Results tagged ‘ Jason Heyward ’

Looking back on an improbable finish

While watching highlights of last night’s incredible finish, I noticed Bobby Cox’s reaction after Jason Heyward drilled his game-tying, two-out homer in the ninth inning.    While his players instantly celebrated when Heyward’s blast cleared the wall, Cox paused and then began clapping in an excited manner.  

When I get to Turner Field today, I’ll ask him if he remembers his reaction.  But my guess is that his split-second pause was just a product of the fact that he had to give himself time to think, “you’ve got to be kidding me, this kid did it again.”

As great as anybody thought Heyward could be, I think it’s safe to say that he has proven to be even greater during the first 13 games of his career.   Through the first seven games he’s played at Turner Field, he has already produced a memorable homer with the first swing of his career, contributed a walk-off single and foiled the rival Phillies with last night’s blast off Ryan Madson.  

At the ripe age of 20, Heyward has already proven to be Mr. Clutch in Atlanta.   He is hitting .727 (8-for-11) with runners in scoring position and .750 (6-for-8) with two outs and runners in scoring position.   During the eighth and ninth innings combined, he has batted .555 (5-for-9) and his two ninth-inning homers have been hit with the Braves trailing.  

It’s impressive enough to look at the fact that he has compiled 16 RBIs through the first 13 games of his career.  But while watching ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning, many of us learned that Ted Williams was the only other Major League player under the age of 21 to tally 16 RBIs through the first 13 games of his career.  

Still even with all of these impressive statistics, there’s a way to argue that Heyward’s homer simply added to the improbable events that occurred last night.   Down 3-0 with two outs in the ninth, the Braves needed just nine pitches and four at-bats to create a 4-3, 10-inning victory that put them in a first-place tie with a Phillies club that has navigated a much softer schedule through the season’s first two weeks.  

Troy Glaus came to the plate in the ninth inning hearing the displeasure of fans, who were unhappy about the fact that he’d booted a Ryan Howard grounder in the top of the fourth and then hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded and Heyward on deck to end the bottom half.

Or maybe those boos were a product of the fact that he was coming to bat with a .181 batting average.  Or maybe it was because he had produced just one hit in the 10 at-bats that he had previously compiled in either the eighth or ninth innings.  

Whatever the case, those boos quickly turned to cheers when Glaus belted Madson’s fastball over the left-center field wall.  His second homer of the year, set the stage for Heyward, who  came to the plate with just four hits in 27 at-bats with the bases empty.  

Stick with me, this was a night where improbability reigned.  Thus in order to figure out how Heyward fit the story line, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to use this early-season trend that really doesn’t bare a whole lot of significance.  

Heyward’s blast opened the door for Billy Wagner to produce a perfect inning and set the stage for Nate McLouth, who came to the plate to begin the top of the 10th inning hitting just .138 (4-for-29).  His most recent extra-base hit had occurred in the sixth inning of last year’s 15-inning season finale against the Nationals.

But after drawing a 2-2 count, McLouth made his first career at-bat against Jose Contreras a memorable one.  After drilling his game-ender into the right field seats, the Braves center fielder celebrated the first walk-off homer of his career in unique style.  

Finally provided the opportunity to carry through with a plan they devised last year, the Braves players and coaches didn’t rush on the field to celebrate this moment with McLouth.  Instead, they pranked him by going down the dugout stairs and heading toward the clubhouse.

“I looked when I got around second (base) and everybody had gone (toward the clubhouse),” McLouth said.  “I didn’t know what to do when I crossed home and there they were waiting for me in the tunnel.  I kind of did the weird little dance before I got down there.  I didn’t know what to do to be honest with you.   I knew I had to slam the helmet at some point, so I did that when I crossed home.”  <p>  

In case you haven’t seen video of this prank, click here to view it.   You can hear John Smoltz laughing with his broadcast partner Joe Simpson and saying, “That’s perfect.”

Further showing the camaraderie this club seems to have, the Braves certainly concluded an improbable finish in perfect fashion.   Entering the ninth inning, McLouth and Glaus had combined to hit .164 (12-for-73) with one extra-base hit.   

Entering tonight’s game against Roy Halladay, they carry a fresh sense of confidence and the tremendous momentum created by two consecutive walk-off victories.  

While Halladay presents a tremendous challenge, we’ve all quickly learned that anything is possible as long as Mr. Heyward is in the house.  

Braves welcome Phillies and Howard back to The Ted

As much as the Braves might like to make an early statement and exit this week’s three-game series against the Phillies sitting atop the National League East standings, it’s still far too early to put too much importance on what transpires at Turner Field over the course of the next three days.  

