Results tagged ‘ Jason Heyward ’

Chipper remains hot and Heyward exits in pain-free fashion

Chipper Jones drilled his third homer of the exhibition season and Jason Heyward gave pretty good indication his back is sound when he turned on a Todd Coffey pitch and deposited in the Braves bullpen beyond the right field wall. 

With Freddie Freeman adding his first homer, Thursday was a good night for all of the Braves not named Scott Proctor, who is certainly no longer a favorite to win the final spot available in the bullpen. 

While allowing five earned runs and three hits in just two-thirds of an inning Thursday, the veteran right-handed reliever struggled to command his breaking ball and gave further reason to believe Cristhian Martinez will end up winning that last available spot in the bullpen. 

The Braves signed Proctor to a one-year, $750,000 contract in November.  But because he was  still arbitration-eligible when he signed, they could release him within the next few days and only pay a portion of his salary.

Before we look at post-game comments made by Jones and Heyward, I figure some of you might want to know why right-handed reliever Stephen Marek was among the eight players cut from Major League camp Thursday. 

Marek allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings this exhibition season.  He impressed the Braves coaches but also showed some room for improvement while issuing five walks. 

” During a Major League season, you will need pitching,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You don’t end with the same 12 (pitchers) you leave Spring Training with.  For me, I’d feel comfortable with him pitching in a Major League game right now.  He’s a big piece of this organization and I think we’ll see him in the Major Leagues.” 

Heyward returned to the lineup Thursday after missing five games because of back discomfort.  A Braves doctor looked at an MRI from 2009 and informed the 21-year-old outfielder he needs to stretch more frequently to make up for the fact he has less cartilege between his discs than the normal human being. 

He also has more muscles than the average human being. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much.

Anyhow, Heyward didn’t feel any discomfort during Thursday’s game and seemed to be at full strength when he smacked Coffey’s changeup into the Braves pen.

“I know I’m not as loose as I’m used to being,” said Heyward, who had missed the previous five games with back discomfort.  “But it didn’t bother me.  I know it’s still there.  I’m not 100 percent, but I’m heading in the right direction. ”

I know that we’ve all reported that Jones had his left ACL repaired last August.  But the way he’s been playing the past couple of weeks, I’m thinking he underwent some kind of surgical procedure that made him feel younger.  

Jones highlighted Thursday’s two-hit performance with his third homer of the exhibition season —  a fourth-inning leadoff shot to dead center.   He has nine hits, including four doubles and two homers, in his past 15 at-bats. 

But whether he was playing with a surgically-repaired knee or just one knee, we kind of figured Chipper could come down here and hit the likes of Yunesky Maya.

More impressive Thursday night was the mobility he showed with his defense.  He charged Mike Morse’s slow roller, barehanded it and made a strong throw to end the third inning. Later he showed quick reflexes when he pushed off his surgically-repaired left knee and snared Jesus Flores’ seventh-inning liner. 

“I’m not even thinking about the knee because it’s not an issue,” Jones said. “I have no pain in the knee whatsoever.  I would love to really open up and go from first to home on a double while I’m down here.  I feel like I turned a corner about 2 1/2 weeks ago with my knee.  I’m just really excited to get this season started, right now…right now.” 

   

Chipper set to play third today

To celebrate the start of  ESPN The Weekend at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has decided to put Chipper Jones at third base for this afternoon’s game against the Tigers, which will be aired on ESPN. 

OK, so that’s not exactly the reason.  In fact, Gonzalez might not even know that many of the folks from Bristol have arrived in the Disney area and stolen some of the thunder created by Kenshin Kawakami’s arrival. 

Essentially, Gonzalez simply felt Jones was ready to test his surgically-repaired left knee at third base today.  The veteran third baseman didn’t have a problem with the decision.  But until seeing the lineup in the clubhouse this morning, he was assuming he would wait until tomorrow to play defense. 

