Results tagged ‘ Eric O'Flaherty ’

Another Saturday, another shutout

Two weeks into the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have incurred their only shutout losses during the two Saturday games that they’ve played.  Suddenly, I know how some of those University of Virginia beat writers felt during those many Saturdays that Al Groh spent on their campus.

But seriously how did the Braves expect to score today while Jason Heyward was enjoying a chance to rest under this sunshine that finally arrived in Florida today.  As mentioned earlier, Heyward will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon with the split-squad that is going to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. 

There really wasn’t a lot to report from today’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.  Tim Hudson allowed three runs (two earned) and seven hits in four innings.  But he came away feeling even more confident that his splitter and changeup are better than they were before he underwent Tommy John surgery and was unable to consistently find the high arm slot that he is currently displaying. 

Billy Wagner worked a perfect fifth inning and Peter Moylan found greater comfort with his changeup in a scoreless sixth that a pair of strikeouts, a walk and one hit.  Eric O’Flaherty verbally allowed the whole stadium know he was upset after issuing one of his two walks in a scoreless seventh inning and Jesse Chavez surrendered two hits before completing a second consecutive scoreless outing. 

It was a rather productive day for the Braves pitchers and quite a quiet one for the offense, which was limited to five singles, two of which came off Melky Cabrera’s bat.

This morning Nate McLouth explained his vision isn’t to blame for his early struggles.  Then while going 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts against the Blue Jays, he prolonged them.  He now has eight strikeouts through his first 19 at-bats this year. 

McLouth began Friday’s game with a bunt single that was erased from the statistics because the game was called after three innings because of rain.  He nearly beat out another bunt single in the first inning of Saturday’s game and then found nothing but more frustration in his next two at-bats.

“I thought he saw the ball much better today,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said on Saturday.  “He aired out the swing much better, instead of trying to read every pitch.”  <p>

I still think it’s far too early to put too much stock in the statistics that have been compiled so far during the Grapefruit League.  But given that he’s the projected leadoff hitter, McLouth’s strikeout totals become more concerning when you view them as a continuation of the trend that started last year.

McLouth struck out 93 times in 597 at-bats with the Pirates in 2008.  His strikeout total rose to 99 while compiling  90 fewer at-bats with the Braves and Pirates last year.

On the bright side:
  After completing his bullpen session without having any trouble with the blister on his right big toe, Derek Lowe said something like, “Everything went great.  I got everybody out. I felt sexy. My hair was parted and I can’t wait until my Michigan Wolverines get another football coach.”

OK, Lowe said all of that minus my inclusion of the Rich Rodriguez reference.  In summation, he appears ready to make his scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals in Viera.  In case you forgot, he exited Wednesday’s outing against the Mets after one inning because this blister had formed around his right big toe. 

Cox visited the back fields this morning to watch Takashi Saito throw live batting practice and came back happy to report that the Japanese right-hander had shown better command than he had while allowing five earned runs in his first two games of the season. 

“He was in the strike zone down the whole session,” Cox said. “He really looked good.” 

Fantasy Advice:
  Those of you who are preparing for your fantasy draft may want to take a look at Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, who proved effectively wild while pitching around four walks and limiting the Braves to two hits in four scoreless innings today. 

“That Romero kid is real good,” Cox said. “When he’s right, that slider is a (Steve Carlton) slider.”

Braves team of the decade: If you guys haven’t seen it, check out this story that was written after I sat down with Pete Van Wieren, Mark Lemke and Braves media relations director Brad Hainje to select the first Braves all-decade team of this century.   

   

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.”   

Hanson scheduled to pitch exhibition season finale in Atlanta

Tommy Hanson is coming to Atlanta.  Well sort of.  Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami are scheduled to pitch next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers at Turner Field. 

With the Braves opening the season in Philadelphia the next night, manager Bobby Cox won’t want to use any of his projected relievers.  Thus  Kawakami will pitch the first four or five innings and Hanson will likely handle the next four innings.  

This will put Hanson in line to be the Opening Day starter for the Triple-A Gwinnett team that will begin its season on April 9 at Charlotte.   The relocated team will play its first game in Gwinnett on April 17.   If the schedule holds true Hanson’s first home start would occur on April 20.

Cox plans to announce his rotation on Sunday.  Kawakami’s season debut could come during April 10 home opener at Turner Field.  Or the Braves could keep projected Opening Day starter Derek Lowe on schedule and allow him to pitch that game.  This would mean Kawakami’s season debut might actually occur on April 11 against the Nats. 

While pitching in next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers, Kawakami will have a chance to acquaint himself with the Turner Field mound. 

Kawakami will make his final Grapefruit League start on Monday afternoon when he faces Daisuke Matsuzaka.  The Braves hurler has only previously opposed Dice-K came during Spring Training games in Japan. 

