native of the Mountain State.  Gyorko is a proven hitter who I’ve heard compared to Boston’s Kevin Youkilis.

Bentz ended up going to the Red Sox with the 36th overall selection. 

During Tuesday’s selections, you’re almost guaranteed to see the selections of some players who will be playing in Atlanta within the next few years.  Brian McCann was the third player (behind Jeff Francoeur and Dan Meyer) selected by the Braves in the 2002 Draft.  And of course Tommy Hanson went in the 22nd round of the 2005 Draft, when teams could select prospects and evaluate them over the course of the next year before signing them.

Postgame quotes: After Tuesday night’s 7-4 loss to the D-backs, Bobby Cox said Derek Lowe hadn’t pitched as bad as his line (4 IP, 8H, 7 ER) might indicate.   But at the end of the day, Lowe couldn’t escape the fact that he needed 96 pitches to complete those four innings.

The Braves fell behind 7-1 through four innings and then battled back to cut the deficit to just three runs.  They utilized three ninth-inning walks to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.  But Chad Qualls found his command just in time to get Yunel Escobar to ground into a game-ending double play.  

(Derek Lowe on his outing)

“I’ve pitched a lot worse and given up seven runs.  It started off in the first inning where they hit one ball in the air and ended up scoring two runs.  It was just part of it.  Who knows what happened in the fourth (inning)…It wasn’t good.”

(Cox on Lowe’s outing)

“He’s a sinkerballer that had one of those nights where everything was hit just right, not hard, but we couldn’t make plays for him…He wasn’t hit hard.  A hundred pitches in four innings tells you something. You’ve got to get more strikes.”

(Eric Hinske on the offense)

“We kind of had (Dan) Haren where we wanted.  We had his pitch
count up pretty good.  We just couldn’t keep any runs off the board. 
Sometimes it goes that way.   It was a good team effort to get his
pitch count up and try to get to their bullpen.  But a six-run deficit is
kind of hard to come back from sometimes.  We’ll put it behind us and come
back tomorrow.  It’s just one loss in a four-game set.”

The Braves will send Kris Medlen to the mound on Tuesday night to oppose Edwin Jackson.  If they can at least win two of these final three games in Arizona, they’ll head to Minnesota needing to win two of three to secure a winning road trip. 

But if they return to Atlanta having won just five of 11 games on this long road trip, I don’t think there’s would be any reason to consider this trip to have been a disaster. 

Of course they could win each of these final three games in Arizona and feel even better about the current two-game lead they still hold over the Phillies. 

NOTES: It’s interesting that the Braves haven’t promoted Chris Resop and sent Jesse Chavez to the Minors.  Obviously Resop’s trade value is greater as a starter and you have to wonder if the club is concerned about bringing him to the Majors and potentially seeing that value drop…McCann was removed from Monday night’s game to rest his ailing quad.  He should be back in the lineup on Tuesday night…Chipper Jones also expects to return for the second game of this four-game set. 

      

 

Braves attempt to get healthy in Philly

After suffering their ninth loss in their past 10 road games on Thursday night, the Braves players had a chance to gain at least an ounce of optimism.   As their train rumbled from Washington to Philadelphia, they passed through Baltimore and had the chance to think, “well things could be worse.”  

Sitting 13 games behind the front-running Rays in the American League East race, the 8-21 Orioles have already given the Baltimore fans reason to anticipate the kickoff of the NFL season.  Despite losing 11 of their past 15 games, the Braves still enter this weekend’s series in Philadelphia just five games behind the first-place Phillies.  

Given that they spent most of the season’s first month without their spirited leadoff hitter (Jimmy Rollins), their closer (Brad Lidge), and two-fifths of their projected starting rotation (Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ), the Phillies are thrilled to be approaching the regular season’s sixth week in a familiar spot atop the NL East standings.  
 
And as the hits keep coming (well, at least off the field), the Braves find themselves limping into this weekend’s series without their run-producing shortstop (Yunel Escobar), a projected co-ace( Jair Jurrjens) and the concern that they may need to wait a few more days before putting Jason Heyward (sore right groin) can do anything more than serve as a pinch hitter. 

Heyward has lived up to the expectations of those who boldly predicted that he could prove to be an immediate difference maker.   But as he enjoys a stellar rookie season , he is starting to understand what Michael Jordan felt before Scottie Pippin started running with the Bulls.

Through his first 27 Major League games, Heyward has compiled eight homers and 26 RBIs.   Simply referring to these stats as team-high totals provides just a portion of the story.
 
While primarily hitting in the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup, Heyward has compiled more RBIs than the combined totals of Brian McCann (9), Chipper Jones (7) and Yunel Escobar (8).   His eight homers match the combined totals of McCann, McLouth, Jones and Glaus, who have each gone deep twice, or two fewer times than Heyward has over the course of the past seven games.

Regardless of how the rest of the Braves fare over the course of this season,  the story of Heyward’s rookie season seems destined to be memorable.
  
But if McCann, Jones and Troy Glaus continue to combine for 31 RBIs over the course of 28-game stretches, the story of Bobby Cox’s final season will be one that Stephen King could pen.

Still while there has been plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the Braves recently, the makeup of a 162-game season still provides them the opportunity to exit Philadelphia on Sunday with the belief that they still have a chance to prevent the Phillies from winning a fourth consecutive division title. 

Given the benefit of not having to face Roy Halladay this weekend, the Braves could certainly at least take two of three and reduce their division deficit to four games. 

But with Kris Medlen making a spot start on Saturday and Kenshin Kawakami going up against a recently-rejuvenated Cole Hamels on Sunday, it feels like the Braves have to win tonight, when they send Derek Lowe to the mound to face Jamie Moyer. 