“It was the manager’s decision,” Jones said. “I’m ready. One day isn’t going to make any difference.  I could come in tomorrow with my knee blown up and be scratched.  I feel fine today.  I was actually going to talk to him about doing it today.  He made the decision for me.”

This will be the first time Jones has played third base since he tore his left ACL on Aug. 10.  He served as the designated hitter in exhibition games played Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

While Jones is in today’s lineup, Jason Heyward will wait a few more days before playing again.  The 21-year-old right field exited Wednesday’s win over the Red Sox with some discomfort in his left groin. 

Heyward said he felt some tightness Monday night and then felt some more discomfort while playing defense in Wednesday’s first inning. 

After being evaluated by members of the Braves medical staff Thursday morning, Heyward said they don’t think he’s dealing with anything that should cause concern.  He’ll likely miss at least a couple games. 

“It was good that I got out of there at the right time and didn’t make it any worse,” Heyward said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Oberholtzer turning heads in Braves camp

MacChip.JPGBrian McCann has won four Silver Slugger Awards and been named to five All-Star teams through the first five full seasons of his career.  But as he watched this man with the 39-year-old surgically-repaired left knee blow by him early this afternoon, he proved he’s also quite capable of impersonating DeAngelo Hall.

Obviously Chipper’s knee was feeling good today as he and the rest of his Braves teammates endured some sprints at the end of this afternoon’s workout.  But he wasn’t necessarily feeling as good as Jason Heyward and Jonny Venters, who both learned how much money they’ll be making this year. 

Heyward’s $496,500 salary is the highest figure the Braves have awarded any player with just one full year of service.  Venters’ 79-appearance season has netted him a $429,500 (corrected) figure, which seems pretty nice for a guy who really wasn’t getting much attention this time of year. 

Every year during Spring Training, there is seemingly at least one guy who emerges as a pleasant surprise.  Last year, it was Venters and this year it might be left-hander Brett Oberholtzer.  The 21-year-old southpaw likely won’t break camp with the big league club.

But Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez is among the members of the Braves coaching staff who have taken notice of Oberholtzer’s pinpoint control. 

In fact when asked who has impressed him most in camp, Perez gave the obvious answer of Julio Teheran and then added just Oberholtzer’s name. 

“He’s impressed me a lot,” Perez said, while adding he likes the approach the young southpaw takes to completing his bullpen sessions. 

Oberholtzer, who was acquired in the eighth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, combined to go 6-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 appearances (22 starts) for Class A Rome and Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach last year. 

In the 135 2/3 innings he completed during this span, he recorded 126 strikeouts and issued just 23 walks.

Speaking of Perez, he was quite proud of the way his good friend Javy Lopez dealt with top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt last week.  In camp as an extra coach, Lopez basically told Bethancourt it was time to stop showing the body language that has led some to believe he is lackadaisical and cocky. 

Bethancourt certainly wouldn’t be the first 19-year-old, highly-regarded prospect to be labeled in this manner.  But Lopez basically wanted the young catcher from Panama to gain some of the same lessons he had nearly 20 years ago.

“Javy talked to him a lot and helped him a lot,” Perez said. “Javy told him, ‘I was stupid just like you.’  When he aske what he meant, Javy explained to him that he didn’t always carry himself the right way because he knew he was good and thought people should just adore him. Then he told him that he had to start working harder.   And you know what, he’s looked better the past three days.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced Jair Jurrjens will start Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener in Port St. Lucie against the Mets.  For a breakdown of the early exhibition season rotation, click here.

Based on the way the days fall Derek Lowe is lined up to make a third straight Opening Day start for the Braves.  But Gonzalez warned before announcing his rotation that he could tinker with it as the weeks progress. 

It should also be remembered that pitching coach Roger McDowell has attempted to get his starters at least one extra day of rest leading up to their first regular season start. 