When asked how many media members will likely cover Monday’s game, Kawakami smiled and said “It is Japan.”    Or at least that’s what his interpreter told me that he said. 

Today’s games:   Jair Jurrjens is going to face a Yankees lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira.   Peter Moylan is scheduled to complete one inning during a Minor League game this afternoon.   Moylan will make two more appearances within the next six days and if everything goes well, he’ll begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen. 

After Jurrjens exits this afternoon’s game, Boone Logan and Mike Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch.  Logan has had two consecutive rough outings and Gonzalez is coming off an appearance during which he surrendered three earned runs and then raved about the increased velocity that he’d displayed.

We’ll be watching the radar readings when Gonzalez takes the mound to pitch in front of a sold-out crowd.  Fans have already covered most of the grass on the left field berm.

Left-handed relievers:  The Braves released left-handed reliever Jeff Ridgway this morning.  Ridgway battled elbow inflammation most of this month and really never figured into the Braves plans after they acquired Logan and Eric O’Flaherty during the offseason. 

O’Flaherty enjoyed a impressive rebound effort on Friday, when he recorded two strikeouts in a scoreless inning against the Tigers.  He had surrendered nine runs and nine hits in his previous outing. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren has provided no indication that he’s felt the need to explore ways to find veteran left-handed reliever to add to his bullpen mix.  O’Flaherty has had just the one bad outing and Logan will have a chance to end his recent struggles this afternoon.

There’s still a chance that both of these left-handed relievers will begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Former Angels: 
First baseman Casey Kotchman, who has been sick and sidelined since April 18, took batting practice on Saturday and might return to the lineup on Monday.   His former Angels teammate Garret Anderson is expected to return to action on Sunday.  Anderson has been sidelined since March 6 with a strained right calf. 

Today’s Lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Greg Norton 1B
Matt Diaz RF
Brandon Jones LF
Martin Prado 2B
Jair Jurrjens P 

 

Taking a look at the bullpen

Does the art of in-office procrastination remain enjoyable when you are overwhelmed by stories about T.O. and A-Rod?  Just wondering and assuming that you guys are ready to do some debating before the Braves stage “Bullpen Audition Night” tonight. 

This isn’t exactly a reality-show type competition.  When Jeff Bennett, Boone Logan, Manny Acosta and Phil Stockman face the Astros tonight, one of them isn’t necessarily going to be voted off of Disney Island.  But if they were to perform like Jeff Ridgway has recently, they certainly could be subject to the type of criticism that would make Simon Cowell proud. 

In two appearances, Ridgway has recorded a total of three outs, allowed seven earned runs, issued four walks and surrendered five hits. For Triple-A Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage’s sake, let’s hope things turn around for the left-handed reliever once the regular season begins.

There are still plenty of questions to answer about this year’s bullpen.  But a little more than a week into the Grapefruit League season, we can at least speculate about what it will look like on Opening Day.

Assuming that they prove to be healthy, I’d say that Moylan and Soriano join Mike Gonzalez and Blaine Boyer as the current locks to begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Boone Logan and Eric O’Flaherty are the top candidates to serve as the left-handed middle relievers and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Cox carries both to begin the season.  When you’re fighing in a division that includes Ryan Howard, Carlos Delgado, Adam Dunn and Chase Utley, you can’t ever have enough lefties in your pen.

Assuming Logan and O’Flaherty will both begin the season in the bullpen, Buddy Carlye, Jorge Campillo, Acosta, Bennett and Stockman could find themselves fighting for the final available spot.

If Bobby Cox wants to keep a long-relief guy, Carlye might be chosen over Campillo, simply because the club might want Campillo to start the season at Gwinnett and remained conditioned as a starter in case he’s needed before Tommy Hanson is officially deemed ready for the Majors.

Of course if Jo-Jo Reyes continues to pitch like he has during his first two appearances, the Braves could choose to use him as their safety net and allow Campillo to start the year in Atlanta.  But let’s not forget that Carlyle was rock solid last year, minus two appearances that occurred right after the All-Star break.

If Moylan is available and capable of regaining his pre-TJ surgery form, the Braves may be less inclined to begin the year with Jeff Bennett as their late-inning groundball speciailist.  Moylan’s versatility arguably makes him the most important piece to this bullpen.

Even though he’s out of options, I’d still have to view Stockman as a longshot to start the year in the Atlanta bullpen.  I’m also putting have Acosta in that same category.

All of these projections come with the assumption that Moylan and Soriano will both be healthy at the start of this season.  With that being said, this certainly isn’t a guarantee. 

In fact, the only thing I’d be willing to guaranteed right now is that one or more of these relievers fighting for one of the final bullpen spots will be traded before the start of the regular season.  There are plenty of teams looking for economical bullpen solutions and they’ll be calling the Braves in the very near future.

- Mark Bowman 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,649 other followers