The 47-year-old Moyer has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first five starts and carries a 5.70 ERA into this series opener.   Further proving how anemic Cox’s offense has been,  Moyer’s only strong effort of the year came on April 22, when he limited the Braves to two unearned runs and four hits in six innings. 

Dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season, Moyer is 15-12 with a 5.06 ERA.    In three appearances against the Braves during this span, he is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA. 

But with Lowe on the mound tonight, isn’t the Braves offense due to erupt?
 
Uh, no. 

Yes the Braves have scored seven or more runs in four of Lowe’s first six starts this year.  But while he was allowing the Phillies on five runs  —  four earned —  in five innings a couple of weeks ago,  Moyer was helping limit the Braves to just three runs.
 
As I was leaving Nationals Park last night with the AJC’s Carroll Rogers, I was reminded of one of the best goodbyes I’ve ever heard in a press box. 

After watching the Braves blow a five-run lead for the second straight day in Philadelphia on July 27, 2008, Rogers drew the attention of  the  Philadelphia Daily News’ Paul Hagen and said “I’m sure glad that I don’t have to cover 81 games in this ballpark.” 

The quick-witted Hagen responded, “I’m sure glad I don’t have to cover your team’s bullpen for 162 games.”
 
As the Braves head into tonight’s series opener, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of you are hoping to spend the next five months following something different than what you’ve witnessed during this season’s first 28 games.   
 

Will the starting rotation live up to expectations?

After suffering his Major League-high fifth loss on Tuesday night, the still-winless Kenshin Kawakami actually used the word pathetic (or that was at least what was interpreted) while describing how he has pitched this season.
 
If you agree that the tough-luck Kawakami has been “pathetic” this season, then how would you describe the path that Derek Lowe has traveled on the way to winning four of his first 6 decisions?
   
Lowe   4-2,  5.18 ERA   .264 BA .350 OBP  .774 OPS  33 IP, 33 hits and 17 BBs
Kawakami  0-5, 5.47 ERA  .298 BA .342 OBP .852 OPS   26 1/3 IP  31 hits and 8 BBs

Lowe has been opposed by six pitchers who have combined to go 10-12 with a 5.74 ERA this year.   The five pitchers who have served as Kawakami’s mound opposition have gone 18-3 with a 1.94 ERA.

Even though he has been awarded more than a third of the 11 wins the Braves have recorded this season, should we say that Lowe been “slightly less-than-pathetic?”

Or should we simply look at the big picture and realize that the early-season offseason woes have overshadowed the possibility that this Atlanta rotation might not be as strong as we projected entering the season? 

Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson, who will combine to start the final two games of the current three-game series against the Nationals, have provided indication that they are capable of being the ace-like pitchers the Braves believed they would be.  

But entering Wednesday night’s game, the Braves starters ranked eighth in the National League with a 4.28 ERA and 13th with just 143 2/3 innings completed through the season’s first 26 games.   An Atlanta pitcher has completed seven innings just three times this season with Hanson, Hudson and Jair Jurrjens accounting for those outings.

In comparison, the Phillies have seen their starting pitchers complete at least seven innings nine times already.  Yes, Roy Halladay has accounted for six of these outings.  But with Cole Hamels going eight innings in two of his past four outings, can the Braves still confidently say that their starting rotation is better than that injury-depleted one that supports the lethal offense that exists in Philadelphia? 

While Joe Blanton made his return to the Phillies rotation on Monday, the Braves currently don’t know who will be starting the final two games of this weekend’s series in Philadelphia.   Jurrjens doesn’t believe his strained hamstring will allow him to pitch on Saturday and Kawakami is at least questionable for Sunday’s start because of the blister that formed on his right foot during Tuesday night’s fourth inning.

Less than a week removed from a nine-game losing streak the Braves now find themselves battling a lack of depth in the starting pitching department.  James Parr could make Saturday’s start.  But if he does can the Braves be confident that he would eat enough innings for them to not have to call upon either Kris Medlen or Jonny Venters, the relievers who could be asked to make a spot start on Saturday. 

The Braves knew they couldn’t complete an entire season with all of their starting pitchers healthy and at this point, they can at least take solace in the fact that neither Jurrjens or Kawakami will miss any significant time. 

But as fate would have it, the Braves find themselves battling this potential dilemma during a weekend that could provide them a chance to remain within striking distance of the Phillies. 

Still I guess things could certainly be worse for the Braves.  I mean it’s lot like they suffered a 43-point loss during the first game of a conference semifinal last night.  

Speaking of yesterday, a loyal Braves fan, James Reese, snapped this picture of Tom Glavine, Frank Wren and  Dr. Joe Chandler watching Class A Rome’s home game on Tuesday.

glavwren.jpg 

Just like with his previous trip to Rome, Glavine returned to Atlanta having not allowed a run. But this time, it appears that he will incur a different fate. 

As of 2:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there was no indication that the former hurler has since been told that he has been released from his duties as a broadcaster and special assistant to the president. 

Sorry Frank, it was too easy.

Wren and Glavine are spending some time in Rome this week evaluating some of the club’s young prospects and Jordan Schafer, who has gone 2-for-7 in his first two Minor League rehab games.  The young center fielder will continue to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand before joining Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster.  

The big league Braves will have the benefit of sending Hanson to the mound tonight to oppose Luis Atilano, who has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first three career starts.   The Braves selected Atilano with their first pick (35th overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and then traded him to the Nationals on Aug. 31, 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats 5/5/2010

McLouth, 8
Prado, 4
Chipper, 5
McCann, 2
Glaus, 3
Heyward, 9
Diaz, 7
Infante, 6
Hanson, 1

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