Through the first 12 games of the 2009 season, the Braves were 6-6 and five games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East standings.  The Phillies sat 5 games back of this same Marlins club that ended up finishing six game back when all was said and done.  

Oh yeah and in case you forgot, the Braves won seven of the first nine games played against this Phillies team that sat seven games in front of them when the regular season concluded.

The only three-game series against the Phillies that the Braves necessarily want to deem as “important” is the one that will be staged at Turner Field during the final weekend of the regular season (Oct.  1-3).

With this being said, in order to be in position to end Philadelphia’s three-year run as the NL East champs, the Braves certainly could benefit from the opportunity to make a statement against the injury-depleted Phillies club that is in town this week.  

Yes Roy Halladay will toe the rubber during Wednesday night’s game.  But in the other two games this week, the Braves will be challenged by Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.  

Kendrick has posted a 17.47 ERA and completed just 5 2/3 innings in his first two starts of the season.  The 47-year-old Moyer has split a pair a decisions and surrendered five earned runs in six innings during both of his first two starts.

The Phillies will also be without the leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, who is on the disabled list with a strained right calf.  Of course seeing how Rollins hit .205 with a .250 on-base percentage through the first 70 games last year, it’s obvious that the Phillies can survive without him serving as a catalyst at the top of the lineup.  

Looking back at how the Braves managed to win seven of the first nine games played against the Phillies last year, Rollins’ early-season struggles obviously played a part.  But so too did the fact that the Atlanta pitchers managed to limit Ryan Howard to a .250 batting average and ZERO homers.  

While losing six of their last nine games against the Phillies, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 (14-for-32) with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a 1.776 OPS.

Despite his early struggles, Howard still hit more homers (8) and  collected more RBIs (16) than any other player against the Braves last year.  Among those who registered at least 20 plate appearances, his .794 slugging percentage ranked fourth behind Jay Bruce (1.000), Ryan Braun (.833) and Andre Ethier (.800).

During their final six wins against the Braves this year, the Phillies totaled 27 runs.  Howard drove in 11 of those runs and each of these RBIs came courtesy of home runs.

Tommy Hanson, who surrendered one of those eight homers drilled by Howard, will take the hill for the Braves during tonight’s series opener.   Hanson lost just twice in his final 11 starts last year and both of those setbacks came during rain-interrupted outings against the Phillies.  
When Hanson took the mound at Turner Field last year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”  

As I mentioned in October,  I suggest the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate.  Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s  “Walk This Way”.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox has Matt Diaz back in the leadoff spot for tonight’s series opener against the Phillies.  Diaz has three hits in four career at-bats against Kendrick, who has surrendered a pair of homers to both Chipper Jones and Nate McLouth.

Cox has also moved Heyward up to the sixth spot today and dropped the slumping Yunel Escobar to the seventh spot.  Escobar has tallied just three RBIs since his five-RBI performance on Opening Day. 

BRAVES LINEUP for 4/20 vs. Phillies

Diaz 7
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Heyward 9
Escobar 6
McLouth 8
Hanson 1

McLouth returns to the top of the lineup

After playing the entirety of Friday afternoon’s 13-inning loss, Melky Cabrera returned to the clubhouse on Saturday afternoon and learned that he was getting a chance to rest. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox has Nate McLouth starting in center and handling the leadoff role for tonight’s contest against Giants right-hander Todd Wellemeyer.  If McLouth can show some consistency at the plate, he could find allow Cox to utilize his original plan to have him in the leadoff spot on a daily basis. 

Obviously many of you will be interested to see if Jason Heyward can escape his mini-funk tonight.  While going 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts since Opening Day, the young phenom hasn’t looked like the same disciplined hitter that we saw in Spring Training. 

But while the strikeout total might be somewhat alarming, there really isn’t any reason to panic or start making any comparisons to Jordan Schafer.  This is a 20-year-old kid who shares the same mortal flaws as the legendary figures who couldn’t avoid the rude initiation this game presents. 

Ken Griffey Jr. recorded one hit in the 15 at-bats he tallied through the first four games of his career and the great Hank Aaron had three hits (two doubles) in the 15 at-bats that he carried into the fifth game of his career.

Those four strikeouts that Heyward registered on Friday afternoon could have been a product of his desire to drive a ball into the bay.  Or quite simply, he might have simply been showing some fatigue after making the first cross-country trip of his professional career. 

