Results tagged ‘ Jair Jurrjens ’

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.   

Can I still claim Dale Murphy as my favorite player?

When we were about eight-years-old, my best friend, Steve Myers, adopted Dale Murphy as his favorite player. Ignoring the globalized options provided by TBS, I stayed within the region and tabbed Pirates catcher Tony Pena.

More than 25 years later, it’s still obvious that I ended up on the short-end of this selection process.  While Pena taught us bad technique to utilize behind the plate, Murphy has spent his entire life proving to be a great example on and off the field.  

Murphy arrived in camp this morning and he’ll stay with the Braves over the course of the next week to essentially serve as an ambassador/special instructor.  The 53-year-old, two-time National League Most Valuable Player remains one of the kindest and most considerate individuals ever to be associated with baseball. 

I spent some time talking to Murphy and Bobby Dews about the days they spent together in the Minors.  I’ll provide more information in a story that I’m writing later this afternoon.  But to provide a teaser, I’ll let you know that it will include details about a day when Dews attempted to kick dirt toward an umpire and ended up breaking his foot. 

Transitioning from one of the most beloved outfielders in Atlanta history to the newest one, you’ll be glad to hear that Garret Anderson plans to resume running exercises on Friday.  The 36-year-old left fielder has been sidelined since March 6 with a strained right calf.  It still looks like he could return to action some time next week.

Jair Jurrjens and Mike Gonzalez are both scheduled to pitch today against the WBC-less Mets, whose lineup is headlined by Marlon Anderson, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church.  While not providing any predictions about the game, I’ll guarantee you that Church will be getting down if he’s sliding into second base with Yunel Escobar attempting to turn a double play. 

Both teams will be wearing green hats today.  And with that, I’ll say Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Today’s Lineup
Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Matt Diaz LF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Omar Infante 3B
David Ross C
Josh Anderson CF
Jair Jurrjens P 

Just another odd southpaw

When I entered  the clubhouse this morning, I saw Boone Logan’s left hand adorned with gauze. Naturally, I responded with, “Have you been playing with Blaine Boyer’s apple slicer.”

Logan said that he regularly places gauze on his hand in the morning. After imitating Rafael Soriano with a stone-faced reaction, I later saw the big left-handed reliever on the field without any gauze, tape or padding on his hand.  With this I further concluded that southpaws are simply a different species.

Speaking of left-handers, Garret Anderson was moving around the clubhouse with relative ease this morning and he said his strained right calf has progressively improved over the past few days.  After seeing him lift his leg and bend over to pick up his keys with relative ease, I think we can project that he’ll likely be in the Opening Day lineup.

Fortunately for Anderson, he hasn’t felt the urge to start jumping around like Jair Jurrjens did after the Netherlands defeated the Dominican Republic again on Tuesday night. 

“I’m surprised that nobody called the cops on me,” said Jurrjens, who opted not to pitch for the Netherlands during the first round of the WBC. 

Jurrjens wanted to pitch in the second round this weekend.  But in order to do so, he would have had to replace a injured pitcher from the current roster.  When he never received word that this opportunity had arisen, the 23-year-old right-hander prepared for this afternoon’s start against the Nationals.

If the Netherlands continues their miracle run, Jurrjens might join the team for the semi-final round.  But as great as this story has been, I think we can all assume that it’s nearing its end.

Remember Dennis Neuman, the Pedro Martinez-clone, that I was heralding after watching him pitch a scoreless inning for the Netherlands against the D.R. on Saturday?  Well he’s obviously also subject to the jinx factor of this blog. 

But after issuing two walks in Monday’s loss to Puerto Rico, the 19-year-old Red Sox farmhand came back Tuesday and tossed 1 2/3 innings scoreless innings against the D.R.

“He’s going to be good,” said Jurrjens, who worked out with Neuman in their native Curacao this winter.  “He has heart and he knows what he wants.”

Now that I’ve exhausted my charitable Dennis Neuman public relations campaign, it’s time to return to Braves info.  Jordan Schafer opened some eyes when he returned yesterday and the highly-regarded outfield propsect is back in today’s lineup to serve as the right fielder. 

Matt Diaz and Jeff Francoeur were permitted to go home after this morning’s workout.  Both are scheduled to travel to Jupiter for this weekend’s two-game series against the Cardinals and Marlins. 

