Results tagged ‘ Garret Anderson ’

Cox shuffles power-hungry lineup

If Braves general manager Frank Wren’s attempt to land a power bat proves unsuccessful, he might want to see if the Phillies are willing to trade Citizens Bank Park in exchange for Turner Field.

In fact, while thinking out of the box, he might want to call the Reds or any other team that is capable of providing a homer-happy environment in exchange for Turner Field, a place that has become the kryptonite to the power-limited Atlanta lineup.
 
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Rockies, the Braves had scored one run in their previous 18 innings and won just three of their previous 14 home games.  Working with a roster that doesn’t possess a legit leadoff or cleanup hitter, manager Bobby Cox is going to have to employ some serious chemistry skills to form an effective equation with his current elements.  

With his latest attempt on Tuesday night,  Cox moved Yunel Escobar into the leadoff spot, placed Casey Kotchman in the second spot and positioned Brian McCann back in the cleanup spot.  Kelly Johnson will bat sixth, where he’s found success in the past.

Tonight’s Lineup
SS Yunel Escobar
1B Casey Kotchman
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
LF Garret Anderson
2B Kelly Johnson
 RF Jeff Francoeur
CF Jordan Schafer
P Jair Jurrjens

In  346 career plate appearances in the lineup’s first spot, Escobar has hit .317 with  a .378 on-base percentage.   In the 72 plate appearances he’s recorded while serving as the game’s first hitter, the Cuban shortstop has .429 with a .444 on-base percentage. 

The potential benefit of placing Kotchman in the second spot stems from the fact that he routinely puts the ball in play.  In the 316 plate appearances he’s registered since joining the Braves, the veteran first baseman has struck out 32 times   —  or  just 13 times more than the second hitter in Atlanta’s lineup has registered in 169 plate appearances this year. 

Putting McCann in the cleanup spot provides Chipper Jones the protection he needs against pitchers, who still haven’t been given much reason to fear Garret Anderson’s bat.    In the 11 games he’s recorded since returning from the disabled list, Anderson has hit .262 (11-for-42) and tallied just two extra-base hits  — both doubles.

Johnson, who has batted .191 with a .262 on-base percentage in 105 plate appearances as the leadoff hitter this year, will now have an opportunity to display his run-producing skills.  He has hit .289 with a .344 on-base percentage in 90 career plate appearances , while batting sixth. 

Jumbling the order of the lineup might enhance the power by giving Jones the potential to see better pitches with McCann hitting behind him.  But this is a club that is in dire need of benefiting from the longball.  

Entering Tuesday, the Braves had scored 58 runs during their 17 home games.  The only Major League team with a lower home total was the White Sox with 56 runs after 16 dates at U.S. Cellular Field. 

The six home runs the Braves had tallied at home ranked as the Major League’s lowest mark, sitting five dingers behind the 29th-ranked Giants.
 
The Braves have totaled 28 homers this year and 12 of those were hit during this six games they played at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.  Another four were tallied during the three-game series at Cincinnati’s compact stadium.

Further showing the power discrepancy that has been produced outside of Atlanta, the Braves have homered once every 31.7 at-bats on the road and once every 90.7 times at home.  The Giants have compiled the Major League’s second worst home mark with one homer every 62.7 at-bats.    

While you’re at it Frank, see if the Phillies are also willing package Ryan Howard with their ballpark.

Twitter @mlbbravesscribe.com

Bats prepared to come to life at Turner Field

Instead of dissecting statistics to determine why the Braves have encountered most of their success on the road, you can look at the simple fact that Brian McCann and Garret Anderson have been in the same lineup just once at Turner Field this year.

OK, now let’s delve into the numbers to show why the Braves have gone 2-9 at home since opening Turner Field with a three-game sweep of the Nationals.  In these 11 games, the Braves have hit .236 with THREE homers, a .329 on-base percentage and a .325 slugging percentage.

While going 6-2 on their recently-completed road trip, the Braves hit .285 with seven homers, a .380 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage.   This improved production was obviously a direct result of  Anderson and McCann returning from the disabled list last week.

With the Braves opening a 10-game homestand on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, the home fans should also be prepared to see the return of Chipper Jones’ bat, which slumbered as McCann and Anderson dealt with their ailments. 

