Results tagged ‘ John Smoltz ’

Slumping Mets limp into Atlanta

With their pitching staff providing indication that April was a fluke and Jeff Francoeur duplicating the nosedive he experienced in Atlanta last year, the Mets will limp into Turner Field tonight looking much more vulnerable than that club that swept the Braves at Citi Field less than a month ago.

That three-game series in New York proved to be one of the ugliest the Braves have played in recent memory.   Brian McCann was confused about the infield fly rule.  Yunel Escobar decided he wanted to deny Troy Glaus an RBI on a routine sacrifice fly.  Then to end the forgettable weekend, the Braves were handed a 1-0 loss when rain prevented the resumption of play after the fifth inning of the series finale.

There was a sense that things could get wore for the Braves.   But even the harshest cynic would have had a tough time believing that just four days later, manager Bobby Cox would be staring at a nine-game losing streak and the reality that he would have to spend at least the next two weeks without both Yunel Escobar and Jair Jurrjens.  

When Jurrjens and Escobar were both injured on April 29, there was reason to believe if this would be a season that would lead Cox to wish he had retired one year earlier.  But 18 days later, there is reason to wonder if this is a season that is fittingly shaping up to once again show the kind of steadying influence Cox provides through disastrous stretches.  

The Braves certainly haven’t escaped their early-season mess while winning five of their past six games.  But they have at least put themselves in a good position as they enter a 13-game stretch that will carry them into a three-game series (May 31-June 2) against the Phillies.   

But before looking ahead to this week’s two-game set against the surging Reds or the opportunity to play the Pirates both of the next two  weekends, the Braves must first look to take advantage of the slumping Mets, who have lost five straight and seven of their last eight games.  

When the Braves were in New York, the Mets were in the midst of a 10-1 stretch during which their pitchers posted a 1.99 ERA.    This same pitching staff has posted a 5.38 ERA while going 4-11 in May.   <p>

When he got re-acquainted with some of his former Braves teammates last month, Francoeur was in the early stages of the slump that has led to the .214 batting average that he will carry into tonight’s series opener against Derek Lowe.  

After Francoeur batted .457 with three homers in his first 10 games this year, some Braves fans were wondering why he couldn’t have produced these kinds of numbers under the tutelage of Terry Pendleton.    But in some ways his struggles this season mirror those that he experienced last year in Atlanta.  

Since hittting .302 with a .947 OPS through  his first 14 games this year, Francoeur has batted .154 with a .421 OPS in the 24 games that have followed.  

Last year, he hit .304 with a .780 OPS in his first 14 games and then batted .204 with a .528 OPS over the course of his next 24 games.  

Like Francoeur, Mike Pelfrey enters tonight’s matchup against Lowe without the same kind of confidence that he possessed when he tossed five scoreless innings against the Braves on April 25.   At the time, he hadn’t allowed a run in 24 consecutive innings.   

Through his first three starts in May, the 26-year-old right-hander has completed 17 innings and allowed 13 earned runs.   When he last opposed the Braves at Turner Field on July 17 of last year, he was tagged for nine earned runs and nine hits in just 4 1/3 innings.  

Smoltz vs. Glavine:   If you’re not watching “24″ or the game tonight, I really don’t know what else you could be viewing.  But if you want to watch Tom Glavine and John Smoltz play a competitive round of golf tune to the Golf Channel at 9 p.m. ET tonight to see them featured on Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf.  If you don’t have a DVR, the match will be shown multiple times throughout this week.
 
 

Smoltz not interested in congressional seat

When I was informed last night that the Atlanta-Journal Constitution was reporting that the Republican Party might approach John Smoltz to run for a Congressional seat, I’ll have to admit that I was caught off guard. 

Based on a series of text messages, I received from Smoltz this morning it is safe to assume that he was just as surprised.

Smoltz chose to go on the record with a statement that simply read, “this is not in my plans.”

Based on what Smoltz revealed, it’s pretty safe to say that the Republicans had never informed him that they were thinking about asking him to run for the congressional seat that will be vacated this year when U.S. Rep. John Linder completes his 10th term.