Whatever the case, there isn’t much reason to currently worry about Heyward.  In fact, if he’s able to end this mini-slump quickly, you’ll have more reason to understand why his demeanor is just as much of an asset as his tremendous physical skills. 

Before I head down to the clubhouse, I wanted to let you know that Scott Proctor recorded two strikeouts and worked  perfect inning in his debut for Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday night.  I’m still thinking the veteran reliever could join the Atlanta bullpen at some point next weekend.

McLouth 8
Prado 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Lowe 1 

Quick turnaround brings Braves to San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco, where the Braves are just now awaking and preparing for this afternoon’s game that would have appropriately been presented by Red Bull, Monster or any other  approved energy booster.
The last pitch in last night’s 2-0 loss to the Cubs was thrown at approximately 9:55 p.m. ET and about 90 minutes later, the Braves embarked on a five-hour charter flight that got them to their hotel here in San Francisco at about 2:30 a.m. PT, or just shy of  the time that many of you in Atlanta were preparing to go to the office or take the kids to school. 

While it might not sound good, the Braves players would have still been able to get around six or seven hours of sleep before heading to the ballpark.  Of course, knowing Bobby Cox, he probably went to the stadium around 7 a.m. to continue preparing for this weekend’s series that could seemingly be played without the services of Chipper Jones, who strained his right oblique muscle during last night’s game.

Shortly after arriving in San Francisco around 5 p.m. PT yesterday, I started to get texts and emails that alerted me that Jones had exited with what was originally termed a “sore right side”.    Initially it seemed like it might be something that sidelines him for just a couple of days and that still might be the case.

But having been down this road a couple of times, I’d have to say that Jones’ postgame comments at least provided reason to believe that he could miss the entirety of this six-game West Coast swing that pits the Braves against the Giants and Padres. 

In the past when Jones has been dealing with oblique issues, he has occasionally removed himself because he felt one more swing could severely aggravate the region.  But last night when he said something like “it bit me pretty good”,  I immediately gained the sense that we could be seeing Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad playing third base at least through Thursday’s series finale in San Diego.

Check back later this afternoon for an update on Jones’ condition and today’s lineup.   Tim Hudson was on my flight out here to the Bay Area and thus had the opportunity to get plenty of rest before making his season debut today. 
My guess it that Jason Heyward will fill in for Jones  in the third spot of the batting order.  Or Cox may choose to bat Heyward second and move Martin Prado into the third spot.

Looking at the small sample sizes provided, Nate McLouth, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar enter today’s game looking forward to prolonging their success against Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

Escobar has three hits, including a double, in six career at-bats against Sanchez.  McLouth has homered in the process of matching the 3-for-7 career performance that McCann has posted against the southpaw. 

However the lineup is now situated, the Braves seem to be better equipped to survive for a few days without Jones.  They went 16-12 without him in the starting lineup last year.    This was a definite improvement in comparison to the previous two seasons — 2008 (17-27) 2007 (12-18).  

Will today be better than Opening Day?

Our friend Buster Olney concludes all of his blog entries with the phrase, “and today will be better than yesterday.” 

As I was driving to the stadium this afternoon through that green mist that is only satisfying to the manufacturers of Claritin, I was thinking it will be pretty difficult for Braves fans to exit Turner Field tonight with the same kind of excitement that was created on Opening Day. 

But with Mr. Heyward in the house you can bet it won’t be long before we see something special again. 

When Heyward drilled his three-run homer with the first swing of his Major League career on Monday, I was among the many who immediately felt chills going down my spine.  My immediate reaction was that Turner Field hadn’t been filled with that kind of energy since Brian McCann took Roger Clemens deep with his first career postseason at-bat in Game 2 of the 2005 Division Series. 

Still if I’m ranking the single greatest moments that I’ve witnessed since I assumed this beat in 2001, Heyward’s homer has to trump McCann’s.   Jeff Francoeur’s homer in his Major League debut was pretty special.  But the energy wasn’t quite the same because he wasn’t playing in front of a packed house. 

When we reminisce about Monday afternoon, we’ll always remember Heyward’s blast.  But long before he sent Carlos Zambrano’s 2-0 fastball into the Braves bullpen, you could definitely feel a sense of excitement that hasn’t been present in these parts the past few years.

Maybe it was because this was the first Opening Day home game since 2004.  Or maybe Heyward has already created the same kind of effect that Michael Vick had during the early part of this century when he seemingly single-handedly made the Georgia Dome the place to be on Sundays in the fall. 

