Results tagged ‘ Joe Thurston ’

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.  

 

 

 

Tight battles for final roster spots

The Braves will be going back to Atlanta in 15 days and as things currently stand there isn’t any way to confidently state who is going to win their final available roster spots. 

We entered camp with the belief that Mitch Jones, Brent Clevlen, Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad would battle for the one spot available for a position player.   Nearly a month later, it looks like this is a two-man race being closely contested by Thurston and Conrad.

Thurston and Conrad have enjoyed nearly identical success at the plate.  Both have hit .333 (8-for-24) with a .533 slugging percentage.   Thurston has hit one more homer (2-1) and Conrad has compiled the better on-base percentage (.448 versus .360) with the assistance he has gained through an advantage in the walk (5-1) department. 

Both of these Minor League journeyman’s defensive versatility limits them to second base and third base.  If you’re looking for a current tiebreaker, it would likely come via the number of dazzling defensive plays Conrad has played at second base. 

“He has made more great plays than anybody else in the state of Florida,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. 

Entering camp it appeared there would be two available spots in the bullpen and during the early days Jesse Chavez emerged as a favorite for one of those spots.  But after struggling in his first two outings, Chavez fell back in the heat of a competition that could be won by a couple of underdogs. 

Chavez, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past two outings, Manny Acosta and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez are scheduled to follow starter Tommy Hanson during this afternoon’s game against the Marlins. 

While each of these hurlers still appear to be in the mix for one of the final two spots in the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters seem to be moving to the top of the list of candidates. 

As you know, Cox has routinely praised Kimbrel, who has allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings.  In addition, the veteran manager has continued to talk about the “super sinker” thrown by Venters, who has allowed just one earned run in his 5 1/3 innings.

This isn’t to say that Venters and Kimbrel have emerged as the definitive favorites in this battle.  But it seems pretty safe to say that both of these non-roster invitees are at least in the lead pack.   

NOTES:  Today’s game is being televised by MLB.TV, SportSouth and MLB Network. The folks at Fox Sports Net, which owns SportSouth, decided to have a split broadcast with Braves announcer Joe Simpson working in the booth with Marlins announcer Rich Waltz.

If everybody is in the sharing spirit down here in Jupiter, do you think the Cardinals could loan their first baseman when the Braves conclude their two-day swing in Jupiter tomorrow afternoon.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and yes this is why the Braves are wearing their green hats against the Marlins today.

Braves lineup for Wednesday’s game @ Marlins

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

Kawakami pleased with performance on split-squad Sunday

While working primarily on the two-seamer that has drawn his primary focus throughout Spring Training, Kenshin Kawakami was cruising along before experiencing a misfortune-filled fourth inning that forced him to stare at a rather ugly line on Sunday afternoon. 

Kawakami’s line read:  3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts.  But what Braves manager Bobby Cox saw was a successful tuneup for the regular season.

“For me, he had one of his best days ever,” Cox said.  “I don’t know how you explain errors, broken bats and groundball base hits.  There was one hard-hit ball and that was a groundball.  I thought he had a great day.” 

While Cox has been known to attempt to cover bad performances by feeding the media with surprise of a complimentary evaluation, there certainly wasn’t any reason for him to be too concerned about this outing. 

A pair of two-out doubles by Kaz Matsui and Carlos Lee led to a pair of Astros runs in the third inning.  The six-run fourth inning produced by Houston started with Braves third baseman Donell Linares allowing Pedro Feliz’s grounder to slip under his glove. 

Linares’ error was compounded when Tommy Manzella followed with a bunt single.  Another single loaded the bases before Michael Bourn delivered a two-run single.  Kawakami then uncorked a wild pitch that set the stage for his day to end with an RBI groundout off Matsui’s bat.  

“The results weren’t good, but I thought I pitched well,” said Kawakami, who has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in the 8 2/3 innings he has pitched during the Grapefruit League season.

Manny Acosta couldn’t share this same sense of optimism.  By the time he had thrown his sixth pitch of the fourth inning, the right-handed reliever had surrendered a two-run homer to Hunter Pence and a Carlos Lee solo shot that might have traveled a mile had it not been hit into the wind. 

While this group of Braves were suffering an 8-5 loss to the Astros, the Jason Heyward Braves were constructing an 8-5 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

Heyward began his two-double performance by drilling the first pitch he saw from Brandon Morrow into the right-center field gap.  The 20-year-old outfielder, who had recorded just one unofficial at-bat (during Friday’s rainout against the Pirates) since Tuesday night, is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with a .600 on-base percentage that has been aided by the six walks he’s drawn in 25 plate appearances. 