If you haven’t checked out some of the things his teammates had to say about his work ethic, check out this story about Martin Prado.

chipcart.JPG
Following Chipper’s lead, it’s time to take this one to the house.
 

In many ways, Spring Training does matter

When Bobby Cox was nearing the end of his managerial career just a few months ago, I began to wonder how so many of our lives might have been different had Ted Turner and the Braves front office not hired Chuck Tanner almost immediately after the 1985 season concluded. 

At the time, Cox was guiding the Blue Jays through their first postseason experience.  Once his club was eliminated, he made it known he wanted to return to Atlanta even though the only job the Braves had to offer was the general manager’s role. 

Had Cox made it known he wanted to get closer to his wife and daughter, Tanner might never have made his way to Atlanta.  At the same time, the Braves might not have gained the direction provided once Cox, Paul Snyder and Bobby Dews committed themselves to overhauling a horrible farm system.

Once Cox returned to the bench in the middle of the 1990 season, he began the historical journey that included 14 consecutive division titles. 

When I asked Cox what would have happened had he returned to Atlanta to be the Braves manager in 1986, he said he would have ended up in “in five different places trying to raise a family.”

Had Cox been forced to continue living the nomadic lifestyle reserved for many baseball managers and coaches, he might have never crossed paths with Fredi Gonzalez — the man he proudly will watch assume his role as the Braves manager.

(Of course if the Braves are 10 games out of first place by the end of May, I’m pretty sure many of you will have wished that Cox never had gained that opportunity to be impressed by Gonzalez.)

Life is full of twists and turns that are influenced on yesterday’s events. There are countless “what if” scenarios that could be analyzed in every aspect of life.  In fact, if we wanted to further the one above, we could ask “what would have happened if the Tigers didn’t make John Smoltz available or if the Cubs gave Greg Maddux what he was seeking?” 

With this said, it was still interesting to sit with Gonzalez this week and hear him talk about “the good fortune” he has experienced during his coaching career. 

While in Atlanta for the final weekend of the 2001 season, the Marlins parted ways with a number of coaches, including Gonzalez.  A few weeks later,  Gonzalez accepted the Braves offer to manage their Class A club in Macon.

It was a role he would have filled had some guy named Carlos Tosca not vacated his role as Triple-A Richmond’s manager to become the Blue Jays manager.  Yeah, this is the same Tosca who will once again serve as Gonzalez’s bench coach this year.

After working in Richmond during the 2002 season, Gonzalez was watching television and saw that Ned Yost was hired to serve as the Brewers manager.  His reaction was simply “good for Ned.”

Soon he realized, it was actually “good for Fredi”.

With Yost no longer around to serve as his third base coach, Cox called Gonzalez and asked him to fill the role. 

It was funny to hear Gonzalez reminisce about taking this call and hearing Cox say, “do you want to talk to your wife about it and call me back?”

Obviously there was no need for Gonzalez to talk to his wife.  This was the opportunity he wanted and the one that brings us where we are today, anticipating how he will do while serving as Cox’s successor.

Those previous 16 graphs were either meaningless or simply longest introduction ever written.  Let’s go with the latter and promise that we’ll make these graphs and thoughts a lot tighter by the time this computer is brought back north at the end of March.

Looking back on the paths traveled by Cox and Gonzalez, we are reminded that every decision and every action can influence what transpires in the future. 

This is pertinent now because over the next few weeks, you’re bound to read or hear somebody say, “it doesn’t matter what happens in Spring Training.”

In some instances, this is somewhat true.  In other words, I don’t think people are going to be overly concerned about what Brian McCann hits or the ERAs produced by Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe during the Grapefruit League season.

Because of the small sample sizes, there really isn’t any reason to put stock in the stats produced during Spring Training.  But with this being said, Nate McLouth is one of those guys who desperately needs to head back north with a batting average that starts with a 3 or above.

McLouth is on a mission to regain his confidence and he’s seemingly made some progress during the winter.  But the only true way for him to truly do this is to find success at the plate during this exhibition season.