During the past 11 home games, four Braves players produced a .300 batting average (min. 20 at-bats)    —  Omar Infante  (.355), Jeff Francoeur (.310), Casey Kotchman (.306) and Yunel Escobar (.300).   The next-best batting average compiled during this span was .208 — a mark produced by both David Ross and Kelly Johnson. 

This lineup obviously revolves around the success of Jones and the team-worst .143 batting average he produced during the past 11 home games was a direct result of some of the impatience he showed while facing pitchers, who didn’t feel the need to challenge him without Anderson and McCann hitting behind him. 

The 11 walks Jones drew during this 11-game span represent half the total he’s tallied through the first 27 games that he’s played this year.

“I stayed as patient as I could,” Jones said. “Some teams were just determined not to pitch to me.  Other teams were taking their chances.  It’s going to make Garret and Mac making guys pay whenever they do walk me. That’s how you get 2-0 fastballs and 3-1 fastballs.  There weren’t a lot of those.”

In the five games that Jones has played since Anderson returned to the lineup and started hiting cleanup, he has hit .400 with three doubles and seven walks  — four intentional. 

After Jones recorded two doubles and a sacrifice fly during his first three plate appearances against the Mets on Wednesday, he drew two consecutive intentional walks. 

Anderson followed the first intentional walk with a sacrifice fly and the second with a fly ball that would have put Yunel Escobar at third base with one out in the ninth inning of a tied game if Mets right fielder Ryan Church hadn’t made a perfect throw to third baseman David Wright.

Obviously, I’ve been very critical of Anderson and a lot of that stems from the fact that because of his reserved demeanor, you can’t get a good read about his desire to be in Atlanta. 

There’s no doubt that he should have taken the short drive to Gwinnett County to play at least one Minor League game before returning from the disabled list.  In addition, he still has provided indication that he’s going to cost the Braves some runs with his limited range in left field.

But while getting the chance to watch him play over the course of the past week, I’ve seen seen a professional hitter, who will provide a presence in the middle of the lineup by putting the ball in play with regularity when runners are in scoring position.

While giving credit where credit is due, I’m also ready provide some to Kenshin Kawakami, who has allowed two earned runs and completed at least five innings during his past two starts against the Mets and Phillies.  I still don’t think he should be considered anything more than a fourth or fifth starter.  But if you’re fourth or fifth starter is providng these kinds of efforts on a consistent basis, then you’re probably feeling good about your rotation as a whole. 

Speaking of fifth starters, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we won’t be seeing Jo-Jo Reyes making another big league start in the near future.   Instead, I think we should expect to see Charlie Morton taking Reyes’ spot in the rotation until Tom Glavine is ready to resume pitching near the end of this month.

Tommy Hanson will still likely arrive in June.  But until then, he’s going to gain a little more Minor League seasoning, while Morton is given the chance to prove that he can carry his recent success to the big league level.

The Braves are going to be looking to find some power before the trade deadline and with a surplus of arms, there may be a number of teams interested in Morton, who has allowed just four earned runs in his past 27 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett.    

 

