Results tagged ‘ Derek Lowe ’

Hanson has put himself in ROY race

Before this season started, many journalists wanted to know whether Tommy Hanson would be introduced to the Major League scene in time to warrant Rookie of the Year consideration.  

Consumed by what Jordan Schafer had displayed over the previous six weeks, I primarily told them that Schafer’s contributions over a six-month period would likely trump those that Hanson would be able to provide during the regular season’s final four months.  

But as the first month of Hanson’s big league career comes to a close, you can already argue that he’s running neck-and-neck with St. Louis’ Colby Rasmus at the front of the chase to be named the NL’s Rookie of the Year.   

Five starts into his career, Hanson still hasn’t enjoyed that utterly dominant outing that he’s capable of providing on a regular basis. But while limiting the Red Sox to two hits and issuing just two walks in six innings on Sunday, we at least got a glimpse of how effective his stuff can be against one of the game’s top lineups.  

If the Red Sox don’t possess the game’s top lineup, then that distinction would have to be given to that Yankees bunch that saw Hanson work his magic last week, while pitching around five walks and holding them scoreless over 5 1/3 innings.   

After Sunday’s performance, a fan tweeted, “could Tommy Hanson be a candidate for Rookie of the Year if he keeps pitching this well?”   My response was, “if the Braves turn things around, he’s the club’s MVP.”  
Hanson has started five of the nine games the Braves have won since he joined the rotation.   His four wins this month exceed the combined totals of Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez, who have each totaled one more victory in June than the winless Jair Jurrjens.   

While going 1-3 with a 1.98 ERA and limiting opponents to a .197 batting average and .554 OPS, Vazquez was undoubtedly Atlanta’s most impressive starter in  June. But because the Braves scored just six runs during the 37 innings that he was on the mound this month, he also has to wear the unenviable tag of being  “the most unlucky”.  
 
During a four-start stretch that has seen him allow opponents a .356 on-base percentage and surrender just two runs, Hanson has obviously been somewhat lucky.  But the game’s greatest pitchers will tell you that you can often create your own “luck” and the big right-hander has done so while limiting opponents to two hits in 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

Hanson’s current streak of 20 consecutive scoreless innings dates backto the fourth inning of his June 12 start against the Orioles.  Since allowing that final run at Camden Yards, he has allowed opponents to load the bases five times and then managed to escape unscathed. 

With 17 walks and 18 strikeouts in his first 29 career innings, Hanson has provided every indication that he needs to improve.  Of course, given the results that he’s gained while battling inconsistent control with his fastball, he’s also provided even more reason to wonder just how great he could prove to be. 

During Spring Training, Guy Hansen, a long-time pitching coach in the Braves Minor League system, compared Hanson to Toronto’s Roy Halladay.  Then Sunday, Chipper Jones echoed this comparison to the former AL Cy Young Award winner. 

Going from the impressive to the least impressive, we now turn our attention toward Derek Lowe, who will attempt to end his three-game losing streak against during tonight’s series opener against the Phillies. 

Lowe, who has posted a 12.34 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .433 against him in his past three starts, will be looking to begin anew in the same impressive fashion that he displayed while tossing eight scoreless innings against the Phillies on Opening Night.   <p>

While winning just seven of their previous 21 games, the Phillies have hit .240 with a .399 slugging percentage.  Still the 29 homers they’ve hit during this span is exactly half of what the Braves have totaled throughout this season.
 
From a pitching perspective,during this 21-game stretch, the Phillies have posted a 4.84 ERA and allowed 29 homers, which is just 20 fewer than the Braves have allowed through their first 75 games this season. 

Thanks to the Phillies and Mets, the Braves have lost 20 of their last 32 games and still enter this week’s series just five games behind the front-running Phillies.
  
While the visits made by the Red Sox and Yankees created a great buzz around Turner Field last week, this week’s series will prove much more influential.  The Phillies won each of the nine games they played in Atlanta last year and if they leave town celebrating another three-game sweep this week,  the Braves will be staring at an eight-game deficit and their focus may have to toward the 2010 season. 
 