As he struggled to hit during last year’s Grapefruit League season, McLouth attempted to convince himself that things would change once the regular season arrived.  When they didn’t, he gained first-hand knowledge of the value of confidence.

The Braves will truly benefit if they are re-introduced to the care-free McLouth, who can provide a power-speed mix at the plate and also play much more aggressive defense than he did during his 2010 nightmare.   

During the past two exhibition seasons, Freddie Freeman has held his own in big league camp.  But now that he’s at the mature age of 21, he will have to do so with the pressure of knowing he’s being counted on to serve as Atlanta’s starting first baseman. 

If he needs any advice about how to handle this pressure, he can simply ask or tweet his good friend Jason Heyward, who truly never seemed fazed by all of the attention he gained when he was in the same position last year.

Heyward, Freeman and many of the other position players will participate in the first full-squad workout next Saturday, exactly one week before the Grapefruit League opener is played against the Mets.

Because the game is in Port St. Lucie, there’s definitely no reason to believe Chipper Jones will be playing in that first game. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll take it easy during the first week of games. 

But it still appears he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play by the time Opening Day arrives.  Whether or not this proves to be true will be dictated by what transpires over the next couple of weeks.

I‘ll be providing regular blog updates again beginning Monday, when Gonzalez welcomes his pitchers and catchers to camp.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

 

Odds and ends: Heyward, Teheran, etc.

Before I get married this weekend and enjoy both a Hawaiian honeymoon and Steelers Super Bowl victory next week, I’m providing this entry full of some things I’ve heard or discussed over the past week. 

Heyward update: There didn’t seem to be much reason for concern when Jason Heyward said Wednesday that he still doesn’t have full range of motion in the left thumb that he injured in May.

“I don’t have any pain in it, but I still don’t have the full range of motion in it,” Heyward said. “I still can’t bend it anywhere close to where it was before.  I don’t know if I ever will be able to do that.  But I know it’s not holding me back from hitting.”

If he were a professional thumb wrestler, there might be some concern about Heyward’s limited range of motion.  But given that he’s still happy with the career choice he’s made at the ripe age of 21, it should simply be comforting to hear him say he’s able to swing the bat in a pain-free manner. 

Teheran, a sleeper for fifth spot?:  Two weeks ago, the Braves informed Julio Teheran that he was invited to attend his first big league camp this year.  This wasn’t a surprise.  Nor was it surprising to see the 20-year-old right-hander listed among MLB.com’s 10 best prospects. 

Teheran is one of the finest pitching prospects to ever pass through the Braves organization and they certainly don’t have any plans to rush his development. 

But based on what they’ve seen from him, there are some members of the Braves organization who believe Teheran will make it difficult for them to determine when or maybe even if they should send him to back to Minor League camp. 

Given that Teheran has had one injury-free professional season, which consisted of just 142 innings, there is very little reason to believe the Braves would begin the season with him in the Majors.  But the fact that they are at least anticipating that he will make them debate the possibility gives you a better idea about how special this kid could be.

Wishing the best for Pete: It was nice to catch up with Pete Van Wieren this week and even better to hear him say that doctors are optimistic as he nears what is scheduled to be his final round of chemotherapy treatment.  His final treatment is scheduled for Feb. 7.  

Van Wieren has been undergoing these treatments once every three weeks since learning in October that he would have to once again battle against cutaneous B-Cell lymphoma.  He battled this same condition around this time last year. 

It was discouraging to hear Van Wieren say that he won’t make it down for any portion of Spring Training this year.  But it was encouraging to learn, the proud grandfather is planning to take the grandchildren to Disney during the early days of April.

The treatments have weakened him to some degree.  But it was still great to hear the excitement in his voice when he spoke about being able to play poker and watch baseball again some time soon. 