Braves getting ready for influential stretch

Welcome to the most influential 10-day stretch the Braves have encountered during this still-young season.  Over the course of the next 10 games, the Braves will have a chance to keep themselves in the thick of the National League East while solely playing the Mets, Marlins and Phillies.  
In the process, they might also have the chance to construct some lineups that include Brian McCann and Garret Anderson, who are both hoping to be activated from the disabled list this week.  Anderson is expected to be activated for Tuesday’s series finale against the Mets and as long as his prescription Oakleys prove to be beneficial McCann could end his DL stint in time to be behind the plate for Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia.  
Braves manager Bobby Cox’s Opening Day lineup had McCann batting cleanup and Anderson sitting behind him in the fifth spot of the order.   That exact lineup has been utilized just three times this year and Cox has had a total of four lineups that have included both McCann and Anderson.
“We miss Anderson and Mac, they’re two of our big thumpers,” Cox said.  “They’ve been out together for a long time. So it’s a lot to overcome.”
Given that injuries have also sidelined both Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar for at least three games this year, the Braves have even reason to feel fortunate that they are just 2 games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East race.
With a significant portion of their projected power (Anderson and McCann), it’s easy to understand why the Braves rank 10th in the National League with a .405 slugging percentage and 14th with 19 home runs.  
Of course most of that production occurred during the opening series in Philadelphia when McCann’s vision was still allowing him to perform like one of the game’s top catchers.   In the 21 games that have followed, the Braves  have hit .258 with 11 homers and a .383 slugging percentage.  
Without surprise, the two least productive positions during this 21-game span have been the ones originally reserved for McCann and Anderson.  Since the Philadelphia series, the Braves left fielders have hit .215 with a .642 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and their catchers have hit .232 with a .763 OPS.  
While David Ross has at least provided some production in McCann’s absence, it’s obvious that the Braves need McCann to return to form and provide Chipper Jones necessary protection.  
Obviously the sore left thumb that he carried out of Spring Training has played a part in the fact that Jones has hit .273 with one homer and an .838 OPS  in the past 13 games.   But so too has the fact that the injury-depleted lineup has given pitchers less reason to provide the veteran third baseman with a chance to hurt them.
Kelly returns to the leadoff spot:  Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the leadoff spot tonight against the Mets, who are starting right-hander John Maine.   Johnson has three hits, including  a triple and a double, in 12 career at-bats against Maine.  
Coming off the first consecutive three-strikeout performances of his young career, Jordan Schafer is once again batting in the eighth spot.   Schafer’s NL-leading 30 strikeouts are a product of  overaggressive rookie play and the fact that he too often hasn’t shortened his swing when he’s fallen behind in the count.
In the 37 plate appearances that he’s gotten ahead with a 1-0 count, he’s drawn 13 walks, recorded 11 strikeouts and produced a .514 on-base percentage.    In the 51 plate appearances that he’s fallen behind with an 0-1 count, he’s drawn five walks, struck out 19 times and produced a .333 on-base percentage.  
More concerning than the strikeouts themselves is that Schafer has hit .111 (2-for-18) with eight strikeouts and no RBIs in 24 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.  

 
 

Johnson sits again

Jordan Schafer’s stint in the leadoff spot was short-lived or at least interrupted by the fact that the Astros were starting a left-hander during Sunday’s series finale.  My guess is that we’ll see him back in the top spot against some right-handed starters in the very near future. 

But Schafer didn’t exactly make a good first impression in the role on Saturday, when he struck out three times and mistakenly read left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak’s pickoff move during a fifth-inning stolen base attempt.

Manager Bobby Cox’s decision to move Schafer back down to the eighth spot on Sunday wasn’t as surprising as the fact that Kelly Johnson found himself back on the bench for the fourth time in five games.  The second baseman broke out of a 4-for-39 funk with a pair of hits on Saturday.

Obviously the right-handed hitting Omar Infante has been hot recently, recording six hits in the 12 at-bats he recorded in the leadoff role last week.  Using him in a strict platoon role at second base is easier to understand from a defensive perspective.  Statistically,  it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

This year Johnson has hit .308 (8-for-26) against left-handed pitchers and just .174 against right-handed pitchers.  Dating back to the beginning of the 2008 season, the 27-year-old second baseman has hit .330 (58-for-176) against left-handed pitchers and .260 (115-for-443) against right-handed pitchers.   <p>

Anderson delcines rehab:  Like I’ve said in the past, Garret Anderson is a nice guy who had a nice career with the Angels.  But as time passes, he simply gives more reason to reason to wonder how motivated he is to play in Atlanta.  

I can understand that he has a reserved personality that makes it difficult to truly understand his passion. But given a chance to at least prove his motivation through actions, he still leads you to simply shake your head and wonder what he’ll provide when he’s activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. 

Per his right, Anderson declined the Braves request to see some live pitching during a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.  Nobody was asking him to fly to some scenic Minor League town.  He would have simply needed to drive about 20-30 minutes north on I-85 to get a few at-bats. 

Is that asking too much from a guy who has registered a total of 49 plate appearances since the American League Division Series concluded last year?