When asked for his thoughts about Smoltz running for Congress, Chipper Jones said, “I, I, I don’t know how to answer that.” 
 

Material brought to you at the expense of McGwire and Kiffin

While I will admit to previous consumption of alcohol, I’m not willing to concede that this substance assisted me while I spent time at wedding receptions perfecting dance moves that have hopefully never been imitated.  

I mean, those same convulsions have occurred after an early-morning shot of V-8.   

Seriously though, it was both comical and maddening to hear Mark McGwire’s unwillingness to concede that steroids allowed him to morph into one of the most powerful creatures the game of baseball has ever seen.    

As McGwire continued to speak to Bob Costas during his hour-long acknowledgement address on Monday night, I could only think that it might be time for Saturday Night Live’s producers to resurrect that “Really” skit they did about Michael Vick a few years back.

McGwire has the right to maintain his opinion that these steroids didn’t serve as performance or statistical enhancers.  But as he minimizes their benefit by saying that he simply used them in a therapeutic manner to expedite the healing process, doesn’t he also show disregard for the determination many others have shown while dealing with the daily grinds of this game.  
While watching Monday’s interview, I couldn’t help but think about Tom Glavine.  Here’s a 300-game winner who arguably came close to maximizing the potential success he could gain through the game.  But how much better might his troublesome left shoulder felt had he consumed these chemicals that allow the body to bounce back quicker than normal?  

Over the past couple of years, Chipper Jones has said that he is disturbed about the fact that history will forever look suspiciously at the statistics that he and every other player from this era produce.  
 
Like this is sad but true, so too is the fact that we’ve reached a point where very little surprises me when it comes to this subject.
 
Of course if you were to tell me that Glavine was structurally enhanced by anything more than the occasional shot of cortisone, then I’d probably respond with something like, “yeah and Lane Kiffin will become as USC’s version of Joe Paterno.”  

Cy Young Trio:  Some of you were discussing the fractured state of Atlanta’s Cy Young trio after Greg Maddux was hired as an assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.  

While I understand why some of you wonder whether this was a slap in the face to the Braves, I didn’t see this as surprising.   When he was still with the Braves, Maddux told me that the game’s business model had always led him to stay away from making anything other than Las Vegas his family’s permanent residence.

Maddux loved the Braves and his family loves the city of Atlanta.  But his earliest ties are to the Cubs and his more recent dealings have been with Cubs GM Jim Hendry.   Truthfully, I really don’t know how well he got to know Frank Wren, who joined the Braves in September of 1999 and was still the club’s assistant GM when Maddux went to Chicago after the 2003 season.  

These special assistant roles are usually reserved for guys who have strong relationships and some kind of history with the GMs.   With this in mind, I just think the better fit at this time was for Maddux to lock horns with Hendry.   

My question is, does this arrangement provide any more reason to debate which hat Maddux should be wearing when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Now to round up the update on the Cy Young trio, John Smoltz took time about two months ago to begin mending his relationship with the organization.  Everything seems to be heading in the right direction on that front.  

So while Smoltz might never again throw a pitch for the Braves, I don’t think he’ll feel the desire to stay completely away from Turner Field during his retirement years.

As for Glavine, I think he still has a right to feel just as infuriated as some of those Tennessee students and fans who have creatively found ways to destroy their Lane Kiffin t-shirts.   But this guy is a class act I get the sense that his relationship with the organization will also be repaired in the near future.

Speaking of former Braves left-handers, Chuck James is expected to begin throwing for teams within the next week.  The 28-year-old southpaw missed all of the 2009 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.   

While the Braves might have a need for somebody like James to improve their organizational depth in the starting pitching department, the southpaw may still be upset about how they handled his shoulder which bothered him for more than a year before he was completely shut down.
  
Chris Resop spent the past season and a half pitching in Japan and now he’s ready to once again compete for a spot in the Braves bullpen. He has signed a Minor League contract and received an invitation to Spring Training.  

The 27-year-old right-hander, who made 16 appearances with the 2008 Braves, is excited about his arm strength and the sink that he’s recently gained with his two-seam fastball. 
 