Hanson proves strong enough to start

After making it through his warmup session in the bullpen, Tommy Hanson has taken the mound to make this afternoon’s start against the Red Sox. 

With Hanson battling the flu, the Braves were prepared to go with Kris Medlen.  

The Braves also announced this morning that they’ll skip Kenshin Kawakami’s next turn in the rotation.  Thus, Derek Lowe will start Tuesday’s series opener against the Phillies on regular rest.  Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez will start the final two games against the defending world champs. 

Kawakami, who was struck on the right side of his neck with a Joba Chamberlain line drive on Wednesday, will start Friday’s series opener against the Nationals in Washington D.C.  This arrangement will allow Hanson to start the following day with an extra day of rest.

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.       

Will daunting stretch be the turnaround point?

As the Braves prepare for this 13-game stretch that will pit them against the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Phillies, we can either focus on the tone of “Taps” or take the optimistic approach by taking the belief that this will be the two-week stretch that will turn the whole season around. 

While taking two of three against the Yankees this week, the Nationals provided hope or  at least made Herm Edwards proud by proving that “you play to win the game.”

With their starting rotation, the Braves will at least enter this stretch with the confidence that they’ll have at least be in every game that is played.  But as Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez will be the first to attest, mound dominance will only lead to utter frustration when backed by an offense that has habitually provided minimal support. 

But we’re going to keep things positive and take the assumption that Thursday’s seven-run uprising in Cincinnati was a sign of things to come for Bobby Cox’s offense.  With his four-RBI performance, Nate McLouth showed what he could do at the top of the lineup and at the same time provided himself more reason to feel comfortable within his new enviroment. 

In addition, we were reminded that things seem to click when Martin Prado and Matt Diaz are in the lineup.  Unfortunately the Braves are scheduled to face right-handed starters during each of their next five games and thus we may find ourselves watching much more of Garret Anderson and Kelly Johnson than Diaz and Prado. 

The Braves are 14-11 in the games that Prado has started and 15-13 in the games started by Diaz.  They are 14-10 in games against a left-handed starting pitcher and 17-24 in games during which the opponents starts a right-hander.

During Thursday’s win, Diaz certainly made an impressive bid to earn more time in left field.  His fourth-inning solo homer provided cushion and his sixth-inning leadoff double led to a three-run inning that allowed Tommy Hanson to cruise toward his second straight win. 

But Diaz’s bid to earn more playing time was most significantly enhanced with his fifth-inning diving grab in left-center field with one out and runners on first and second base.  If Anderson had been in left field, that ball gets to the wall, at least one run scores and there’s no guarantee that Hanson would have been able to once again wiggle out of the ensuing jam.

While finding himself in a platoon, Anderson certainly hasn’t provided the offensive production the Braves envisioned.    In 108 at-bats against right-handers, he has hit .231 with a .612 OPS.   In 43 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, he has hit .326 with a .774 OPS. 

Then of course, while hitting .238 with a .670 OPS in June, Anderson hasn’t recently found consistent success against anybody.  At the same time, 2ith a .267 batting average and .746 OPS this month, Diaz hasn’t exactly set the word on fire.

But with his defense and further proof that he is capable of finding equal success against right-handers and left-handers,  Diaz at least provided further reason to argue that he should be seeing more time in left field.

In 60 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year, Diaz has hit .267 with a .777 OPS.  In 58 at-bats against lefties, he has hit .293 with an .812 OPS. 

Prado’s case: While hitting .306 (15-for-49) against lefties and .238 (15-for-63) against righties, Prado has made it a little harder to argue that he should be seeing more time at second base. 

But his argument proves to be much stronger when you account for the fact that Johnson has hit .148 with an abysmal .402 OPS in 14 games this month.  If a bigger sample size is needed, Johnson has hit .216 with a .630 OPS in his past 27 games. 