Before Sunday’s game, Chipper Jones mentioned that Freddie Freeman was swinging the bat better than his stats might indicate.  A short time later across the state, Freeman completed a three-hit performance that improved his batting average to .350 (7-for-20).

Roster battle: Brooks Conrad improved his odds of earning the final available roster spot for a position player by going 1-for-2 against the Astros and producing his third spectacular defensive play of the week behind the second base bag.  His chief competition Joe Thurston went 1-for-4 with a homer in the game against the Blue Jays. 

McCann’s blasts: Brian McCann began the 2009 season by homering in his first at-bat against Brett Myers, who was then with the Phillies.  The Braves catcher again victimized Myers on Sunday by sending his first homer of this exhibition season over the right center field wall. 

As impressive as McCann’s second-inning shot was, it paled in comparison to the one he hit in the fifth inning against Astros right-hander Tim Byrdak.  This no-doubt blast found its way into the small pond located beyond the right field wall at Osceola County Stadium.

Notes: Nate McLouth struck out in his last two at-bats against the Astros and is now hitting .045 (1-for-22) with 10 strikeouts… With starters (all but Jair Jurrjens) now scheduled to work at least four innings, there are a limited number of innings available for all of the pitchers in camp.  So expect to see a number of young pitchers included in the first round of cuts that will be announced on Monday…James Parr surrendered five runs during his first inning against the Blue Jays and then found himself credited with a win after holding them scoreless during his next two innings…Omar Infante’s three-hit game against the Astros improved his batting average to .250 (5-for-20). 

Conrad and Thurston could stage a tight battle

If the battle to earn the last roster spot for a position play ends the way it has started, Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston are going to force the Braves to make a tough decision. 

Conrad has been displaying some power  (two doubles and a homer) while hitting .462 (6-for-13) during his first six games of the Grapefruit League season.  Thurston’s .500 batting average has come courtesy of the four singles he has recorded in his eight at-bats. 

“Conrad has been playing great and Thurston, the same thing,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

From a defensive standpoint, Thurston and Conrad possess similar skills.  Both have seen most of their playing time at second and third base and also shown the ability to play the outfield if necessary.

The starting lineup for Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers had Conrad at second base and Thurston positioned at third base.

NOTES:

Javy Lopez has arrived in camp this week to serve as a special assistant, which basically means he’s in town to have some fun, soak up the atmosphere and catch up with some old friends from the organization. 

Lopez made the trip to Lakeland this afternoon and immediately started talking to Miguel Cabrera about using some of the bats his company, Bones, manufactures.  The former Braves catcher also wants Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to test some of his bats. 

Chipper Jones wants to get an early look at Roy Halladay during tomorrow night’s game against the Phillies.  The Braves third baseman was hurt when Halladay faced the Braves last year and he has just two career regular season at-bats (with both coming in 1999) against the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

But Cox indicated that he may opt to show some precaution with Jones, who has been sidelined since jamming his right thumb on Friday.   

“We’ll see,” Cox said. “You know jams don’t go away that quickly.” 

There might be another change in the schedule for Jair Jurrjens.  Cox now says the 24-year-old right-hander will throw his second round of live batting practice tomorrow.   This was the projected schedule until Sunday, when the Braves revealed he would wait until Wednesday to throw again.

Check back after the game to get clarification about Jurrjens’ schedule.

BRAVES LINEUP for Monday’s game
Infante 6
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Glaus 3
Hinske DH
Diaz 7
Ross 2
Conrad 4
Thurston 5
 

 

Source confirms it is highly unlikely Vazquez would approve trade involving Angels

A source close to Javier Vazquez said this morning that it’s “highly unlikely” that the veteran pitcher would approve a trade to the Angels or any of the other clubs that compete in the Western divisions of the American and National Leagues. 

As many of you know, Vazquez has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto any trades involving clubs that compete in these two divisions. 

So while the Angels might have more interest in Vazquez than Derek Lowe, there’s seemingly little reason to believe they’ll be able to work a deal involving the 33-year-old right-hander, who has made it known that he’d like to pitch in Atlanta beyond the end of this upcoming season, when his current contract expires. 

The Braves remain focused on their attempts to deal Lowe.

Just received confirmation that the Braves have signed Joe Thurston to a Minor League contract and provided him an invitation to big league camp.  Thurston hit .225 and compiled a .645 OPS in 124 games with the Cardinals this past season. 

Thurston could at least provide organizational depth as utility player.  He made 55 of his 66 starts as a third baseman this past season. 

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