Results tagged ‘ Jo-Jo Reyes ’

Braves make final roster decisions

Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters made solid impressions while experiencing their first Major League Spring Training.  But the two young Braves relievers learned Friday afternoon that they will begin this upcoming season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Manager Bobby Cox just announced that Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez have claimed the final two available spots in his bullpen.  In addition, he revealed that Brooks Conrad won his roster battle with Joe Thurston, who will also begin the season in Gwinnett. 

Once Scott Proctor is deemed ready to return from Tommy John surgery in a few weeks, Reyes or Chavez will likely be sent to the Minors. 

The Braves also revealed that highly-regarded first base prospect Freedie Freeman will begin the season with Gwinnett.  There was some thinking that he would spend at least a month or two with Double-A Mississippi. 

But some within the organization believe he needed to be at the Triple-A level where he will likely see more strikes than he would at the Double-A level. 

Cox also revealed that catcher Clint Sammons, shortstop Brandon Hicks, outfielder Matt Young and  right-handed pitchers Jeff Lyman and Cory Gearrin will also begin the season with Gwinnett.

Check back later for other roster announcements.

Final roster decisions expected to be made today

As many of the Braves pitchers are running and throwing in the bright green Turner Field outfield grass, manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and the members of the coaching staff are discussing their final roster decisions. 

It’s 3:15 p.m. ET and within the next hour or two we could learn who is going to fill the final two bullpen spots and whether the final spot for a position player will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston. 

While I am pretty confident that the final two bullpen spots will be given to Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes, I’m not going to be shocked if the Braves select Conrad or Thurston to begin the season as an extra utility player. 

The similarities between Conrad and Thurston extend far beyond the fact that their defensive abilities limit them to second base and third base.  Conrad runs a little better and draws the benefit of being a switch-hitter. 

Based solely on their offensive performances during the Grapefruit League season, Thurston would be the easy choice.  While he has finished strong and improved his batting average to .319 through 47 at-bats, Conrad has slumped and enters today hitting just .229 in 48 at-bats. 

But as you know, these decisions are never solely based on statistics compiled during Spring Training.

Despite the fact that Conrad has struggled with the bat recently, I still think his advantage comes from the fact that he was with the organization last year.  In the process, the Braves came to appreciate the work ethic and no-nonsense approach that he brought to the park every day. 

At the same time, Thurston must have been doing something right while appearing in 124 games last year for a Cardinals team that won the National League Central.   In the 64 games that he started he hit .227 and in his 61 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he hit .216 with a .344 on-base percentage.

Reyes and Chavez will likely earn the final roster spots solely based on their experience.  Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have much higher upsides and the need to spend a few more weeks or months nurturing their skills at the Minor League level. 

The potential ramifications of having Reyes begin the year in the bullpen have been discussed.  But with Kris Medlen available to serve as an emergency starter, the Braves seem willing to roll the dice through that they can escape the first 4-6 weeks of the season without having to deal with a rash of injuries in their starting rotation. 

Medlen is certainly capable of making a few starts if necessary.  And if the Braves were to lose two starters during the early portion of the season, they would have a problem that would trump the fact that one of their most glaring weaknesses entering the season is the fact that they don’t have any enviable depth beyond their first five starting pitchers. 

Heading down to the clubhouse.  I’ll be back shortly with the decisions. 

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 

Roster battles taking shape

Before this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, I mentioned that I felt the final two bullpen spots would be claimed by Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez.  A few hours later, I’m willing to make this assumption with greater confidence and also say that I think Brooks Conrad currently holds the lead in the battle for the last roster spot for a position player. 

Conrad ended an 0-for-15 slump that extended back to March 18 with a seventh-inning homer this afternoon off Chad Durbin.  But my thinking has more to do with the fact that even during his prolonged slump the Braves never soured on this journeyman, who gained a lot of favor with the work ethic he brought to the park during his short stints with Atlanta last year. 

Had Thurston been in the Braves organization last year he might have gained the same advantage.  So far he has proven to be the same kind of likable player who is very similar to Conrad in many ways. 