Statistically, Johnson has once again proven that he doesn’t necessarily benefit from the platoon that puts him in the lineup against right-handers.   He is hitting .196 with a .569 OPS in 148 at-bats against righties and .303 with a .948 OPS in 66 at-bats against lefties.

Weekend prediction:  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be a productive weekend for Jeff Francoeur.  Playing in front of his Boston-area relatives, Frenchy is once again going to prove that he’s one of those guys who can rise to the occasion.  During his only previous three-game series at Fenway Park, he had eight hits, including a double and a homer, in 15 at-bats.

Lowe’s blog is live:  On Saturday, Derek Lowe will be making his first start in Boston since helping the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series.  He talks about some of those memories in the first installment of his new blog.    

Jurrjens aiming to prolong recent success

While watching Chipper Jones play catch with Kelly Johnson a few minutes ago, I couldn’t tell if his right elbow is healthy enough for him to return to the lineup tonight.  I’ll let you know when I return from the clubhouse.

But until then let’s talk about the fact that the Braves have already guaranteed a winning record for this road trip that Jair Jurrjens said would set the tone for the rest of the season.  Through the first six games of this trip, they’ve already removed the Phillies from first-place status and there’s a chance that they could perform the same act on the Mets by the time tomorrow’s series finale is complete. 

Jurrjens, who ranks fifth in the National League with a 2.01 ERA, has allowed six earned runs in his past five starts.  Oddly the three earned runs he’s combined to allow in his past two outings have come courtesy of solo homers hit by Lance Berkman and Hanley Ramirez (two).

Among those Major Leaguers who have completed at least 150 innings since the beginning of the 2008 season, Jurrjens ranks fifth with a 0.55 homers-per-nine innings mark.   Derek Lowe, who shut the Mets down for seven innings on Monday night, ranks sixth with a 0.56 mark. 

David Wright accounted for the only homer (another solo shot) that Jurrjens has surrendered in 18 career innings against the Mets.  Wright will be back in the lineup tonight, but Carlos Delgado, who is dealing with a hip ailment that could send him to the disabled list, likely will once again be absent.

This is good news for the Braves.  Delgado has hit .387 with four homers and a 1.102 OPS in his last 16 games against them.    

