Results tagged ‘ Eric Hinske ’

Hinske will return to Braves for 2011 season

Eric Hinske delivered a number of timely hits for the Braves last summer and he has now proven that he has the ability to come through in the clutch during the winter months. 

About six hours after the “LeBron returns to Cleveland” storyline had become nauseating, Braves fans were given reason to distance themselves from the basketball world and focus on Hinske’s return.

Hinske might not have received the two-year deal he was seeking.  But the Braves appeased him enough with a one-year contract that includes an option for the 2012 season.

“It’s a perfect fit,” Braves veteran catcher Brian McCann said.  “There
are a lot of guys who are going to be excited to hear about this.” 

Hinske hit .256 with 11 homers  and a .793 OPS in the 320 plate appearances he compiled in 131 games with the Braves last year.
  
With Martin Prado targeted to serve as the primary left fielder, Hinske will likely be primarily utilized as a left-handed pinch-hitter, who will see some time in left field and also serve as insurance in the event that Freddie Freeman struggles during his early days at the Major League level.

The Braves still haven’t announced their decisions leading into tonight’s deadline for arbitration-eligible players.  But there still isn’t any reason to believe that they plan to tender Matt Diaz a contract.

I still think Diaz will wind up with his good friend Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia.   

Braves hope their offensive woes stayed in Atlanta

It’s early, but based on the frustration I could sense in the clubhouse after last night’s loss to Jamie Moyer and the Phillies, I’d have to say the Braves players and coaches share many of the worries you developed while watching them split this recent homestand.

Yes, the Braves managed to win win three of six on this past homestand.  But at the same
time, they needed two dramatic ninth-inning comebacks to prevent going
1-5 during this stretch against the Rockies and Phillies.

It will be a homestand remembered for the two clutch hits that Jason Heyward provided to erase deficits with two outs in the ninth inning.  But even Heyward encountered struggles during this homestand, hitting .211 (4-for-19) with seven strikeouts.  

During this six-game stretch at Turner Field, the Braves hit .225, which is actually better than the .214 mark they have compiled over the previous 10 games entering tonight’s series opener against the Mets. 

Yes,  the Braves were burdened by the fact that they faced Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo No-No Jimenez during this stretch.  But in the seven games that they didn’t face these elite hurlers, they managed to hit just .249, a mark that would rank as the 11th-best in the 16-team National League this year.  

J.D. Drew, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan have provided the reminder that many talented players can find their batting averages resting below the Mendoza line during this early stage of the season. 

But as Braves manager Bobby Cox will certainly attest, you can’t have too many key players falling into this category at one time.  

Through the first 15 games of the season, Nate McLouth (.171), Troy Glaus (.170), Matt Diaz (.167) and Melky Cabrera (.125) all find themselves serving as the holes that Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson were during the early portion of the 2009 season. 

McLouth has shown some recent promise and at least provided indication that it’s time for him to play everyday and prove he can be the leadoff hitter the Braves envisioned entering Spring Training.  Yes, he hit just .200 (3-for-15) during the homestand. 

But he followed Tuesday’s walk-off homer with what I thought was a solid 0-for-4 effort against Halladay.  He put good wood on the ball with each of the four balls he put in play. 

As for Glaus, I haven’t exactly seen him benefit from the clutch two-run homer he hit in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s thrilling victory.   That stands as the only hit he’s tallied in his past 23 at-bats  —  a span that includes eight strikeouts. 

Last impressions are always the strongest and the fact that I think there’s more reason to worry about Glaus than McLouth, might just be a product of the fact that the Braves first baseman accounted for two of the 11 strikeouts Jamie Moyer has posted in 18 innings this year.  

Diaz’s early-season struggles aren’t anything new.  On the way to hitting .313 last year, he hit .216 in April. 

Cabrera’s early struggles only seemingly confirm the belief that he will be best utilized as a fourth outfielder, whose versatility will allow him to platoon with Diaz and occasionally give McLouth or Jason Heyward a breather.

Making matters worse for the Braves is the fact that Yunel Escobar is hitting .203 and has totaled just three RBIs since driving in a career-high five runs on Opening Day.  His offensive woes have seemingly affected his body language. 

But as I mentioned in last night’s game story, if the Braves do indeed decide to put Omar Infante at shortstop for tonight’s series opener against the Mets, it won’t be solely because Escobar has struggled from an offensive standpoint. 

During Wednesday night’s game against Halladay, the Braves loaded the bases with one out and then saw Escobar rip a sharp grounder that hit the mound and landing in the glove of a diving Chase Utley, who flipped to first base to begin the run-preventing, inning-ending double play. 