Kenshin set to pitch:
  When a lengthy rain delay limited  Jair Jurrjens to two innings on Saturday, there was reason to at least wonder if the Braves might opt to bring him back to start in place of Kenshin Kawakami on Tuesday against the Mets. 

But Kawakami has provided the Braves every reason to beleive that his right shoulder is feeling good enough to make Tuesday’s start.  The 33-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched since allowing eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Reds on April 26.    

 

Schafer and fans need to show patience

After Saturday’s loss to the Pirates, Chipper Jones echoed the popular sentiment by saying that he was concerned about the fact that Jordan Schafer was striking out too often.  But as the same time, he said he was confident the 22-year-old center fielder would soon cut down on his swing and utilize his speed to end his mini-slump.

“He’s smart,” Jones said. “He works hard and he wants to get better. Guys like that make the adjustment eventually.” 

With his three-hit performance on Sunday, Schafer halted his forgettable five-game slump and followed Jones’ suggested blueprint.   After notching a second-inning single, he produced a fourth-inning bunt single. 

Then with Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche standing on the edge of the infield grass to protect against another bunt, Scafer lined another single off of a diving LaRoche’s glove.

Suddenly Schafer could smile again and forget about the fact that he’d recorded one hit and struck out 13 times in the 21 at-bats he’d recorded during his previous five games. 

“You don’t want to get to the point where you start doubting yourself,” Schafer said. “I know that I can hit.  I just need to start making adjustments a lot faster than I did. I know that I can compete here.” 

As we all started to wonder whether the Braves had made the right decision by bypassing the option to provide Schafer more Minor League seasoning, we were showing the same lack of patience that factored heavily in the development of this short skid.

Having hit two homers in his first three Major League games, Schafer has been going to the plate with the same overanxious excitement that has caused him to be too overaggressive in his pursuit of multiple fly balls over the past couple of weeks.

There have been a couple of near-collisions when he’s ventured into the left and right center field gaps.  Plus his insistence to race all the way to the wall in pursuit of balls that are going to riccochet back into the outfield grass  has been somewhat maddening.  But this really only proved costly on Friday night, when he allowed Brandon Moss to turn a double into a triple and score the only run charged to Jair Jurrjens in 6 2/3 innings.  

The man who has taught me more than anybody about player development has always said “trust your instincts” and “the player will let you know when he’s ready.”

While watching Schafer for six weeks during Spring Training, my instincts told me that he was ready for the Majors.  At the same time,  I was mindful of the fact that you have to guard against being overly impressed by results produced by prospects in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues. 

But the instinctive reason for believing Schafer was ready extended far beyond his statistics and five-tool talents.   There’s just something about the quiet confidence that is displayed through his actions and words.  

Like Chipper Jones, Schafer is one of those few players who truly gives you a sense he was born to play the game of baseball.

In a roundabout way, I guess I’m saying that instead of panicking about a five-game stretch we should just trust the evaluations that we’d compiled with data that was collected over a much longer period of time.

Left field concerns:   While I’m confident that Schafer will prove effective while battling through inevitable strikeouts, I’m also pretty sure the Braves spent about $2.5 million too much on the left field manequin that Scott Boras sold them in February.

When you talk to Garret Anderson, he’s as lifeless as he looks during those few occasions that he’s actually deemed himself healthy enough to be on the field.  He’s a nice guy who has had a nice career. 

But there were a number of better, more economically-sound options for the Braves, who would have been wise to just stick to their initial intention to give some of their own players a chance to prove they could play left field.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox pushed for Anderson’s signing and he has continued to show support for the 36-year-old outfielder.  Cox  has labeled him to be a “glider” who moves effortlessly toward balls in the outfield.  In addition, he’s believes the 36-year-old outfielder will be a key piece to this year’s success. 

Well Cox is entitled to his opinion and I’m entitled to believe the Braves will be putting Matt Diaz in left field much more frequently than Anderson.  

Don’t let Diaz’s .217 batting average concern you.  He’s owns a .255 career batting average in April.  During the season’s other five months, he’s combined to hit .322.

Weekend remains
:  While shutting the Braves out for a second consecutive game on Saturday, the Pirates threw just one pitch with a runner in scoring position.  