Catch you later this week.   Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

Smoltz will forever be a Brave

This was truly a sad afternoon for the Braves.  While John Smoltz might have spent the past few months wearing a Red Sox uniform, he’s forever a Brave and arguably the most succesful athlete to ever play for one of Atlanta’s professional organizations.

When the Red Sox announced this afternoon that Smoltz had been designated for assignment, Braves general manager Frank Wren didn’t pump his fist or perform a celebratory dance. 

Instead like everybody else who has ever known the veteran hurler, he felt sympathetic to emotional battle that is waging within Smoltz. 

While Wren might have been correct in his assessment that Smoltz’s shoulder would prevent him from being an asset in the Atlanta rotation this year, Smoltz was anything but wrong to accept yet another great challenge in foreign territory.

Smoltz’s days as a starting pitcher are likely complete.  But after he takes some time to mull his options at his Atlanta residence this weekend, there’s a chance he’ll opt to go to the Minors and prepare himself to spend the final weeks of this season as a reliever. 

Smoltz sent me a text earlier this afternoon saying that he’d call later.  If that call doesn’t come until Sunday or Monday, I won’t be surprised.  For the first time since he struggled during the first half of the  1991 season, he’s in a position where he’s wondering if he is still capable of finding success at the Major League level. 

While I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that Smoltz would sign with the Braves and attempt to regain his form with Triple-A Gwinnett, I think it’s much safer to assume that he’ll return to the Red Sox and spend the next couple of weeks attempting to right himself with their Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket.

Right now, Smoltz doesn’t even know for certain whether he’d be capable of coming out of the bullpen as few as  three times in a week.  This is a question that can only be answered by him going to the Minors and testing the strength and durability of his shoulder.

The Red Sox seem to be open to this arrangement and the ever-competitive Smoltz would seemingly welcome the ability to accept yet another challenge. 

But if this was indeed the end of Smoltz days on the mound, Braves fans can shed a tear for one of their legends and then celebrate the fact that he at least now will be returning home with the opportunity to be a part of their organization for the rest of his life.

There’s no doubt that Smoltz has some hard feelings toward the Braves organization.  But hopefully his relationships with members of the club’s upper management can be mended qhick enough for him and Tom Glavine to soon have the opportunity to experience the same kind of joy that Greg Maddux found a few weeks ago,  when his Braves career was celebrated at Turner Field.   

Maddux: The Great Entertainer

While driving to Greg Maddux’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony this
morning, I was thinking  I’d blog about some of my best Maddux-related
stories.  But upon further review, I decided that in the best interest
of remaining employed, I’d keep some of those hilarious comments and
events out of the eyesight of innocent children.

When I was
working on Maddux’s retirement story in December, Chipper Jones
referred to the four-time Cy Young Award winner as the “the same
dirtbag he’s always been.”

“He’s one of the grossest guys I’ve ever been
around in my life,” Jones said.  “That was part of his charm. That’s how he kept the
clubhouse mood light. That’s how he entertained himself.”

Maddux
might have occasionally tainted some sanitary socks before throwing
them back in the clubhouse bin for an unsuspecting teammate to grab. 
And there might have been some occasions when was thoroughly amused by
the telling of some of the world’s crudest jokes. 

But at the
end of the day, he was essentially just a guy’s-guy, who would have
been the one of the most popular inhabitants of the nation’s best frat
houses.

While his 355 career wins, four consecutive Cy Young
Awards and 18 Gold Glove Awards made him extraordinary, the fact that
he remained ordinary is the primary reason that he was so beloved by
teammates, coaches, media members and anybody else, who had the
pleasure to know him as something more than simply the greatest pitcher
of his generation.

During Friday’s induction ceremony, Braves
broadcaster Don Sutton may have provided Maddux the greatest compliment
while pointing out that he’d watched Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver Roberto
Clemente, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays play. 

“None of them gave
me the thrill that I got while watching you,” Sutton said.  “It was a
remarkable experience.  I used to sit up there and try to think with
you, but then I’d realize that I was as overmatched as those hitters.”

There
were a number of comical stories told throughout the day and with
little surprise some of the funniest were provided by Maddux’s longtime
pitching coach, Leo Mazzone. 