But if I had to guess right now, the nod will go to Conrad, who also draws the advantage provided by the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster and Thurston isn’t. 

“Brooksy did a great job for us last year,” Bobby Cox said. “He won us some games.”

Chavez at least regained his sanity this afternoon while working a perfect inning against the Phillies.  During his previous two outings, he had worked 1 1/3 innings, allowed 11 hits (all singles) and eight earned runs.

“The last two outings haven’t been indicative of the way he’s pitched,” Cox said. “He kept the ball down and he did it again today.  It was the same as the last two times for me.” 

Cox has repeatedly pointed out that Chavez was marred by bad luck in those previous two outings and those who witnessed both could certainly back up my belief that this wasn’t just another case where the veteran manager was going out of his way to back up a player that didn’t deserve to be defended. 

When we approached Chavez this afternoon, he looked relieved.  Thinking back on his two previous outings, he could only laugh and say, “what did I give up like 11 singles and only about half of them even left the infield?”

“I’m not the first to say it, but I’m not a spring pitcher,” said Chavez, who was a surprise addition to Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster last year. “But this is what it’s for.  Get them out of the way now and be ready to roll once the lights turn on.”

It was interesting to hear Cox say after today’s game that there is some concern about putting Reyes in the bullpen to start this year because of the fact that as a starter at Gwinnett he would provide insurance if one of the members of the Atlanta rotation was sidelined.

“It’s a predicament because Jo-Jo is a starter/backup guy if we send him out,” Cox said. “If we keep him, he could help us here too.”

With Reyes pitching two perfect innings today and Jonny Venters seemingly crumbling under the pressure while allowing the Phillies three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, there’s even more reason to believe the Braves would rather go with Reyes. 

Venters allowed a leadoff double to Jimmy Rollins and issued consecutive walks to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (with the bases loaded) before recording his first out.  As for Craig Kimbrel, the only thing he surrendered while going up against Utley, Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino was a single by Howard. 

But the Braves seem to be shying away from sending the still-green Kimbrel to the Majors with just 14 games of experience above the Class A Minor League level.  With this being said, he’s shown enough to lead me to expect to see him in Atlanta at some point this year.

If all of this proves to be true, those final bullpen spots will go to Chavez and Reyes.  And if the Braves are really hesitant about the fact that they don’t have much depth in the starting pitching department, they could send Reyes to Gwinnett to get stretched out when Scott Proctor is deemed ready to join the Atlanta bullpen. 

While Kris Medlen is certainly capable of making a spot start if necessary, his positioning in the rotation could weaken the bullpen’s depth.  As mentioned last week, this young right-hander has proven that his versatility extends to his ability to be a detriment to left-handed hitters. 

With Medlen in the bullpen mix, the Braves could be confident carrying Eric O’Flaherty as their only true left-handed middle reliever.  

 

 

 

Reyes preparing to make another good impression

Whenever the Braves have mentioned the possibility of Jo-Jo Reyes starting this season in their bullpen, I’ve always felt they would be better off sending him to Gwinnett to continue serving as a starter, who would be available if one of Atlanta’s starters was sidelined with an injury.

But the more I think about this, the more I wonder if they have reached the point where they’ve seen enough of him as a starter at the Major League level.   I mean you can only ask a horse to cover a mile so many times before you decide you better at least try him in some sprint races.

During the 18 starts he has made dating back to his last victory, Reyes has gone 0-9 with a 6.59 ERA.  Of course he’s also allowed seven earned runs in the 3 2/3 innings of relief that he has compiled during this stretch.

Of course with his desire to be more aggressive in the strike zone this year, Reyes has at least kept himself in the picture to win one of these final bullpen spots. 

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that the Braves might decide between Reyes and Jonny Venters to determine who will team with Eric O’Flaherty to serve as  left-handed option in the middle innings. 

But with Kris Medlen in place, the Braves may opt to begin the season with O’Flaherty as their only left-handed setup man. 