Adding to the afternoon’s frustration was the fact that early in the game, some of the Braves players felt that they had started to decipher the pitch signals Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was relaying to Ian Snell.  Still with Kerrigan in plain sight, Braves left-handed hitters recorded just one hit (Casey Kotchman’s fourth-inning double) in 22 at-bats against Snell.

Boyer update:
  I don’t have the details yet, but it sounds like the Braves are close to completing a trade that will provde them a return for Blaine Boyer.  They aren’t going to get more than a marginal Minor Leaguer in return.  But that’s better than nothing.

I’m taking a few days off to enjoy time with the family here in Wheeling, WV.  I’ll check in from time to time and follow the games scheduled to be played in rainy D.C. this week.  .    

  

A tip of the cap to Glavine

Tom Glavine says that he’ll wait at least two weeks before determining if he’ll ever pitch again.  But as he spoke yesterday afternoon, it was hard to ignore the belief that he seemingly already knows his fate. 

In fact, I’m pretty sure he had a pretty good idea after he continued to feel some left shoulder discomfort while throwing his warmup pitches before the third inning of  Sunday’s Minor League rehab start in Mississippi. He chose to wait until Monday to discuss what had happened and how he was feeling. 

This uncharacteristic decision made by one of the most accommodating athletes I’ve ever covered immediately raised red flags.  As for the white flag, you could see it waving in the distance yesterday as Glavine spoke about how he currently considers the glass to be half-empty as opposed to half-full.

Throughout his career, which has included 305 wins and 4413 1/3 innings, Glavine has been an optimistic warrior who has battled through regular shoulder discomfort and other ailments that he’s never revealed. 

Glavine was miserable while experiencing his first three career trips to the disabled list last year.  Still his fighting spirit provided him incentive to attempt to spend one more healthy year in the Majors. 

But for the first time in his career, Glavine is facing the reality that he’s encountered a fight that he can’t win.

“This shoulder has logged a lot of innings,” Glavine said Tuesday. “Sooner or later, it’s going to tell me I can’t do this anymore. I hope this is not what it’s trying to tell me. But I’m prepared if it is.” 
 

If Glavine’s shoulder has indeed reached its physical limitations, we’ll all take time to celebrate the career of the fourth-winningest left-hander in Major League history.  We’ll all remember his two Cy Young Awards and his one-hit gem that clinched the 1995 World Series.

But most importantly, we should never forget that fighting spirit that he carried to the mound.  If he has indeed thrown his final pitch, I’ll never forget the grit he showed while limiting the Rockies to three hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings on April 7 of last year.
 
They announced the gametime temperature to be 41 degrees and by the time the third inning arrived you had gained the sense that the Coors Field concessionaires didn’t truly need to line their Silver Bullets in ice.

Yet during what was likely the last start that he’ll ever make without any concerning aches or pains, Glavine once again showed the grit and competitive nature that Greg Maddux recognized during his own retirement speech in December.

“One of the biggest things I learned pitching with Glavine was to realize you don’t have to be 100 percent to win,” Maddux said. “You have to take the ball and you have to go out there. That’s what he taught me.

“Sometimes it’s really easy to say, ‘I need another day or two.’ But in Atlanta, we pitched. Tommy led the way with that. He showed everybody that if you go out there, if you could throw the ball over the plate, you had a chance to win, no matter how bad you felt.”

When it does indeed come time for Glavine to announce his retirement, he’ll be showered with compliments.  But none will be more fitting than the one provided by Maddux.   

Home Sweet Home:  Whatever happens, Glavine will have the comfort of making his decision while being surrounded by his family and the organization that watched develop into one of the game’s legends. 

We saw the love of hometown fans when Ken Griffey, Jr. was showered with cheers when he came to plate for the first time in Seattle this year. 

On the flip side,  this week we’ve also witnessed how an aging legendary figure will be treated when he’s forced to continue playing in a new environment.   Garret Anderson’s Atlanta debut turned ugly last night when after dropping two foul balls, he found himself hearing boos from some Braves fans. 

Had Anderson still been playing in front of the same Angels fans, who had followed him for the past 14 years, he obviously wouldn’t have received the same treatment. 