Mazzone once again told the
story about the exchange he had with Maddux during his 89-pitch,
three-hit masterpiece at Yankee Stadium in 1997.  After umpire John
Hirschbeck stopped Maddux as he came back toward the dugout after a
half-inning, Mazzone asked, “What did he say to you.”

“He told
me, I’m as good as advertised,” Maddux replied. “Isn’t that (something)
Leo, now I also have to live up to the expectations of the umpires.”

Mazzone
also talked about a dominant stretch of Maddux’s career, during which
the legendary hurler pointed out that he’d gone at least two months
without being visited on the mound by his pitching coach.

“He
said Leo you haven’t been out to the mound this year and I said, “What
for?” Mazzone said. “Then he said, “Well it gets kind of lonely out
there.”  He said, ‘I’m tired of talking to Chipper, you know you have
to pick your spots with the umpires and Eddie Perez doesn’t speak
English.”

So
after Maddux arranged for Mazzone to visit the mound when he looked
into the dugout during his next start, this was essentially the
exchange that ensued:

Maddux:  How you doing coach, how am I looking?
Mazzone:  Pretty good Mad Dog, you’ve got a three-hit shutout going.
Maddux: Well it was nice talking to you.

Jones
also repeated the story about how he ran over Maddux during the first
inning of his Opening Day start in 1995.  For those who forget, Jones,
who was beginning his first full year with the Braves, aggressively
attacked Barry Bonds’ pop-up to the first-base side of the mound and in
the process rolled the man who had won the previous three National
League Cy Young Awards.

When he looked up and saw Maddux also
on the ground, Jones heard a message that he relayed during Friday’s
ceremony by regularly utilzing the words, “bleep” and “bleepin”.

“I got a tongue-lashing that my father never even thought about giving me,” Jones said.

Adding
a portion of the story I’d never previously heard, Jones said that
Maddux did at least congratulate him after he drove home the season’s
first run during the bottom half of the same inning.  

According to Jones, Maddux said, “Hey Larry, nice job.  That’s awesome.  Now stay the bleep away from me.”

Because
he was at  his son’s baseball tournament in Florida, Tom Glavine wasn’t
able to attend Friday’s events.  But via a video he provided a
congratulatory message and talked about how special it was to be part
of the great Braves starting rotations that included himself, John
Smoltz and Maddux.

“It’s a well-deserved honor and I hope
someday that the trio of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz can meet up again
in Cooperstown,” Glavine said.  

Welcome Mr. Hanson

I’m not sure how Tom Glavine and John Smoltz passed the time leading up to their Major League debuts, but it’s quite obvious that they weren’t provided the technological luxuries that Tommy Hanson utlized to calm his nerves heading into this afternoon’s game. 

As he played solitaire on his iPod or iPhone, Hanson didn’t seem fazed about the fact that he was about to experience a debut that had been hyped more than the ones that Glavine and Smoltz experienced at the start of their illustrious careers. 

“Those guys weren’t as heralded,” Cox said.  “Noboby really knew John (Smoltz) because we had traded for him and then he came through our system.  Everybody knows Tommy (Hanson) because of Spring Training.” 

Actually before Hanson impressed during his first big league camp this year, he was well known throughout the baseball world.  After his 0.69 ERA allowed him to become the first pitcher named the Arizona Fall League MVP, the big right-hander became as heralded as any of the game’s pitching prospects.    

There’s no doubt that Hanson will battle some of the same nerves that his close friend and roommate Kris Medlen encountered during his May 21 Major League debut.

But at the same time, he’s confident that he won’t experience the same kind of meltdown that led Medlen to throw find the strike zone with just three of his 18 third-inning pitches. 

When asked if he’d provided Hanson any advice, Medlen said, “what do you mean, like how not to (stink) during your debut?”

When Glavine debuted on Aug. 17, 1987, he allowed six earned runs and lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the Astros.   

While introducing himself to the Majors on July 23, 1988, Smoltz limited the Mets to one run over eight innings.