As for me, I’m not making the southbound trek down the Florida Turnpike.  But I’ll likely post at least one blog entry on Friday or Saturday.  Tommy Hanson is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game against the Marlins and Kenshin Kawakami will go against the Cardinals on Saturday.

After Jurrjens exits today’s game, we’ll place our focus on Mike Gonzalez and Kris Medlen, who are both scheduled to pitch.

Today’s Lineup:
Josh Anderson CF
Jordan Schafer RF
Yunel Escobar SS
Casey Kotchman 1B
Omar Infante 2B
Martin Prado 3B
Brandon Jones LF
David Ross C
Jurrjens P
  

Refreshed after a day of relaxation

Had he opted to pitch for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, Jair Jurrjens probably started this afternoon’s game against the Dominican Republic.  Had the result proven to be the same, he certainly would have loved the opportunity to celebrate the tremendous upset with his Dutch teammates.

But from what I hear (remember, I decided to take the day off), Jurrjens also had every reason to enjoy this afternoon’s outing against the Yankees.  He allowed one earned run and four hits in 3 2/3 innings.  While recording three strikeouts without issuing a walk, he seemingly displayed better control than he had in his two previous outings. 

After getting knocked around by Jason Heyward during Monday’s inter-squad game, Jurrjens was visibly frustrated. His ability to make adjustments and enjoy this improvement five days later further proves why so many of us believe this 23-year-old right-hander has such a bright future. 

He doesn’t possess a single pitch that will impress you more than his mental makeup. 

Jurrjens’ native Curacao’s talent pool is much greater than those days when it basically solely conisted of Andruw Jones and Randall Simon. 

The latest Curacao product to catch my eyes was Dennis Neuman, the 19-year-old right-hander who pitched today’s eighth inning against the D.R.  He’s currently making his way through the Red Sox system.

It was nice to see McCann get off to a good start with his three-RBI game while hitting eighth in today’s win over Canada.   His fourth-inning, two-run homer gave the U.S. a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Here are some of his quotes from today’s postgame press conference: 

(About the pitch he hit over the right field wall)

McCANN:  He was one of those pitchers that located all his pitches and kind of pitched backwards.  You get ahead in the count, you know he is going to throw you a slider.  You are behind, he is going try to sneak a fastball by you.
    So I went up there looking for something to hit, and, luckily, I got something in the innerhalf, and I didn’t miss it.

(About hitting eighth in today’s lineup)

McCANN:  You know, I was saying before Davey (Johnson)_asked if I ever hit eighth, I said I’ll hit 12th in this lineup.  I mean, it’s an unbelievable lineup.  Just a great team to be part of.

(About the patriotic honor of playing for the U.S.)
 
McCANN:  I mean, this is every kid’s dream, to put on a U.S.A. jersey, and especially walking in that clubhouse.  I mean, the first couple days we were in Clearwater, I mean, it was like, it was surreal, looking around the clubhouse and seeing all the talent that’s in that one locker room.  And, you know, hopefully we can all come together and, you know, try to win this thing. 
 
 
 

 
 
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Lowe makes Braves debut

As I was walking by the Braves clubhouse on my way back up to the press box, Derek Lowe  made sure that I heard him say something like  “Don’t worry kid, it’s just your first Spring Training start.  Go get ‘em.  You’ll be fine.”

The dude is downright hilarious.  He has a sense of humor that I’d liken to Will Ferrell’s.  In fact, before he threw his first pitch today, I was thinking he might fist-bump Dave Ross and say “Shake and Bake.”   Yeah, I just said that.

Along with seeing Lowe make his first appearance with the Braves today, we’ll get a chance to watch Blaine Boyer make his Spring debut.

Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Gregor Blanco (Venezuela) and Jorge Campillo (Mexico) will leave Braves camp after Sunday’s game and travel to join their respective teams in preparation for the World Baseball Classic.

Javier Vazquez won’t join his Puerto Rican teammates until Monday.  He and Jair Jurrjens will throw three innings a piece during an intersquad game that will be held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex on Monday morning. 

Today’s starting lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Kelly Johnson 2B
Yunel Escobar SS
Casey Kotchman 1B
Matt Diaz DH
Brandon Jones LF
David Ross C
Martin Prado 3B
Gregor Blanco RF

- Mark Bowman   

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