But this isn’t a matter of fair or unfair.  It’s simply the reality that a 36-year-old outfielder has to face while introducing himself to a fan base that couldn’t care less what he’s done over the course of the past two decades in southern California.

Hanson Update:
  Javier Vazquez wasn’t the only Braves pitcher who didn’t get much run support last night.  Tommy Hanson suffered his first loss while limiting Durham to three hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings of Triple-A Gwinnett’s 1-0 loss.

Through his first two starts for Gwinnett, Hanson has worked 10 innings, allowed one run, registered 17 strikeouts and issued just four walks.   I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’ll see the big redhead in Atlanta some time in May.

As mentioned yesterday, it probably won’t be long until Kris Medlen also makes his way to Atlanta to fortify the bullpen.  I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just say that the young right-hander is off to a good start during this afternoon’s start against Durham.

You can follow Medlen’s progress today on  Gameday.

Also forgot to mention you can now follow me on Twitter @mlbbravesscribe 

Anderson injures calf again

As Brian McCann’s two-run homer cleared the right field wall in the first inning this afternoon, how many of you said, “who needs Chipper and Garret anyway?”

Obviously you probably already know that Chipper Jones and Garret Anderson were scratched from today’s lineup.  Jones is dealing with a bruised left thumb that likely won’t keep him out of the lineup for more than one game. 

But I’m expecting to hear the Braves announce that Anderson is going to be out a little longer with the strained right calf muscle that he aggravated before today’s game.  This same ailment sidelined him for more than three weeks during Spring Training. 

While I don’t know if Anderson will miss another three weeks, I think we can prepare to see Matt Diaz in left field on a regular basis. 

Anderson hasn’t played more than 106 games in the outfield during any of the past five seasons and he didn’t play more than 85 games out there either of the past two seasons.

When the Braves signed Anderson in November, there was reason to question his durability.  Now that he’s dealing with this calf strain that seemingly could prove to be a lingering problem, I think we should assume that he’ll once again be limited to playing 80-90 games in the outfield.

Day of anniversaries:
  Most of you know that today is the 35th anniversary of the day Hank Aaron hit his 715th career homer.  Some of you might also remember this is the 15th anniversary of Kent Mercker’s no-hitter against the Dodgers. 

But how many of you remember this is the one-year anniversary of the day that Major League Baseball announced that they giving Jordan Schafer a 50-game suspension. 

Obviously we’ve talked a lot about how much Schafer has matured over the course of the past year.  He’s a likable kid with a bright future, who isn’t dwelling on the past. 

“I didn’t even know this was the date,” Schafer said Wednesday morning.  “It’s 100 percent behind me. I really don’t think about it any more.”  

Goodbye Florida

Seven weeks have passed and Ken Griffey Jr. still hasn’t shown up.  If you run into any of his friends, ask them to tell Jr. that the Braves are heading home tonight and that they’ve decided to ignore his decision to play in Atlanta. 

Actually the Braves are heading home with reason to feel good about the fact that Griffey decided to play in Seattle.  We haven’t had the opportunity to see a lot of Garret Anderson.  But while watching him race into left-center field to make a catch yesterday in Lakeland, I was officially convinced that the Braves are better off with Jr. in Seattle.
 
The modern-day version of Jr. wouldn’t have gotten to that ball.  Nor can he display the kind of offensive consistency that Anderson has shown since he allowed his right calf to heal for more than three weeks.   When he’s recorded outs over the past three days, they’ve been loud ones.
 
Did I mention that we’ve been down here seven weeks?  I’m certainly not going to complain about having had the opportunity to spend the past 50 days watching baseball in the Florida sun.  But I echo the sentiments of Bobby Cox and all of the Braves players when I say that it’s time to come home.

Because I’m fatigued and anxious to return to Atlanta, this Spring Training simply feels like it’s been long.  But thanks to Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, it will also prove to be one of the most memorable. 

Schafer and Hanson proved why many believe they could have a significant impact in Atlanta this year.  As for Heyward and Freeman, they simply exceeded any expectations you’d place on a pair of 19-year-old kids who were experiencing their first big league camp.

Tom Glavine had already notched 19 wins and compiled 65 career starts before Heyward was born.
  