The likes of Chuck James, James Parr and Kyle Davies have provided the reminder that a career path isn’t determined during the debut or first few starts of a pitchers career. 

But it would certainly be nice to see Hanson experience a good start to a career that the fans of Atlanta would like to enjoy for many years to come.   

Smoltz returns to Braves camp

One day shy of the four-year anniversary of the trade that sent him to the Rays in exchange for Jorge Sosa, Nick Green has returned to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.   The likeable infielder will start at short for the Red Sox this afternoon and it appears that he’ll begin the season on Boston’s 25-man roster. 

Of course Green’s return to Disnsy was upstaged by some guy named Smoltz, who popped into the Braves clubhouse around 8 a.m. this morning to shoot the breeze with Bobby Cox and some of his former teammates and coaches.   This afternoon, he’s going to play a round of golf with his friend that everyone simply knows as Tiger. 

When Smoltz entered the Braves dugout this morning, he was wearing a pair of Red Sox shorts.  Things will really start to seem odd in June when he’s standing on a mound and pitching in games that matter for the Red Sox. 

Once he proves that his surgically-repaired shoulder is sound, Smoltz will join Boston’s rotation and I will guarantee that he’ll positioned to ensure he’ll start one of the games the Red Sox play at Turner Field  (June 26-June 28). 

When he called last night to make sure that I was well aware of the fact that his Michigan State Spartans had advanced to the Final Four, Smoltz asked a number of questions about the Braves.    Obviously, when you’ve spent the previous 21 seasons in an organziation, it’s difficult to break the attachment.  

While he might physically be part of a different orgnaization, Smoltz will forever be a Brave.  Even while he spent those five seasons with the Mets, I couldn’t help but view Tom Glavine as anything other than a Brave. 

More than 20 years since they were first introduced to each other during Spring Training with the Braves, Smoltz and Glavine crossed paths again on Monday morning. 

“I walked in, saw him on the trainer’s table and said, “OK, you’re right where you need to be,” Smoltz said. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox is still evaluating how his lineup will look at the beginning of the season.  But with Garret Anderson, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in the same lineup for the first time today, I think we can gather that he’s leaning toward batting Kelly Johnson in the leadoff spot putting McCann in the cleanup spot to protect Chipper. 

Today’s lineup:
Kelly Johnson 2B
Yunel Escobar SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Garret Anderson DH
Jeff Francoeur RF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Matt Diaz LF
Jordan Schafer CF

 

Kawakami scratched

This is essentially the same blog as the one that I posted earlier. But with the revelation that Kenshin Kawakami has been scratched from tonight’s start because of right shoulder fatigue, I’m adding this top.

Javier Vazquez will start in his place.  Vazquez, who pitched against the U.S. on Saturday, will be pitching on regular rest. 

I’ll provide more details when I come back upstairs.  Kawakami is expected to talk to the media at 4:30 p.m. ET.

(NOW BACK TO THE ORIGINAL BLOG)

So I sent some of the guys a text this morning to find out who they
were picking to win the NCAA tourney.  Always the prompt professional,
Tom Glavine quickly revealed that he’s predicting Louisville to emerge
victorious in a Final Four field that will also include Memphis, Pitt
and North Carolina.

A few minutes later, Jeff Francoeur said
that he believes that UNC or Louisville will win it all.  Then John
Smoltz attempted to have some fun by saying that his Michigan State
Spartans, West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt will participate in the
Final Four. 

Smoltz knows how much I dislike both Pitt and
Syracuse (primarily for the crime Marvin Graves committed during a 1992
game in Morgantown).  As an MSU fan, I guess he couldn’t bring himself
to truly make my blood boil with mention of that Ann Arbor school that
currently employs that once highly-regarded football coach. 

After
enjoying his laugh, Smoltz revealed his true Final Four prediction
consists of UNC, Villanova, MSU and Memphis.  Respecting my elders, I
wouldn’t have called him if Cal St. Northridge had held on to win their
first-round matchup against Memphis.

Now that we’ve all finished
our bracket selections, it’s time to look at some of the tough roster
decisions the Braves have to make.  By the time I take this laptop back
to Atlanta in two weeks, we may have a better idea about who will begin
the season as the starting center fielder.