Medlen’s 2009 splits
vs. RHs  .328 BA  .386 OBP  .508 SLG   29 Ks 10 BBs
vs. LHs  .183 BA  .291 OBP .278 SLG 43 Ks 20 BBs

Medlen and Peter Moylan pitched in a Minor League game this morning.  Check back later for their results.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. LHP J.A. Happ and the Phillies

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

Bullpen picture becomes clearer on a cloudy Sunday

With ominous rain clouds hovering around the Disney area this morning, Jair Jurrjens and Nate Mclouth may have to alter today’s plans.

But it now appears that Mother Nature may cooperate until at least 2 p.m. ET.  This would likely allow Jurrjens the chance to complete the four innings that he is scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals today.  

If rain prevents the Braves and Cardinals from playing this afternoon, Jurrjens would get his work in during a Minor League game tomorrow. 

Because the Braves slated each of their pitchers to have at least one extra day of rest before their first regular season start, Jurrjens would still be on a normal schedule leading up to his season debut on April 7 against the Cubs. 

Speaking of Minor League games, McLouth was originally slated to bat eighth during this afternoon’s game against the Cardinals.  But the Braves decided it would be better to have him head to one of the back fields today to rack up some at-bats against Minor Leaguers.

If this Minor League game is played, McLouth would be able to compile nine at-bats (one per inning) and possibly get out of the funk that has led him to record just one hit and 14 strikeouts in his first 35 at-bats this year. 

If Mother Nature prevents play today, McLouth could certainly attempt to compile these at-bats during the same Minor League game that Jurrjens would be pitching in tomorrow.

Second round of cuts:  The battle for the final two available spots in the Braves bullpen lost a few candidates this morning, when it was revealed that right-hander Jeff Lyman and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez will spend the rest of camp on the Minor League side. 

Dunn and Lyman were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.  Gomez was among four players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others were catcher Orlando Mercado and outfielders Mitch Jones and Brent Clevlen.

While Dunn showed the strong arm the Braves knew they were getting when they acquired him as part of the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees, he also displayed the inconsistent command that has been present since he ended his days as a position player at the conclusion of the 2006 season.

“Dunn has that good arm,” Cox said. “He just needs more command of that fastball.  He rushes out there a little too much.  It’s just a matter of command.” 

Lyman, who allowed one run and recorded five strikeouts in four innings, also impressed Cox during his first big league camp. 

But as we move forward, it now appears that the battle for the final two bullpen spots will be waged between Scott Proctor, Jesse Chavez,  Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Jo-Jo Reyes and Manny Acosta.

It still seems optimistic to think that Proctor, who is just 10 1/2 months removed from Tommy John surgery, would be ready by Opening Day. Cox understands that the veteran right-hander wouldn’t be available on a regular basis during the early weeks of the season.

But with some scheduled offdays present during this two-week stretch, Cox is still at least keeping this possibility alive. 

Assuming that Proctor begins the season on the disabled list, Chavez, Venters and Reyes could be deemed the front-runners in this competition.  Kimbrel undoubtedly has the greatest upside and it’s obvious that Cox really likes this young flamethower.

But Kimbrel could benefit from a little more Minor League seasoning and the Braves would have reason to be reluctant to open a 40-man roster spot for him with the understanding that he might be sent back down when Proctor is deemed ready. 

Chavez has pitched more effectively since struggling in his first two outings and has the experience that he gained while making 73 appearances for the Pirates last year.

Venters or Reyes would team with Eric O’Flaherty to give the Braves two left-handed options during the middle innings. 

With the lack of depth in the starting pitching department, it still would seemingly benefit the Braves to have Reyes start the year with Gwinnett and be stretched out in the event that one of Atlanta’s starting pitchers goes down with an injury.

While Kris Medlen would be available to make a spot start or fill a vacant rotation spot for an extended stretch, you could argue that his move into a starter’s role weakens the depth that could benefit the Braves as they attempt to protect the arms of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Proctor. 

Still with Reyes pitching just one inning in his past two outings, it seems the Braves are seriously thinking about having him begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen. 