Escobar appeared to be pacing himself down the first base line and a National League scout later told me that he had him clocked at 4.54 going down the line.  Just to give you an idea of what that means, I mentioned that to one of the Braves coaches and they playfully responded, “isn’t that what Eddie (Perez) ran?” 

Then Escobar played a role in the three-run third inning the Phillies constructed against Derek Lowe on Thursday night.  While the official scorer gave Martin Prado the error, there were some in the Braves clubhouse who felt that his double-play feed to Escobar was certainly good enough for a double-play to have been turned. 

My thought was that Prado’s feed was certainly good enough to account for at least one out.  But seemingly preparing to leap over the oncoming runner, Escobar dropped the feed and consequently allowed the Phillies to score two of the three runs they tallied that inning. 

Escobar is a tremendous talent, who has the capability of proving to be one of the game’s best shortstops.  But as the Braves leaned last year while benching him at least three times, there are times when it’s best to make him sit and think about things for at least one game.

As for Glaus, some of you have suggested that the Braves platoon him at first base with Eric Hinske.  I haven’t gained a sense Cox is ready to do this. But the career numbers indicate this is something that might work if Glaus continues to struggle.

GLAUS 
vs. LHP   1267 ABs  .275 BA  87 HRs  .949 OPS
vs. RHP   3784 ABs  .247  219 HRs   .820 OPS

HINSKE 
vs. LHP   673 ABs  .221 19 HRs  .667 OPS
vs. RHP  2439 ABs .263 BA 94 HRs .805 OPS

With Glaus having basically missed all of last year, the Braves are
certainly going to give him more than 15 games to get re-acquainted to
the speed of the game.  But this might be an arrangement that Cox occasionally at least toys with over the next couple days and weeks. 

    

 

 

Heyward draws comparison to Pujols

When asked about the 450-foot homer that Jason Heyward bounced off the building beyond the right field wall here in Lakeland this afternoon, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was serious when he said, “He didn’t get all of it, but it went a long way.”

It’s widely recognized that Heyward will likely hit a number of home runs before his big league career is over some time around 2030.  But as the baseball world is coming to realize, his power is just a portion of his talents that set him up to be one of upper echelon talents who realize immediate success at the Major League level.

After watching Heyward battle back from an 0-2 count, spit on a 2-2 fastball that just missed the outside corner and then send Max Scherzer’s 3-2 fastball into orbit, Tigers manager Jim Leyland drew comparisons to the plate discipline and patience he saw from a young Albert Pujols nearly a decade ago.

“Obviously a young man that size, with the strength he has, he looks like a good-looking young player,” Leyland said.  “I was very impressed with his patience at the plate. That’s what I was impressed with more than anything. He didn’t chase any bad balls. That’s what impressed me. I was impressed with his at-bats. He didn’t even offer at anything unless it was a strike.  Pujols was the other guy I saw that was like that.”  <p> 

Braves manager Bobby Cox added, “I don’t think he has swung at a bad pitch yet.”

It will be years before Heyward could even be considered to be put in the lofty realm of Pujols.  But it’s still pretty telling that he’s already drawing comparisons to the Cardinals first baseman, who hit .329 with 37 homers while playing his 2001 rookie season at the ripe age of 21.

Jurrjens to face Yanks:  As originally reported, Jair Jurrjens is once again scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday against the Yankees.  But first the 24-year-old right-hander will test his shoulder one more time during a live batting practice session on Tuesday night.  

Huddy’s outing:  When Tim Hudson needed just 15 pitches to complete two scoreless innings against the Mets last week, he walked away wondering how he had gotten away a number of pitches that didn’t find their intended location. 

Hudson was once again dissatisfied with the fastball command he had while limiting the Tigers to one run and three hits in three innings on Monday afternoon.  But with his changup and sinker working, the 34-year-old right-hander walked away from the outing pretty satisfied. 

Jo-Jo as a reliever:  With yet another strong outing amid the setting of a Spring Training game, Jo-Jo Reyes once again drew some praise from Cox, who believes the left-handed hurler has improved both his sinker and slider. 

After Reyes limited the Tigers to one hit and recorded three strikeouts in two scoreless innings, Cox was asked if the left-hander might be considered for a relief role.

“More and more, it looks like he could,” Cox said. “My idea was always to have him start and be ready.  But if he throws like he’s throwing right now, he could go either way.”

Cox added that this possibility hasn’t been discussed.  Given the limited depth of starters that would be deemed Major League-ready at the beginning of the year, this might end up being an option that is never truly explored.

Odds and ends:  With two more hits on Monday, Troy Glaus has now recorded a single in each of his past five at-bats…Eric Hinske entered Monday with one hit in his first eight plate appearances of the year and exited with his own three-hit performance…You can watch Heyward and the rest of the Braves face Roy Halladay and the Phillies on CSS tomorrow night.   First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.    
    

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