Two-game sweep followed by a two-hour delay

Coming off a relaxing two-day stretch away from the team, I certainly wasn’t happy to be introduced to the two-hour delay that Delta presented this morning.  
But refreshed from the two-day break, I’m going to keep a positive outlook and be thankful that the long concourses at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport provide wide-ranging ways to pass the time.  Thus instead of feeling my blood pressure rise while the AJC’s Dave O’Brien continued to complain about the delay, I opted to participate in the more tranquil activity of dancing barefoot on a bed of nails.  
OK, enough stretching the truth to simply deliver a point.   What I’m trying to say is that there’s a light at the end of every tunnel and the Braves have seemingly started to dig themselves out of a mess by beginning this eight-game road trip with a two-game sweep of the Marlins.
When you’ve got your ace (Derek Lowe) going up against a Minor League replacement (Graham Taylor), you’re obviously supposed to win.   Then when you finally give Jair Jurrjens the little bit of run support that he’s been seeking over the past couple of weeks, you certainly need to take advantage of this opportunity to sweep your way out of South Florida.   
But the Braves have simply passed level one during this game that we’ll call May’s influential road trip.   Fortunately like in the world of video games, passing this first challenge has gained them the opportunity to enter their upcoming battles against the Mets and Phillies with a new weapon in the form of Brian McCann.  
With his new prescription Oakley sports glasses, McCann is expected to return to the lineup for tonight’s series opener against Cole Hamels and the Phillies.   It’s going to take him some time to get comfortable with his new goalie-style mask.  In addition, he’s going to have to find a way to limit the amount of fog that gathers on his lenses as a result of heat and perspiration.  
But as long as he can continue his productive offensive ways, the Braves are going to start consistently providing the support that their pitching staff has been consistently denied over the past three weeks.    We’re 28 games into the season and it’s been 24 games since McCann made his presence felt in the lineup.
This is the primary reason that it’s truly remarkable that the Braves are just two games behind the front-running Phillies in the National League East race.  If we truly are trying to look at things in a positive light, would it be ridiculous to at least allow yourself to think about the possibility of them sweeping their way to the top of the division by the end of the weekend?  
In order to defense against being held responsible for jinxing the possibility, I will say that the numbers prove that there’s no way in Philadelphia that Jo-Jo Reyes will beat Hamels tonight.  
During his 11 career starts against the Braves, Hamels has allowed two runs or fewer six times.  In his past three appearances at Citizens Bank Park, Reyes has worked 12 2/3 innings, allowed 20 hits and posted a 9.24 ERA.  
But this is the new-and-improved Reyes and Hamels has to go all the way back to Sept. 18 to remember his last win against the Braves.  Five days later, while allowing two earned runs in seven innings, he suffered his first loss against them in a span of nine starts.
The decisive blow that provided Mike Hampton a win that Sept. 23 evening came courtesy of Casey Kotchman’s sixth-inning solo homer.  
If you are only as good as your last game, then Kotchman is coming into Philadelphia on a power barrage.   The Braves first baseman homered for the first time this season during his three-hit performance against the Marlins on Thursday afternoon.  
While compiling a team-high 12 extra-base hits this year, Kotchman has lived up to the billing of being a solid gap hitter with limited power.  But in Hamels’ eyes, the left-handed slugger has plenty of pop in his bat.  
In nine career at-bats against Hamels, Kotchman has collected four hits and three of those have landed over the outfield wall.   Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Delgado and Jorge Cantu are the only other Major Leaguers who have hit three homers against the Phillies ace and each of them have compiled this total with at least 14 at-bats.  
Kevin Millwood is the only other Major League pitcher that Kotchman has  homered against three times.  He has reached this total in a span of 15 at-bats against the former Atlanta right-hander.  
Kotchman is a reserved man who generally hides his emotions.  But this will certainly be a special Mother’s Day weekend for him and his family.  As many of you know, his mother, Sarah, nearly lost her life when her brain began to hemorrhage  last August.  
It was great to see Mrs. Kotchman and her husband, Tom, at Turner Field on Monday.   They are justifiably proud of their son and it was truly a delight to talk to them about the miraculous medical ordeal that they encountered last year.  
I want to thank them for taking time to talk about the event and end this blog by saying Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, Sara Bowman.  
Many of us will say thank you to our mothers this weekend. But can words truly convey the appreciation we have for the women who gave us life and then sacrificed so much with the hope that ours would at least be as great as the ones they’ve enjoyed?   

 

 

Getting back to work

If you are not complaining, then you are not watching.  Or is it more appropriate to say, if you are not complaining, then you are not blogging?

Whatever the case, even if the Braves had started this season 11-4 (as opposed to 7-8), we’d all still be voicing our concerns about a specific aspect or aspects of the club.  To truly enjoy the splendor of a 162-game season, you basically have to treat every day like a new episode of “24″.

Of course in relation to “24″, we all know that Jack Bauer is going to eventually escape or overcome any and every terrorist attack that he encounters.  In the baseball world, we’re not so sure about tomorrow will bring.

The suspense of this current season has us wondering when Brian McCann might regain his optimal vision and help the slumbering Braves offense to awake.

During the last nine games, the Braves have scored 24 runs (11 in one game), batted .229, recorded a .312 on-base percentage and produced a .345 slugging percentage.   The sample size is too small to provide reason to worry.  But it is somewhat telling to see that left-handed hitters have batted just .181 during this span. 

That number is a direct reflection of the recent struggles encountered by McCann, who has just one hit in the 19 at-bats he’s totaled over the past nine games.  The Braves can only hope that his vision continues to improve to the point that he’s able to prove why many believe he’s the game’s top offensive catchers. 