Cox has routinely praised Venters’ sinker and history has shown that he likes to have a pitcher (think Kevin Gryboski) like this available to utilize when there’s a need to erase a threat with a double-play groundout. 

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Cardinals

Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 5
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Blanco 8
Jurrjens 1 

   
 

The Grim Reaper destroys another vehicle

Welcome back to the world of ESPN where sports reign and vehicles become sitting ducks when Jason Heyward takes batting practice. 

Once again proving that he presents a greater danger to automobiles than a Toyota manufacturer, Heyward returned to Champion Stadium this afternoon and destroyed the mirror on the passenger side of  Braves media relations director Brad Hainje’s SUV. 

“He’s like the grim reaper,” Hainje said. “You know he’s going to get you.  You just don’t know when or how.”

During the early days of camp, Heyward destroyed the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s rental car.  

As mentioned yesterday, Braves president John Schuerholz said the club likely won’t construct a net to protect the cars the the executives park just beyond the right field wall here at the Disney complex.

“We’re just all going to drive convertibles next year,” Schuerholz said with a smile. 

McLouth update:  When I arrived around 1:30 p.m. ET this afternoon, Nate McLouth was in the indoor batting cages working to battle out of his maddening slump.  The 28-year-old center fielder  has just one hit and 12 strikeouts in his first 31 at-bats this year.

“It looks like he’s pressing a little bit,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who opted to give McLouth a night off on Friday night.  

While McLouth still has a little more than two weeks to get himself righted, he may not have enough time to convince the Braves that he is indeed the right man to serve as their leadoff hitter. 

Melky Cabrera has been utilized in this role numerous times and he’s back at the top of the lineup for tonight’s game against the Tigers.  The switch-hitting Cabrera found nearly equal success against right-handed (.277 BA and .332 OBP) and left-handed pitchers (.268 BA and .343 OBP last year. 

With this in mind, the Braves could opt to put him in the leadoff spot on essentially an everyday basis.  With this arrangement, he would spell the left-handed McLouth in center on days that the opponent is starting a southpaw.  On this days the left field position  would be manned  by Matt Diaz, who obviously needs to be in the lineup whenever the opposing team is starting a left-hander.

When the opponent is starting a right-hander, Cabrera could play left field and allow open the center field position for McLouth, who hit .269 against right-handers and .230 against lefties last year.

Braves manager Bobby Cox hasn’t said that he plans to utilize this arrangement.  But as McLouth continues to struggle, he at least has consider this to be one of his other options.

Since Troy Glaus signed with the Braves, Bobby Cox has never fully committed to saying that Glaus will definitely rest in the cleanup spot on an everyday basis.  Instead, he has often said something like “he’ll be somewhere around there.” 

With the Tigers starting Jeremy Bonderman tonight, Cox has his left-handed hitting catcher Brian McCann in the cleanup spot and Glaus hitting fifth

Glaus’ career numbers against left-handed pitchers include a .277 batting average, a .957 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 4.41 at-bats.  Against right-handers, he has hit .248 with an .822 OPS and struck out once every 3.77 at-bats.

NOTES:  The Braves still seem to be seriously thinking about having Jo-Jo Reyes begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.  But even if this arrangement is made, once Scott Proctor is deemed ready, there’s a chance Reyes could be moved back to Gwinnett to serve as a starter…Jordan Schafer took batting practice on the field today and felt little discomfort in his surgically-repaired left hand.  Schafer doesn’t believe he’ll be ready to be a part of Gwinnett’s lineup until the mid-to-latter part of April.

BRAVES LINEUP for Friday vs. Tigers

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

 

Heyward draws comparison to Pujols

When asked about the 450-foot homer that Jason Heyward bounced off the building beyond the right field wall here in Lakeland this afternoon, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was serious when he said, “He didn’t get all of it, but it went a long way.”

It’s widely recognized that Heyward will likely hit a number of home runs before his big league career is over some time around 2030.  But as the baseball world is coming to realize, his power is just a portion of his talents that set him up to be one of upper echelon talents who realize immediate success at the Major League level.