While utilizing baseballmusings.com and baseball-reference.com to research these numbers, I found that Glavine actually tossed his fourth career shutout two days before Heyward entered this world. 

On that Aug. 7, 1989 night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Glavine surrendered four hits to a Dodgers lineup that included Willie Randolph, Eddie Murray and Mike Scioscia.

Now that we’re strolling down memory lane, I’m going to reminisce about some of the most humourous things I’ve heard and witnessed over the past seven weeks.

Jeff Francoeur’s catch:  Francoeur caught a 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass in the pond behind the visitor’s clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday night.  Since then I’ve learned that the right fielder is certainly a novice fisherman, who simply found some luck after he grabbed one of the clubhouse attendant’s fishing pole and threw it into the water. 

Braves assistant clubhouse and team travel manager Chris Van Zant, who supplied the picture of Francoeur’s catch, has since told me that the right fielder initially had trouble casting his line further than five feet.

“Just like he always does, he stayed persistent and then ends up catching a fish that guys spend hours trying to catch,” Van Zant said. 

DOB’s furor
:  As I was walking toward my car in Bradenton on Feb. 28, I heard a guy across the street yelling and screaming in my direction.  I began to laugh when I realized it was the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Dave O’Brien, whose car had been locked in a lot at a car repair shop. 

This might have been one of those “you had to be there” moments.  But I’ll attempt to explain the humor by saying that when agitated, O’Brien can make Archie Bunker seem like a lovable teddy bear.

Tiger’s line:   For this final tidbit, I’ll simply pull these graphs from my March 13 story about Francoeur: 

After Francoeur opened the back nine at Isleworth Country Club with consecutive birdies on March 4, (Tiger) Woods asked, “Who are you?”  
 
Francoeur, quickly responded, “I just wanted to see how the world’s number one golfer reacts with his back up against the wall?”  
  
This prompted Woods to reply, “Yeah, well I was wondering how much time you plan to spend playing in Mississippi this year?”

And with that, I’ll close by saying the dramatic improvement Francoeur has shown over the past seven weeks has provided the most signific reason for the Braves to be encouraged heading into the 2009 season. 

The Florida sun has been fun.  But it’s definitely time to bring this show home.     

francoeur.jpg

Patience paying off for Francoeur

Welcome back Brian McCann.  When you return to Braves camp today, you’ll be glad to see that your good buddy Jeff Francoeur is once again sporting a genuine smile.  No longer does he have to strain his jaw muscles in an attempt to show his pearly whites. 

The .350 batting average that Francoeur has compiled isn’t nearly as impressive as the manner in which he’s achieved this total and a .417 on-base percentage.  Through 40 at-bats, he’s struck out once and drawn six walks.   Oh yeah, and he has 12 hits in his past 22 at-bats. 

Francoeur’s only hitless performance since March 8 came against the Mets on Sunday, which is when he might have also provided his most telling plate appearance of the season.  Drawing a first-inning walk off Johan Santana only further proved that the 25-year-old right fielder truly has gained more confidence and patience at the plate. 

When pyschologists began labeling personalities as Type A and Type B, they forgot to create a category for high-energy individuals like Francoeur.  Youthful impatience led him to strike out 3.74 more times than he walked during his first 3 1/2 Major League seasons. 

It also led him to alter his batting stance as frequently as Charles Barkley has attempted to change his golf swing over the past few years.  Consequently, there were times last year when Francoeur’s baseball swing looked as helpless as that motion Barkley makes with a golf club in his hand.

Ok. Francoeur never looked that bad.  But he undoubtedly needed to make a chance and more importantly, he needed to gain the patience to stick with his altered approach for an extended period.

In previous years, he likely would have been making alterations after recording just two hits in his first 18 Grapefruit League at-bats.  But this year proved to be different.  While sticking with his altered approach through thick and thin, Francoeur should be able to avoid some of the extended ugly slumps that haunted him last year.

The gang’s all here:  With Javier Vazquez on the mound to face the Pirates tonight, McCann will be behind the plate. He just provided confirmation via the anti-social interview technique provided by text messaging.   