Or maybe, the fans have simply taken notice of the fact that this seems to be the best team the Braves have assembled since at least the 2003 season.  And if I’m comparing the two teams, I’d have to say there’s no doubt that this team’s pitching staff is better than that one that benefited from the regular power that Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Gary Sheffield and Co. supplied on ’03. 

With the momentum created by their Opening Day victory, the Braves will now send their top three pitchers to the mound over the next three days.  Jair Jurrjens gets the call tonight and will be opposed by Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster. 

Yesterday, when I was compiling a story about Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, who will start Thursday night’s series finale against the Cubs, I found it interesting that Jurrjens and Tom Glavine had compiled a nearly identical workload through each of the seasons completed before they turned 24 years old. 

Glavine  23-29   72 starts  431.2 IP  4.29 ERA
Jurrjens  30-21  72 starts  434 IP  3.21 ERA

Jurrjens’ better record is a product of the fact that he has started his career with the benefit of being on teams much stronger than the ones that Glavine was a part of during his early years.  But this still seems to be yet another comparison that proves that the young right-hander from Curacao could be headed toward a very bright future.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP vs. Cubs RHP Ryan Dempster

Melky Cabrera 7
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Troy Glaus 3
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Nate McLouth 8
Jurrjens 1 

Braves ready to take this show north

Just returned from the clubhouse and it’s pretty safe to say that all the guys are ready to compile a couple of at-bats during this afternoon’s game against the Tigers and then head to Atlanta as quick as possible. 

As I was shooting the breeze with Jason Heyward this morning, I said something like, “well it will be nice for you to get back to your own bed tonight.”  When he responded, “yeah, for like five days”, I said “enjoy it, you’ll come to appreciate even these opportunities that allow for just a short stay at home.”

That advice I provided Heyward will not benefit him as much as the words of encouragement that he received from Hall of Famer Al Kaline this morning.  The former Tigers outfielder came to the Braves clubhouse to see Bobby Cox and then took time to tell the young Braves outfielder things like “good luck, play hard, work hard, etc.”   

Cox will likely announce his Opening Day roster after either Friday or Saturday’s game.  I’m still guessing Brooks Conrad gets the last spot for a position player and that Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes fill the final two bullpen spots. 

As for lineup projections, it still seems like Melky Cabrera will hold the leadoff spot until Nate McLouth can regain a consistent groove.  

Today’s lineup also provides reason to believe there will be some instances when Brian McCann is placed in the cleanup spot when the opposing team is starting a right-handed pitcher. It’s also interesting to see that Heyward is batting sixth and Yunel Escobar is in the seventh spot of the order.

While wrapping up the Florida portion of their exhibition schedule today, the Braves are going up against right-handed knuckleballer Eddie Bodine.   With this in mind, it’s time to wish a happy 71st birthday to Phil Niekro. 

The baseball accomplishments that I share with Niekro are limited to the fact that our fathers bought our first baseball gloves at a little sporting goods store in Wheeling, W.Va called Kelly Mikes.  

Cabrera 7
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Heyward 9
Escobar 6
McLouth 8
Hinske DH

Heyward returns and Chipper sits

Jason Heyward has returned to the Braves lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Astros.  OK, now that I’ve informed you that the phenom’s shin splints are no longer keeping him sidelined, is there really anything else below this that will prove to be any more interesting?

Well, I guess you might want to know that Chipper Jones was scratched from today’s lineup with because of an ingrown nail on his left big toe.  Or maybe, you’d like to know that Kenshin Kawakami’s blister on his right index finger won’t prevent him from making his final preseason tuneup during a Minor League game that will be held here at Disney on Sunday.

“No problem,” Kawakami said without needing the assistance of his Japanese interpreter.

Likewise, Jones said that his ingrown toenail wouldn’t be a problem if this was the regular season.  The veteran third baseman has batted .343 in the 35 at-bats he’s compiled during this exhibition season and like everybody else, I think he’s ready to take this show north. 

This morning, I had two players and one coach approach me and say something like, “are you guys getting as sick of this Spring Training stuff as us?”  While it’s always nice to come down here to Florida, I think it’s safe to say all of are looking forward to packing our bags tonight and heading back to Atlanta this weekend. 

Speaking of this weekend, it will be interesting to see the slimmed down-version of Andruw Jones, who will be coming to town with the White Sox for a two-game series.  Entering today, Jones was hitting .326 (15-for-46) with two homers. 