After watching Heyward battle back from an 0-2 count, spit on a 2-2 fastball that just missed the outside corner and then send Max Scherzer’s 3-2 fastball into orbit, Tigers manager Jim Leyland drew comparisons to the plate discipline and patience he saw from a young Albert Pujols nearly a decade ago.

“Obviously a young man that size, with the strength he has, he looks like a good-looking young player,” Leyland said.  “I was very impressed with his patience at the plate. That’s what I was impressed with more than anything. He didn’t chase any bad balls. That’s what impressed me. I was impressed with his at-bats. He didn’t even offer at anything unless it was a strike.  Pujols was the other guy I saw that was like that.”  <p> 

Braves manager Bobby Cox added, “I don’t think he has swung at a bad pitch yet.”

It will be years before Heyward could even be considered to be put in the lofty realm of Pujols.  But it’s still pretty telling that he’s already drawing comparisons to the Cardinals first baseman, who hit .329 with 37 homers while playing his 2001 rookie season at the ripe age of 21.

Jurrjens to face Yanks:  As originally reported, Jair Jurrjens is once again scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday against the Yankees.  But first the 24-year-old right-hander will test his shoulder one more time during a live batting practice session on Tuesday night.  

Huddy’s outing:  When Tim Hudson needed just 15 pitches to complete two scoreless innings against the Mets last week, he walked away wondering how he had gotten away a number of pitches that didn’t find their intended location. 

Hudson was once again dissatisfied with the fastball command he had while limiting the Tigers to one run and three hits in three innings on Monday afternoon.  But with his changup and sinker working, the 34-year-old right-hander walked away from the outing pretty satisfied. 

Jo-Jo as a reliever:  With yet another strong outing amid the setting of a Spring Training game, Jo-Jo Reyes once again drew some praise from Cox, who believes the left-handed hurler has improved both his sinker and slider. 

After Reyes limited the Tigers to one hit and recorded three strikeouts in two scoreless innings, Cox was asked if the left-hander might be considered for a relief role.

“More and more, it looks like he could,” Cox said. “My idea was always to have him start and be ready.  But if he throws like he’s throwing right now, he could go either way.”

Cox added that this possibility hasn’t been discussed.  Given the limited depth of starters that would be deemed Major League-ready at the beginning of the year, this might end up being an option that is never truly explored.

Odds and ends:  With two more hits on Monday, Troy Glaus has now recorded a single in each of his past five at-bats…Eric Hinske entered Monday with one hit in his first eight plate appearances of the year and exited with his own three-hit performance…You can watch Heyward and the rest of the Braves face Roy Halladay and the Phillies on CSS tomorrow night.   First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.    
    

Medlen to start Tuesday

Kris Medlen is going to make his Major League debut when he starts in place of Jo-Jo Reyes against the Rockies on Tuesday night. 

During the six starts he’s made for Triple-A Gwinnett this year, Medlen has gone 4-0 with a 1.07 ERA and limited opponents to a .167 batting average.   The 23-year-old right-hander  hasn’t allowed a run in his past 19 2/3 innings. 

With these dominant stats, Medlen has provided himself the opportunity to make his Major League debut before Tommy Hanson, who is widely considered the game’s top right-handed prospect.   Hanson, who is 1-3 with 1.99 ERA in seven starts for Gwinnett, is  still expected to be promoted to Atlanta within the next month or two. 

Reyes, who is 0-9 with a 6.58 ERA in his past 18 Major League starts, will now assume a spot in the Braves bullpen.  

Waiting on the boys from Gwinnett

Well it’s good to see a Braves pitching staff producing dominant stats similar to the ones that Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine produced back in the day.  Unfortunately it seems like the some of the guys producing these numbers in Gwinnett County are still a few weeks away from making the 30-mile trek to the organization’s home base in Fulton County. 