Wide-eyed Minor Leaguers: The Braves seemed quite pleased with how their first Rookie Development Program went last week.  It was cool to see how the Minor Leaguers reacted while listening to the motivational speeches delivered by John Schuerholz and then Bobby Cox. 

I just wish I would have been in the room when the young kids looked up and saw Hank Aaron just walking through the middle of the clubhouse.  It was an unplanned part of the program.  Aaron was simply making his exit after completing an early-morning workout.

It was nice to get to talk to some of these prospects and put a face to a name.  Matt Lipka had a stronger frame than I envisioned when the Braves took him with their first selection in June.  This probably had something to do with the tales about the success he enjoyed as an All-State wide receiver in Texas. 

Lipka has spent the past couple of months working out a gym owned by former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson.  He has added some upper body mass and focused on maintaining the speed that proved so appealing to baseball scouts last year. 

Out of all the players the Braves worked out at Turner Field before last year’s Draft, there was just one that proved to be faster than Lipka. 

His name is Kyle Wren, the son of Braves general manager Frank Wren.  Kyle is projected to serve as Georgia Tech’s starting centerfielder as a true freshman this year. 

Catch you in a couple weeks.    
  

Odds and ends: Freeman and Kawakami updates

Now that everyone in the baseball world knows Cody Ross, it’s time to reminisce about the day that Chuck James didn’t. 

Ross homered off James in the second inning of a July 25, 2006 game at Turner Field.  Two innings later, the then-Marlins outfielder took the Braves southpaw deep again. 

Now obviously I wasn’t present to witness the developments that ensued.  But this is how the story has been often told by Braves players over the past few years.

After Ross’ fourth-inning homer gave the Marlins what proved to be a decisive two-run lead, James slapped his glove against the bench and said, “I can’t believe he hit that pitch.” 

This prompted Scott Thorman to say, “I don’t know why you can’t believe it.  He hit that same pitch out two innings ago.”

Further proving that he was never suited to be a rocket scientist, James said, “That was that same guy?” 

While James revived his playing career as an effective reliever in the Nationals Minor League system this year, Ross was enjoying a roller-coaster ride that has introduced him to October fame and put and his Giants teammates one win away from reaching the World Series. 

This certainly didn’t seem to be expected when the Giants slipped past the injury-depleted Braves with three one-run wins in the National League Division Series. But while walking through the Phillies clubhouse after they lost Game 4 Wednesday night, it was obvious that they have certainly come to respect this San Francisco bunch that has verified you can successfully gamble on offensive pieces if you have a strong pitching staff in place.

There is certainly no reason to take anything away from what Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and San Francisco’s solid bullpen have done during this NL Championship Series.  But you have to wonder if they would have found this same level of success if Chase Utley was at full strength. 

Utley injured his thumb sliding into second base on June 28 and learned a few days later that he would need to undergo a surgical procedure that would sideline him for a little more than six weeks.  In the 43 games he played after returning the All-Star second baseman hit .273 with a .410 slugging percentage. 

While going 2-for-15 with no extra-base hits through the first four games of this NLCS, Utley has continued to search for the power he displayed while compiling a .533 slugging percentage in the four seasons combined. 

Sound familiar? 

Jason Heyward hit .299 with a .608 slugging percentage in the 31 games he played before injuring his left thumb sliding into third base on May 14.   The Braves outfielder ended up missing just two weeks (just before the All-Star break) with this injury, which wasn’t deemed serious enough to be surgically repaired. 

But there was no doubt that the injury proved serious enough to prevent Heyward from operating at full strength for the remainder of the season.  He slugged just .421 in the 111 games that he played after jamming his thumb.  The 21-year-old All-Star simply looked fatigued while slugging .385 in his final 30 regular season games. 

Taking two weeks off gave Heyward a chance to occasionally display his great potential in the season’s second half.  But this seemingly wasn’t near enough time for him to completely overcome this thumb ailment, which is similar to the one his good friend Freddie Freeman is currently nursing. 