Mark Kotsay, who assumed Jones’ role as the Braves center fielder during the 2008 season, has hit .426 in the 47 at-bats he has compiled with the White Sox this year.   While Kotsay was in Atlanta for just about five months, I’d still have to say that he ranks as one of the best human beings that I have encountered in this business.

Speaking of good guys,  I had conversations this morning with Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner about the value of having the kind of cohesive clubhouse that the Braves believe that they possess this year.  Check later this afternoon for a story on this subject. 

“From a personality standpoint, this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,”  Hudson said. “There’s a really, really good mix of guys and personalities in here. I don’t want to make it sound like we didn’t have a good group of guys before us, but I think with this group everybody is really going to like each other.”

Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Prado 4
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Hinske DH


Braves getting healthy as Opening Day approaches

Jason Heyward said that he hopes to return to action tomorrow and Craig Kimbrel now knows that he will begin the upcoming season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer.

As the Braves prepare to oppose CC Sabathia and the Yankees this afternoon,  you can devour these mostly injury-related tidbits that were gathered during batting practice. 

While Yunel Escobar’s back was healthy enough for him to return to return to today’s lineup, the Braves are going to give Heyward at least one more day to rest the shin splints that began bothering him on Sunday. 

When I spoke with Heyward this morning he said, “I hope to play tomorrow.”  But the 20-year-old outfielder added,  “I know this is something that isn’t just going to go away immediately.” 

While Bobby Cox said that there’s a chance Heyward might play tomorrow against the Astros, his tone provided indication that he might wait until at least Thursday before putting his 20-year-old phenom back in the lineup.

Having already compiled 49 at-bats during the Grapefruit League season, Heyward has made all of his necessary preparations for the season.  Even if he rests for another day or two, he’ll still be able to get his timing back while playing the final games of the exhibition season.

Heyward took batting practice this morning and provided further indication that there isn’t any reason to think he won’t be ready for Monday afternoon’s Opening Day game against the Cubs.

Backup catcher David Ross still seems confident that he will be available on Opening Day.  But Ross, who also experienced a pain-free batting practice session this morning, will spend the next couple of days testing the strength of the right groin muscle that he strained on Thursday. 

Ross’ concerns were further diminished this morning, when he was able to run sprints  and do striders without feeling any discomfort.

As for Jordan Schafer, he has recently started taking live batting practice and believes he could join the Gwinnett roster at the end of April.  The 23-year-old center fielder said that he’s been able to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand and is no longer bothered by the fatigue that it presented earlier this year.   

Kimbrel impresses: With 14 career appearances above the Class A level, Kimbrel arrived in camp as a long shot to win a bullpen spot.  But the 21-year-old right-hander certainly made a strong impression before learning this morning that he will begin the season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer. 

Based on what he saw, Cox said that Kimbrel already has the stuff to be a successful pitcher at the big league level.  But the Braves want him to continue improving his command through the regular work that he wouldn’t receive if he began the season in the Atlanta bullpen.

Kimbrel will remain with the big league club this week and will likely make an appearance during one of the exhibition games played against the White Sox this weekend.

First time for everything:  Having been involved in professional baseball since arriving in Dodgers Minor League camp in 1960, Cox has seen plenty of oddities the game can present  But when the Yankees send Pat Venditte to the mound this afternoon, the Braves manager will see an ambidextrous pitcher for the first time.

Venditte pitched for the Venezuelan Winter League team managed by Eddie Perez this past winter.  Perez said the young Minor Leaguer has good stuff from both sides of the plate, but is especially effective against left-handed hitters. 

You can watch today’s game on MLB.TV and CSS.  Brian Jordan and Mike Morgan will serve as the broadcasters. 

Cabrera 9
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
McLouth 8
Sammons 2
Kawakami 1   


Minor injuries linger as Opening Day approaches

While spending this past weekend with a bunch of West Virginia fans in the hospitable city of Lexington Ky., I guess I missed a couple of big events in Braves land.  But I’m still thinking it was a lot more fan watching my family members celebrate WVU’s victory just minutes from the UK campus.

When I arrived in Kentucky on Friday afternoon and saw that Bobby Cox had told Jason Heyward that he will begin the season as his starting right fielder, the sarcastic side of me said, “‘well that’s one way to draw attention away from a story about a Minor Leaguer who had been busted soliciting a prostitute.”

But really, this announcement had everything to do with the fact that Cox didn’t seen any reason to delay the inevitable.  Even before the Grapefruit League season began, I think we all assumed that Heyward would be starting in right field next Monday afternoon.  