In their past 15 games entering Saturday, Triple-A Gwinnett’s starting rotation had posted a 1.17 ERA.  That equates to 11 runs in their past 84 2/3 innings, or one fewer run than Kenshin Kawakami has allowed in his past 9 2/3 innings. 

Tommy Hanson has allowed two earned runs in his past 18 innings and Kris Medlen has totaled 13 consecutive scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 1.17. Charlie Morton limited Durham to one run and six hits in eight innings on
Friday night.  The lanky right-hander has allowed just three runs in
his past 20 innings.  

Obviously it hasn’t been surprising that the two weakest links in the Atlanta rotation this year have been Kawakami and Jo-Jo Reyes, who has assured himself of going at least 11 months between Major League victories.

Because the Braves decided to give Kawakami a three-year, $23 million contract in January, some might have gained the impression that he could prove to be a difference maker.  But at 33 years-old the Japanese right-hander has provided every indication he’s nothing more than a fourth or fifth starter.

But with Hanson and Medlen waiting in the wings, it would be hard to argue how Kawakami could fit in as one of the top five pitchers in the Atlanta rotation over the life of his three-year deal, which runs concurrently with Derek Lowe’s.

As for Reyes, he has shown flashes that he has the capability of being solid third starter.  But as his developmental process continues to grow even longer, the 24-year-old left-hander continues to find ways to extend a losing streak that now extends back to June 23.

With improved control and the development of a solid breaking ball, Reyes possesses almost all of the tools he needs to be a successful big league pitcher.  But he’s still lacks the ever-important ability to overcome adversity. 

As soon as Yunel Escobar botched a second-inning grounder during the second inning of Friday’s game against the Phillies, you could basically see Reyes come unwound.  He then issued a four-pitch walk to the .182-hitting Chris Coste before lobbing Cole Hamels’  swinging bunt into right field.

Should Reyes have let Hamels’ slow roller roll foul?  Should he have simply thrown through Hamels to draw an interference call?  Taking either one of these actions might have provided an immediate solution that would have likely prevented the Phillies from constructing their four-run second inning. 

But mistakes like this are going to occur and Reyes’ most glaring sin proved to be how he reacted to the growing adversity that he faced following Escobar’s error. 

I’m certainly not going to be hypocritical and claim that Morton should have been brought to Atlanta before Reyes.  Because he  was injured most of Spring Training, Morton really wasn’t even an option when Reyes joined the big league rotation on April 18. 

In addition, I was among those who believed Reyes was the better choice because he seemed to be mentally tougher.  But if he struggles on Wednesday against the Mets, Morton should be given a chance to prove himself during the final weeks of May.

Obviously, Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen are the top options available in Gwinnett.  But because they aren’t on the 40-man roster, Morton be given the chance to maintain a rotation spot until one or both of those young right-handers are promoted in June. 

Or Morton could at least fill a rotation spot until Tom Glavine is ready to return in a couple of weeks.

Regardless of how you analyze this, Reyes is running out of opportunities to prove himself.   Despite the fact that he’s improved over the course of the past year, it’s hard to see great potential when you look at the fact that he’s 0-9 with a 6.61 ERA in his past 18 appearances (17 starts).

While the Braves have the option to move Reyes back to the Minors, they aren’t exactly in a position where they could do the same with Kawakami.  First of all, he deserves more than five career starts to prove himself and secondly, by doing so the organization would be acknowledging the mistake that they made by giving him the lucrative three-year contract.

Things aren’t exactly going to get any easier for Kawakami when he opposes the Phillies at the homer haven known as Citizens Bank Park on Sunday.   Having allowed five homers during the first 25 2/3 innings of his career, the baseball gods have given him the cruel assignment of making consecutive road starts in the band boxes located in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. 

When I drew the analogy that this would be like sending Appalachian State into Ann Arbor on consecutive weekends, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien reminded me that going into Michigan isn’t much of a challenge now that Rich Rodriguez is coaching there. 

And with that, my day has been made. It’s nice to know that non-West Virginians are now making fun of the man that both the Hatfields and McCoys love to hate.  

      

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?   

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41,586 other followers