We’ve all discussed how losing Chipper Jones for an extended period would be a crushing blow to this club’s postseason aspirations.  While this is true, you could argue that McCann’s presence is even more important because his absence directly affects Jones’ potential production. 

As long as opponents are fearing McCann in the cleanup spot, Jones is going to have the necessary protection that will allow him to see good pitches on a regular basis.  

If McCann continues to struggle or is forced to miss time, you’ll either see Jones’ walk total rise or his impatience grow to the point that he’s chasing bad pitches far too often.

In the event that McCann is forced to miss an extended period, Jeff Francoeur might be the best option to fill the cleanup spot.  It would be interesting to see how often opposing pitchers would be willing to challenge him to find out if he truly has turned things around. 

In a team-high 60 at-bats, Francoeur has batted .317 with a .795 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).   As long as he stays patient, the power numbers will increase as the summer progresses and you’ll likely once again see him produce another 100-RBI season.

The most encouraging aspect about Francoeur’s start stems from the fact that he’s hit .471 (8-for-17) with runners in scoring position.  While the sample size is small, there’s at least indication that he’s no longer pressing like he did when he hit .193 with RISP last year.  

(While looking for Francoeur’s stats, I noticed Andruw Jones has five hits in his first six at-bats with RISP.   It’s still amazing to think that Andruw had 128 RBIs while hitting just .207 with RISP in 2005.)

Rotation producing optimism:   Most of the optimism the Braves possessed entering the season centered around their reconstucted rotation.   So far this new group of starters has lived up to expectations.  They rank second in the National Leauge with a 3.27 ERA and the 88 innings they’ve completed are five fewer than the League-leading total completed by the Pirates. 

Javier Vazquez could have won each of his first three starts and Jair Jurrjens has been nothing but impressive since proving fortunate to win his first two outings. Derek Lowe showed his potential dominance on Opening Night and provided more reason to believe he’s at his best during big games.

The only two losses Lowe has incurred during his past 14 starts have occurred at excitement-starved Nationals Park.  But it should be noted that he pitched effectively during both of those outings. 

The Braves haven’t provided any indication that they’re going to promote Tommy Hanson within the next week.  They are in position where they can continue to let the 22-year-old right-hander gain more season at the Minor League level. 

Obviously Hanson has the potential to be a valuable asset during the stretch run and because of this, the Braves haven’t allowed him to exceed the 100-pitch limit during his first three starts with Triple-A Gwinnnett.   Unfortunately because of high pitch counts during the early innings, this has prevented him from completing at least five innings during two of those outings. 

Once Hanson is promoted to the Majors (my best guess remains first week of June), the Braves should have a rotation that would rival the Marlins for the division’s finest.   The Mets haven’t found any consistency behind Johan Santana and the entire Phillies rotation is going to have neck problems before the season is complete. 

Philadelphia’s starters have accounted for 22 of the 31 homers the club has surrendered this year.  Kenshin Kawakami has accounted for three of the seven homers the Braves pitching staff has surrendered this year.

It was nice to have a few days to visit family and relax this week. But it’s time to get back to work and see if the Braves can alter the mood of this road trip, which has so far proven to be forgettable.   

Lowe set the tone

While enjoying some idle time in Philadelphia yesterday, one of the Braves coaches asked me, “what was the most important thing that happened last night?”  Thinking it might be a trick question, I initially thought about Jordan Schafer’s homer, Jeff Francoeur’s homer and Mike Gonzalez’s ability to escape the ugly ninth-inning mess that he created.

Another comical bystander said, “I think it was McCann’s monstrous first-inning homer.  That just intimidated everybody.”

But while the homers hit by Francoeur and Schafer created nice story lines, Derek Lowe’s masterful performance undoubtedly was the most important Opening Night development.  He allowed just two Phillies to reach base over the course of eight innings. SI.com’s Tom Verducci reported that no pitcher had previously allowed two baserunners or fewer while throwing at least eight innings at Citizens Bank Park.