Now with Opening Day exactly one week away, the Braves just have to hope that a couple days of rest will prove to be enough for Heyward to get rid of the discomfort caused by the shin splints that have bothered him the past couple of days. 

This morning, Cox said shin splints can “bother you for a while.”  But with his tone, it was obvious that he doesn’t seem to concerned about this minor ailment.  It appears Heyward will likely return to the lineup in the next day or two. 

In other injury-related news, Yunel Escobar will miss today’s game against the Phillies in Clearwater because of a sore back that has kept him sidelined since Friday. 

“He worked out great (on Sunday), but woke up stiff today,” Cox said. “So I told him to stay back.” 

Heyward and Escobar have spent the past five weeks making all of their necessary preparations.  Now the Braves will provide them whatever rest necessary to provide them a chance to enter the regular season at or at least near full strength. 

ROSTER BATTLES:  Heading into these final days of the exhibition season, it appears the Braves are still debating whether to give their final roster spot for a position player to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston. 

Things haven’t exactly changed since I last posted an entry on Thursday.  During the past three games, Conrad has gone 0-for-8 and Thurston has gone 0-for-6.  This race is currently too close to call.

On the bullpen front, Cox said there are still a number of relievers still battling for the final two spots.  Four of those relievers  —  Jesse Chavez, Craig Kimbrel and LHPs Jonny Venters and Jo-Jo Reyes —  will be pitching against the Phillies this afternoon.  Scott Proctor is the other pitcher who is still being placed in this mix.

With the belief that Proctor will be given a few more weeks to strengthen his arm, I’m still thinking that Reyes and Chavez will get the final two spots in the bullpen.  Then of course after a couple of weeks one of these guys will be sent to the Minors to make room for Proctor.

HUDSON vs. Minor Leaguers:  Instead of facing the Phillies for the second consecutive time, Tim Hudson will pitch in a Minor League game back at Disney this afternoon.  Check back later this afternoon for his results.

The Phillies are sending J.A. Happ to the mound to face the Braves for the second time in six days.  This certainly shouldn’t bother Brian McCann, who took the southpaw deep twice last week at Disney.

TODAY’s LINEUP vs. Phillies
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
Infante 5
McLouth 8
Hicks 6
Medlen 1


McLouth begins the day with a blast

Back in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of Bradenton, former Pirate Nate McLouth has set himself up to break out of his maddening slump.

As I was completing this blog, McLouth drilled Charlie Morton’s 0-1 pitch the other way and over the left field wall for a leadoff homer.   It was the Braves center fielder’s  first extra-base hit since March 6 and just his third hit in the 39 at-bats he’s compiled this year. 

McLouth, who was acquired in the June trade that sent Morton to Pittsburgh, has taken advantage of two opportunities this week to compile at-bats in Minor League games.  Before today’s game, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said that he was gaining the sense that the 28-year-old outfielder was putting less pressure on himself and finding comfort at the plate. 

POSITION BATTLE:  When Brooks Conrad was seemingly making a highlight play with his glove on a daily basis, there was reason to believe that he was at least establishing himself as the favorite to win the last roster spot for a position player.  

But with the end of the Florida portion of the exhibition season just a week away, it seems pretty difficult to get a sense about whether the Braves are leaning toward filling this final spot with Conrad or Joe Thurston.

There isn’t any reason to read to much into the fact that Conrad is starting at third base for this afternoon’s game against the Pirates and Thurston will enter during the middle innings.

While you could decipher this to mean they are currently favoring Conrad, you could also deduct that this means they want to get a better look at Conrad playing third base. 

Having made 55 starts at third base for the Cardinals last year, Thurston has already shown what he can do at that position. 

STATS entering Thursday’s game
Conrad    .265 BA (9-for-34),  1 HR,  .390 OBP, .441 SLG
Thurston  .353 BA (12-for-34), 2 HRs, .371 OBP, .529 SLG 

The fact that Conrad is already on the 40-man roster might seemingly give him a slight advantage.  But when it comes time to make their final roster decisions, the Braves seemingly have the flexibility to add both Jason Heyward and Joe Thurston if they desire.  In fact, they may even be able to make room for Craig Kimbrel too. 

With Diory Hernandez recovering from shoulder surgery, the Braves could open a roster spot by placing him on the 60-day disabled list.   In addition, I think they could comfortably remove Stephen Marek, James Parr and possibly even Luis Valdez, who still hasn’t arrived because of visa problems, without too much fear of losing them to another clubMcLouth 8

McLouth 8
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Hinske 3
Infante 4
Ross 2
Conrad 5
Kawakami 1 .



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