Freeman jammed his left thumb while sliding into third base during an Arizona Fall League Game Monday afternoon. An MRI exam showed no structural damage to his ligaments. 

But as of late Thursday afternoon, Freeman’s thumb was still pretty swollen and providing a great deal of discomfort.  The Braves aren’t ruling out the possibility that he could begin playing again in the AFL later this month.  They will re-evaluate him again in about a week. 

Progress in Kawakami talks: It sounds like at least one Japanese team has shown strong interest in acquiring Kenshin Kawakami from the Braves.  The club is believed to be willing to assume approximately $3 million of the $6.67 million the Braves still owe the Japanese right-hander next year. 

One Japanese reporter indicted the Yomiuri Giants and Nippon Ham Fighters have shown some interest.  But it’s believed the Braves might have found at least one other more attractive suitor from the Japanese League. 

Heyward’s commercial: Heyward spent a portion of this week in New York City filming a SportsCenter commercial.  The ad, which is expected to run just before the start of Spring Training, will feature him with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt and the Stanford Tree.  

Without Holliday, Coors Field might feel like a vacation spot for Lowe

Once Todd Helton retires or at least ends his long career with the Rockies, Tim Hudson will finally understand what it’s like to exit Coors Field without frustration.   This belief is strengthened by what transpired last year when Derek Lowe learned how tranquil Denver can be without the presence of Matt Holliday.
 
Against Lowe, Holliday hasn’t matched the perfection that Helton has produced while recording hits in each of the eight at-bats he’s ever recorded against Hudson at Coors Field.  

But Holliday is certainly a primary reason that Lowe will return to Blake Street tonight having gone 3-4 with a 5.66 ERA in nine career starts at Coors Field.    The All-Star outfielder batted .650  (13-for-20) with a 1.167 OPS against the veteran sinkerballer in Denver.  He has been just a .333 (5-for-15) hitter against  him in environments that don’t include the thin Rocky Mountain air.

When Lowe made his Coors Field debut for the Red Sox during Holliday’s 2004 rookie season, he tossed seven scoreless innings.  He has allowed four earned runs or more in five of his other eight starts at this spacious park that is an offensive haven, with or without the humidor. 

When Holliday was a member of the A’s on July 10 of last year, Lowe exorcised some of his Coors Field demons by limiting the Rockies to one run and four hits over six innings.  During his third start of this season,  he recorded yet another win against  the Holliday-less Rockies.  

Lowe has gone 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in his past five starts against the Rockies, dating back to June 2, 2008.   It should be noted that just one of these starts was made in Denver. 
Another thing going for Lowe is the fact that the Rockies aren’t planning to wear “Nationals” across their chests tonight.  

Lowe has gone 3-6 with a 3.65 ERA in his past 13 starts.   In the 10 starts that weren’t made against the Nationals during this span, he has gone 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA.  

Heyward heating up
:  Before grounding into a double play to end the seventh inning last night, Jason Heyward had reached base safely in 10 consecutive plate appearances and recorded hits in seven consecutive at-bats.
  
Over his past three games, Heyward has recorded nine hits in 13 at-bats.   Not bad considering he had totaled just nine hits in his previous 56 at-bats this month.   Before starting this mini-surge on Saturday, the rookie All-Star had hit .171 over his previous 21 games. 

After Sunday’s four-hit, two-homer performance at Wrigley Field, Heyward admitted  he’s still feeling some discomfort in the bruised right thumb that plagued him throughout June and sidelined him during the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break.  

Still while health has played a part, his inconsistencies are also a product of the fact that this 21-year-old outfielder is still going through the sometimes cruel initiation process that has welcomed almost everybody who has had the opportunity to play in the Majors. 

Through May, Heyward was on pace for a 30-homer season and seemingly destined to be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.   The thumb injury opened the door for Giants catcher Buster Posey and Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez to join the Braves outfielder as top NL ROY candidates.