Whether or not you want to call Lowe an ace, you can’t dispute the fact that his performance trumped any other produced by any other pitcher so far this season.   With that being said, Felix Hernandez’s effort with a bum ankle yesterday was certainly masterful. 

During Spring Training, one veteran observer told me that Hernandez was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen and that Tommy Hanson ranked right behind King Felix.  Hanson and the Triple-A Gwinnett team will get things started on Thursday morning in Charlotte.  First pitch is set for 11:15 a.m and you’ll be able to follow the game via the Gameday feature provided on Milb.com.

Enough about the future ace.  Let’s turn our attention back to Lowe, who undoubtedly set the tone for the Opening Night victory that allowed the Braves to truly enjoy yesterday’s rain-filled offday in Philly. 

If McCann hadn’t drilled his first-inning two-run homer into the second deck, there’s a chance that Lowe could have once again been undone by the emotions that had felled him during his previous two Opening Day starts. 

But straying away from the “if my aunt had a beard” line of thinking, Lowe didn’t and consequently allowed the Braves to begin the season in a near-perfect manner.   While evaluating that game, critics could only point toward the stress-filled ninth-inning that Gonzalez experienced while attempting to protect a four-run lead.

After the game, manager Bobby Cox talked to Gonzalez about the need to bounce his breaking pitches when ahead in the count.  The two singles surrendered by the left-handed closers came on sliders that were thrown during at-bats that began with first-pitch strikes.  

When pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett fell behind with a 1-2 count and then laced a single into left field, it was impossible to forget about last year, when the Phillies claimed four of their 14 wins over the Braves in games that they were once trailing by at least three runs.

But after Chase Utley drew a five-pitch walk to bring Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run, Gonzalez began pitching like he did during the 2006 season, when he successfully converted each of his 24 save opportunities, despite allowing opponents to produce a .325 on-base percentage.

With runners at first and second and the Braves holding a two-run lead, Gonzalez recorded game-ending conseuctive strikeouts of Howard and Raul Ibanez.  He utilized nine sliders (including five of six pitches to Howard) during this 12-pitch sequence and recorded both strikeouts with fastballs that registered 93 mph.

That was the best velocity we’ve seen from Gonzalez at any point this year.  But I think it’s becoming more apparent that his success will be better dictated by his control and ability to efffectively throw his breaking balls. One positive he can draw from Sunday is the fact that his slider certainly improved as the inning progressed. 

By the way, during the 2006 season with runners on first and second base, Gonzalez limited opponents to four hits in 24 plate appearances, recorded eight strikeouts and issued one walk.   There’s no doubt that he has the abilty to thrive under pressure. 

But for the sake of Cox’s blood pressure, let’s hope that some of his ninth innings prove to be a little less stressful. 

Something memorable will occur

During the final day of last year’s September series in Philadelphia, Jeff Francoeur sat in the dugout and talked about how he was looking forward to being back in that same spot to open this season. 

At the time, he specifically mentioned being here on the afternoon of April 6.  But that was before the Phillies won a World Series and prompted ESPN to choose tonight’s game as the one that will kick off Major League Baseball’s season. 

This marks the second straight year that the Braves will participate in the first game played on United States soil.  Last year in Washington, the Nationals were opening a new stadium and George Bush was present to throw the first pitch, which drew an ovation only trumped by the one elicited after Ryan Zimmerman drilled the evening’s final pitch over the left-centerfield wall.

After tonight, this long marathon will include 161 more regular season games and
there’s sure to be some pitching matchups that will create some
midseason energy.  But until you get to October, it’s hard to match the
adrenaline you feel leading into an Opening Night (Day) game. 

Something will happen tonight that you’ll remember for many years to come.    

I seriously can’t remember the second game that was played during any of the past four seasons.  But  Ihave vivid memories of each of the Opening Day contests that were played during this span.  In 2005, the Marlins ruined John Smoltz’s return to the rotation and in 2006, Tim Hudson teamed with Derek Lowe to allow the Braves and Dodgers to stage an 11-10 offensive slugfest that was decided by Ryan Langerhans’ eighth-inning solo homer.  