In an attempt to better familarize himself with the new-look starting rotation, the All-Star catcher is going to try to play as much as possible during the remainder of the exhibition season. 

McCann could also benefit from the opportunity to get some regular at-bats.  He recorded just four at-bats before leaving to joinTeam USA on April 1.    Over the course of the 22 days that have followed, he’s registered a total of 23 plate appearances —  includes exhibition games leading up to the Classic.   He’s actually had just 16 plate appearances since March 5.

Gregor Blanco will also return to Braves camp today after spending the past few weeks hitting .400 (6-for-15) for Venezuela.  His performance in the Classic allowed him to at least remain a candidate to serve as Atlanta’s starting center fielder. 

Based purely on performance and upside, Jordan Schafer has seemingly emerged as the favorite to win this position battle.   He’s hit .385 with a 1.093 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 11 Grapefruit League games. 

The fact that he’s totalled 42 plate appearances during this span further proves that the Braves are genuinely interested in the possibility of having him start the year in Atlanta.  They’ve also had him participate in two of the intra-squad games that have been played over the past two weeks.

Because he’s out of options, Josh Anderson should still be considered a top candidate in this position battle.  But the .306 on-base percentage that he’s compiled in a team-high 48 at-bats certainly hasn’t helped the speedy outfielder’s cause. 

Anderson appeared to be the club’s best option to place in the leadoff role.  But the fact that he’s drawn just one walk creates cause for concern.  These next two weeks are very important to him and he will at least enter Tuesday with seven hits in his last 16 at-bats.

I’ll post tonight’s lineup when I get it later today.  But it will be nice to see one that includes both McCann and Chipper Jones, who is expected to return to action tonight.  He hasn’t played since feeling a twinge in his right oblique while taking batting practice for Team USA  on March 15. 

By the end of this week, if Garret Anderson’s right calf continues to cooperate, the Braves might actually be able to form a lineup that looks very similar to the one manager Bobby Cox will create for the April 5 opener in Philadelphia. 

We’ve got 10 more days before this show returns to Atlanta and 12 more days before these games begin to count.  But who’s counting? 
        

Glavine set to face former team

When Tom Glavine steps on the mound this afternoon to make his Grapefruit League season debut, he’ll be facing a group of guys wearing the same Mets uniform that he donned from 2003-2007.  But he won’t exactly be seeing too many familiar faces. 

Coming back from the WBC, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran have been given a chance to rest for a few more days.  Thus, the only familiar face Glavine will see today belongs to Jose Valentin. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how Glavine performs.   While completing a two-inning simulated game on Monday, it was obvious that he’s still lacking the arm strength that he’ll need to find success this year.  His velocity rivaled that of a knuckleballer’s. 

But his location was still pinpoint and he seemed to be encouraged.  Maybe not as much as the ever-positive Bobby Cox.  But still enough so that I got the sense that he still feels he’ll be able to pitch this year without having to endure embarrassment.   

Over the next few weeks we’ll gain better indication about whether Glavine will truly be ready to make his first scheduled regular season start on April 18.  The veteran southpaw, who had his left shoulder and left elbow surgically repaired in August, will turn 43 on Wednesday.

Today will also be an important one for Peter Moylan, who will be making his fourth Grapefruit League appearance.  The Australian reliever, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, still believes he’ll be in the Atlanta bullpen on Opening Day.

Garret Anderson ran a little harder today than he had yesterday, when he first tested his strained right calf.  Chipper Jones also took batting practice this morning.  Both of these guys should be able to return to action within the next four-to-five days.   

When I awoke this morning, I was in sole possession of an NCAA tourney pool that includes nearly 700 entries.  My incorrect first-round selections were Clemson, Florida State and Wake Forest.  Thanks ACC. 

But given the choice between winning this pool or having my alma mater (Dayton) beat Dave O’Brien’s alma mater (Kansas) in the second round, I’ll glady choose the opportunity to make O’Brien feel as miserable as somebody being interrogated by Jack Bauer.

Today’s Lineup

Jordan Schafer CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Brandon Jones LF
Jeff Francoeur RF
Freddie Freeman 1B
Omar Infante 3B
Dave Ross C
Tom Glavine P 

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