If the past couple days are an indication of things to come, Heyward could certainly end the season hitting above .280 with 18-20 homers and 80-plus RBIs.  Entering his first Major League season, I don’t think much more should have been expected from him.

One more late night:  If any of you need to go to bed before the conclusion of tonight’s game, but still want to know the outcome before you wake up, I suggest you simply watch what transpires in Philadelphia tonight.
 
Since trading wins and losses on Aug. 13 and 14, the Braves and Phillies have experienced the same verdict during each of the past eight days that they both have played games.

The Braves own the same 2 -game lead they held over the Phillies at the end of play on Aug. 1.  They are also 3 1/2 games in front of the Cardinals and Giants, who both sit a game behind the front-running Phillies in the NL Wild Card race. 
 

Who should fill the three-hole when Prado returns?

When the Braves needed a leadoff hitter in May, Martin Prado stepped in and filled the role in stellar fashion.  Now that they need a three-hole hitter, he’s once again a primary candidate to fill this role.

There has been reason to believe that Jason Heyward would eventually force himself into the three-hole at some point this season.  But while opting to bat Alex Gonzalez third and keep Heyward in the two-hole during this series against the  Dodgers, Bobby Cox has showed he’s not quite ready to give the phenom this role.

Heyward, who has missed three of the past five games because of a sore right knee, is back in the lineup tonight.  When asked about the ailment yesterday, he essentially said he just wants to make sure he’s healthy and strong down the stretch. 

As the Braves head down the stretch without Chipper Jones, they’re going to need Heyward to move away from his rookie inconsistencies and regain the form that he had while belting 10 homers and compiling a 1.017 OPS through the first 46 games of his career. 

When Heyward batted .389 with a .992 OPS in the first 14 games he played coming out of the All-Star break, he provided indication that he was no longer bothered by the right thumb injury that plagued him throughout June and sidelined him during July’s first two weeks. 

But while hitting .140 and striking out 10 times in his past 43 at-bats, Heyward has provided the reminder that he just celebrated his 21st birthday last week.  There’s no doubt that he and Brian McCann are still the most intimidating figures in the Chipper-less lineup.  But at the same time, the kid is still gaining the experience necessary for to find success in this three-hole for many years to come.

Instead of putting added pressure on Heyward, it might make more sense to put Prado in the three-hole when he returns to the lineup during this week’s series against the Nationals (I’m guessing he’ll be playing in Tuesday’s series opener).

Well it does, until you look at the fact that Prado has hit .242 with runners in scoring position this year. Making matters worse, he has hit a team-worst .156 w/RISP dating back to May 30.

Meanwhile Omar Infante has hit .338 w/RISP this year.  This hasn’t been a fluke.  Since the start of the 2008 season, Infante has also hit .338 w/ RISP  — the seventh-best mark among all Major Leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances in this situation during this span.

While showing increased power with the six homers he hit during the 19 games played before he fractured his right pinky, Prado hit just .250 with a .305 on-base percentage.  In his absence, Omar Infante has provided the kind of production you would want from a leadoff hitter. 

Infante has hit .378 with a .403 on-base percentage in his past 17 games (all starts) and .360 with a .380 OBP over the course of his past 55 games (40 starts).  Throw in the fact that he has the ability to occasionally steal a base and it’s easier to see why I think he would be the better option to bat leadoff in the Chipper-less lineups that will be constructed the rest of this season.    

So Prado possesses the power potential you would want in the three-hole and lacks the speed you would want at the top of the order. Infante possesses the clutch hitting potential you want in the third spot of the lineup and lacks the power. 

With all this being said, it only makes sense to give Brooks Conrad an everyday role, right?  I mean he has homered seven times in 112 at-bats and batted .324 w/RISP this year.  If he continues to thrill in the late innings, Webster’s will soon place his picture beside the word “clutch.”