In 2007, Edgar Renteria hit a late-inning opposite-field homer that propelled the Braves to victory over the Phillies and then last year, Zimmerman gave Nationals fans reason to celebrate by christening the stadium with its first walk-off homer.

The Braves opened the 2007 season with a three-game sweep in Philadelphia and then, six months later, watched the Phillies celebrate the first of two consecutive division titles.

Obviously nothing will be detemined tonight, this week or even this month.  But you can be assured that something memorable will happen tonight. 

Speaking of memorable, I’m looking forward to July 17, when the Braves retire Greg Maddux’s number.  It was an absolute pleasure to watch him on the mound and a true honor to get to know him.  Analytical, hilarious, crude, competitive and humble are all appropriate descriptions.

To provide an example that his analytical skills functioned away from the mound, I’ll tell you about a day in 2003, when we were in Puerto Rico.  Chipper Jones told me that Mark DeRosa had visited a store and bought a can of dip that he was sure must have been transported on The Mayflower. 

After relaying DeRosa’s humorous line, Maddux simply looked at me and said, “It wouldn’t have been the Mayflower.  I think the Pinta or Santa Maria were the boats that would have landed down here.”

It doesn’t matter whether the Pinta or Santa Maria actually arrived in Puerto Rico.  The point is that Maddux was always thinking and while taking joy in his argumentitive skills, he always made you feel like he was that much smarter than you.  But he always did so in a very humble manner.

Maddux had a great impact on a number of pitchers, including Derek Lowe, who will make his Braves debut tonight against Brett Myers and the Phillies. 

This marks the fourth straight year the Braves have opened on the road and their only two Opening Day wins during this span came in games that were started by Lowe (2006 Dodgers) and Myers (2007 Phillies).

Will Jordan Schafer be the one who provides the lasting memory while making his Major League debut tonight?  Or will it be Francoeur, who would love to take the opportunity to show a national television audience why this year will be so much different than last year.   
 

 

Francoeur catches a big one

Unable to take batting practice because of a potential rainstorm that never arrived, the Braves spent the past couple of hours rehearsing for the inevitable long rain delays that await them this year. 

Jeff Francoeur grabbed a fishing pole and threw his line into a pond that is located just outside the visitor’s clubhouse here at Osceola County Stadium and came away with 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass, that was slightly bigger than Kris Medlen.

Speaking of Medlen, he’s going to pitch tonight and attempt to once again put himself in position to grab one of the final bullpen spots.   His candidacy was tarnished on Friday when he allowed the Blue Jays three runs  –  two earned — and three hits in 1 1/3 innings. 

Medlen’s odds of beginning the season in Atlanta might have already been diminished earlier today, when Rafael Soriano enjoyed a pain-free bullpen session at Disney.  The right-handed reliever will pitch here at Francoeur’s Fishing Preserve on Thursday, when the Braves conclude their Grapefruit League season against the Triple-A Astros.

Chipper Jones ended tonight’s top of the first by looking at a called third strike thrown by Russ Ortiz.  Unfortunately, the Astros found it difficult to swing and miss anything that Derek Lowe threw them during the bottom of the first inning. 

When Lowe exits tonight, Peter Moylan and Mike Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch.  There no longer seems to be reason to wonder whether Moylan will be in the bullpen when the season starts on Sunday night.

“I’m sick of reading the Braves remain hopeful that Moylan will be ready,” Moylan said. “I’m going to be ready.”

Garret Anderson is getting his first opportunity to test his right calf as an outfielder tonight.  Thanks to the fact that Lowe’s sinker didn’s sink too much during the first inning, the veteran outfielder has already had to do some running.

When Brian McCann returns to the lineup on Wednesday, he might be wearing a suit of armor.  A foul tip bruised the All-Star catcher’s right ring finer on Saturday and then when he returned to action on Monday, a foul ball left a nasty bruise just above his right knee.

 
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