Based on what I’ve
seen, Jordan Schafer has clearly established himself as the
front-runner in this competition.  The 22-year-old prospect is the best
defensive option and his speed/power capabilities make him more
attractive in the leadoff spot than Josh Anderson or Gregor Blanco.

But
some guys who have been around this game much longer than I have seem
to think Schafer could benefit from the opportunity to spend some more
time in the Minors.  From a business perspective, this would help the
Braves, who don’t want to start his arbitration-eligible clock any
earlier than necessary. 

Anderson is certainly capable of
handling the position and the role of leadoff hitter.  The fact that
he’s out of options also aids his bid to win this position battle.  But
I’ve also been told not to eliminate Gregor Blanco, who has spent the
past couple of weeks with Venezuela in the WBC. 

With Tom
Glavine not needed until April 18, I’m expecting the Braves will begin
the season with eight relievers.   Assuming Peter Moylan is healthy and
Cox is comfortable with the fact that he might not be available for
back-to-back appearances during the early weeks of the season: I’d say
the early bullpen locks are: Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Moylan,
Blaine Boyer, Eric O’Flaherty and Boone Logan. 

Jeff Bennett,
Manny Acosta, Jorge Campillo, Buddy Carlyle, Kris Medlen will be
battling for one of those final two spots.   My expectation is that at
least one of these hurlers will be traded. 

Also with Jo-Jo
Reyes pitching well, there’s seemingly less reason to send Campillo to
Triple-A Gwinnett to remain conditioned as a starter.  So I would have
to say, I’m guessing Campillo begins the season in Atlanta.

With
Bennett and Acosta available the final spot, it also would make sense
to let Medlen gain more seasoning as a starter at the Triple-A level.  
But I think we’ll be seeing him in Atlanta at some point this year. 

The Braves haven’t announced tonight’s lineup yet. I’ll post it in the comments section later.

In
case you were wondering, my Final Four predictions are West Virginia,
Oklahoma, Missouri and Pitt.  But when WVU plays my alma mater tomorrow
at 3 p.m., you better believe that I’ll be pulling for Dayton.      

Lowe has game

Jeff Francoeur would obviously love to avoid an arbitration hearing. But before going to play tennis with his wife Friday night, the young outfielder’s greatest concerns actually centered around what he’d just seen Derek Lowe do on the golf course. 

“When Smoltzie left, I thought for sure, I’d be the best golfer on the team,” Francoeur said. “But I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. Derek Lowe is good.” 

A Braves All-Star catcher who wished to remain anonymous went one step further by saying, “Derek Lowe is the best golfer I’ve ever seen.  But don’t write that because it will make Smoltzie mad.”

While looking for new courses in the Ft. Myers area, Smoltz is probably too busy to read about what his newly-slender,  unnamed former batterymate is saying  But he wasn’t too busy to respond to this this Lowe-hype with a text message that simply read, “Whatever”. 

Now that he has wind of Lowe’s golf skills, Smoltz’s competitive spirit will probably lead him to travel to the Orlando area on a day when he can test his golf game against the new Braves ace.

“Lowe is pretty consistent,” Francoeur said. “He’s always going to be in the low 70s.  But Smoltz can go lower.  If they played 10 times, Lowe would probably win three or four times.”

Two days in Florida and already I have two blogs that include stories about what the boys are doing on the golf course.  Tomorrow’s entry will detail the game of “arbitration chicken” being played by Francoeur and the Braves. 

Actually there really isn’t anything new to report on the Francoeur arbitration front.  It still appears that a hearing is inevitable and I’m not sure this is good for either side.

Francoeur has arrived in camp with an enhanced sense of confidence that could certainly be destroyed when he has to listen to the full-scale attack the Braves plan to utilize in the arbitration hearing.

While saving some money, the Braves will also be creating the possibility that Francoeur’s confidence will be shaken to the point that he’s unable to avoid a repeat of last year’s struggles. 

Let’s just hope there is a resolution before next Friday’s scheduled hearing. But with that being said, I don’t see this happening. 

– Mark Bowman

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