Now that I’ve allowed loyal blogger “billreef” to get excited, I’ll return to reality and confirm that I realize that now is not the time to place a 30-year-old with 185 career at-bats in the third spot of the lineup of a team with World Series aspirations.

In some ways, I think Heyward is still the best option to place in the third spot of the lineup.  But with Brian McCann continuing to struggle against left-handers this would leave the Braves susceptible to be doomed by late-inning matchups against top left-handed relievers. 

So I say give Prado a chance to further enhance his team MVP credentials by proving that he can end his RISP struggles while hitting in the third spot of the lineup.  His presence there would at least allow Cox to alternate left-handed and right-handed hitters through his lineup.

Here’s how tonight’s lineup looks:

Infante 4
Heyward 9
Gonzalez 6
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Conrad 5
Ankiel 8
Cabrera 7
Hanson 1
  

 

Chipper returns to Turner Field to see injury-ravaged lineup

chipreturns.JPG
So far so good for Chipper Jones.  Now he can only hope that the next six months provided the kind of encouragement he’s gained in the 24 hours that have followed the season-ending surgical procedure that was performed on his left knee Saturday. 

Supported by crutches and displaying a heavily wrapped left leg, Jones returned to Turner Field for Sunday afternoon’s game.  He was planning to wait until Monday to return.  But a rough night of sleep led him to come back to the Ted with the hope of encouraging his teammates and providing himself some sanity.

As he expected Jones feels much better than he did in 1994 when his left ACL was repaired via an intrusive surgical process.  The arthroscopic surgery that he underwent yesterday allowed him to awake Sunday with the hope that he might be able to start riding a stationary bike as soon as Monday.

Jones said the pain pill he took before going to bed Saturday night didn’t knock him out like he’d hoped.  But this wasn’t too surprising.  I’ve got a feeling some of you might have also had trouble sleeping after watching the Braves offense struggle through the first two games of this series.

Without Martin Prado and Jones, this lineup has proven to be rather weak.  It was further weakened Sunday, when Jason Heyward was given a chance to further rest the sore right knee that sidelined him Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Heyward said he expects to be back in the lineup for Monday night’s series finale against the Dodgers. 

As for Prado, he took batting practice again on Sunday and seemed ready to play a rehab game for Triple-A Gwinnett Monday night.  While the All-Star second baseman has been sidelined since July with a fractured right pinky, the Braves have batted .217 and compiled a .302 on-base percentage.

This explains why the Braves are planning for Prado to play just one rehab game.  They are hoping that he’ll be ready to be activated for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Nationals.  

Ugly RISP stat: The Braves have managed to go 11-10 while hitting  just .182 (33-for-181) with runners in scoring position dating back to July 23.   

  

 

Hanson searching for consistency

After watching Tommy Hanson struggle again during last night’s loss to the Brewers, Chipper Jones said, “For the first three or four innings, they were swinging like they knew what was coming.” 

There’s obviously a chance that Hanson has been tipping his pitches.  But his problems seem to primarily stem from the fact that he’s had trouble finding a consistent release point.  This seemingly led to him throwing more sliders than normal on Friday night.  

Instead of simply referring to Hanson’s inconsistencies as a sophomore slump,  it might be better to describe them as a product of one of the disadvantages created by a 6-foot-6 frame. 

While this might not have been a problem last year, Hanson has certainly had plenty of trouble keeping his lanky frame in sync with many of his deliveries this year. 

This is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  But by the time October rolls around, the Braves will need him to be ready to serve as one of the horses that could carry them through the postseason. 

Heyward rests: With Chris Narveson starting for the Brewers tonight, Braves manager Bobby Cox has decided to rest his left-handed sluggers —  Jason Heyward and Brian McCann.   Left-handed hitters have batted just .204 against Narveson this year.  Right-handed hitters are batting .335 against him. 

BRAVES LINEUP
Prado 4
Infante 9
Gonzalez 6
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
Cabrera 8
Ross 2
Conrad 5
Hudson 1  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,224 other followers