Results tagged ‘ Jordan Schafer ’

Johnson sits again

Jordan Schafer’s stint in the leadoff spot was short-lived or at least interrupted by the fact that the Astros were starting a left-hander during Sunday’s series finale.  My guess is that we’ll see him back in the top spot against some right-handed starters in the very near future. 

But Schafer didn’t exactly make a good first impression in the role on Saturday, when he struck out three times and mistakenly read left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak’s pickoff move during a fifth-inning stolen base attempt.

Manager Bobby Cox’s decision to move Schafer back down to the eighth spot on Sunday wasn’t as surprising as the fact that Kelly Johnson found himself back on the bench for the fourth time in five games.  The second baseman broke out of a 4-for-39 funk with a pair of hits on Saturday.

Obviously the right-handed hitting Omar Infante has been hot recently, recording six hits in the 12 at-bats he recorded in the leadoff role last week.  Using him in a strict platoon role at second base is easier to understand from a defensive perspective.  Statistically,  it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

This year Johnson has hit .308 (8-for-26) against left-handed pitchers and just .174 against right-handed pitchers.  Dating back to the beginning of the 2008 season, the 27-year-old second baseman has hit .330 (58-for-176) against left-handed pitchers and .260 (115-for-443) against right-handed pitchers.   <p>

Anderson delcines rehab:  Like I’ve said in the past, Garret Anderson is a nice guy who had a nice career with the Angels.  But as time passes, he simply gives more reason to reason to wonder how motivated he is to play in Atlanta.  

I can understand that he has a reserved personality that makes it difficult to truly understand his passion. But given a chance to at least prove his motivation through actions, he still leads you to simply shake your head and wonder what he’ll provide when he’s activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. 

Per his right, Anderson declined the Braves request to see some live pitching during a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.  Nobody was asking him to fly to some scenic Minor League town.  He would have simply needed to drive about 20-30 minutes north on I-85 to get a few at-bats. 

Is that asking too much from a guy who has registered a total of 49 plate appearances since the American League Division Series concluded last year?

Kenshin set to pitch:
  When a lengthy rain delay limited  Jair Jurrjens to two innings on Saturday, there was reason to at least wonder if the Braves might opt to bring him back to start in place of Kenshin Kawakami on Tuesday against the Mets. 

But Kawakami has provided the Braves every reason to beleive that his right shoulder is feeling good enough to make Tuesday’s start.  The 33-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched since allowing eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Reds on April 26.    

 

Schafer placed in the leadoff spot

Braves manager Bobby Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Astros.  But Johnson will be batting sixth, while Jordan Schafer gets his first chance in the leadoff role. 

Schafer is undoubtedly the closest thing the Braves have to a prototypical leadoff hitter.   During the past nine games, the 22-year-old rookie center fielder has hit .273 with a .529 on-base percentage.   The 12 walks he’s drawn during this span are encouraging and also a product of the fact that opposing pitchers have been more comfortable facing the other hitters at the bottom of the Braves lineup. 

In the 19 plate appearances he’s collected while beginning an inning this year, Schafer has hit .375 with a .474 on-base percentage.

The fact Schafer has just one stolen base attempt this year is also a product of his former position near the bottom of the order. He has the speed and instincts to record at least 25 stolen bases this year. 

Plus while batting in front of Yunel Escobar, who has a 3.75 groundball-to-flyball ratio, Schafer is going to find himself involved a lot more hit-and-run attempts.    Escobar also puts the ball in play, striking out just seven times during his first 77 at-bats.

You have to like Schafer and Escobar at the top of the lineup together.  There was little doubt that Cox wasn’t going to put Johnson back in the leadoff spot and yesterday I ran these graphs while wondering if Cox would use Escobar at the top of the lineup and wait a little longer to put Schafer in this role: 

In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter
of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.

In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.

But with that being said, Schafer is the best option in the leadoff role and I don’t think putting him there will affect his development.  He’s had just one rough week during his first month in the Majors and I think you’ll see him show some of the same patience that he has displayed while hitting seventh and eighth this year.

The only question is, will pitchers approach him in the same manner?

This move also benefits Johnson, who has the ability to be a solid run producer.  In the
133 at-bats he combined for while hitting sixth or seventh last year, he hit .294
and seemed much more comfortable in roles that allowed him to maintain
his aggressive offensive approach.

Despite his three-RBI performance last night, Jeff Francoeur is hitting fifth today.  With the Astros starting right-hander Roy Oswalt, Cox has put the left-handed hitting Casey Kotchman back in the cleanup spot. 

Back from being with his wife while she delivered their newest child yesterday, David Ross is back behind the plate for this afternoon’s game.   

 
       

Johnson out of the lineup for a third straight game

With the Astros coming to town to start a three-game series tonight, I can’t help but think about Kyle Farnsworth, Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Joey Devine and Chris Burke.  I guess you could say spending 18 innings developing a story around those guys makes them unforgettable. 

It’s been just four years since they served as the key figures in the 18-inning National League Division Series-clinching victory the Astros claimed at Minute Maid Park.  But Berkman is the only member of that quintet who will be present this weekend at Turner Field.

Or at least somebody looking like the Big Puma will be in town.  The veteran first baseman is hitting .162 with five homers and a .718 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).  During his past 42 at-bats, he’s recorded five hits, including three homers. 

Who does he think he is, Kelly Johnson?

Speaking of Johnson, who has four hits in his past 39 at-bats, he is out of tonight’s lineup again.  Friday night’s game marks the third straight that Omar Infante has started at second base and served as the leaoff hitter. 

As of Wednesday, Johnson wasn’t suffering from any physical ailments.  Cox is either sending him a message or growing comfortable with seeing Infante on an everyday basis. 

Cox’s alternative options in the leadoff spot are limited.  He could go with Yunel Escobar, who has hit .317 with a .370 on-base percentage in 346 career plate appearances in the first spot of the order. 

Whenever asked about the leadoff hitter, Cox has said it doesn’t matter who you put there unless you have a Rickey Henderson or a Pete Rose.  In addition, he also mentions that you really only hit leadoff once per game.

Really a leadoff hitter can do so much more for you than simply attempt to jump start the lineup during the first inning.  A good one could consistently turn two quick outs at the bottom of the order into a potential rally for the heart of the lineup to produce. 

But even if you simply base your decision using Cox’s simplified version of the leadoff hitter, Escobar has some pretty impressive credentials.  In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.

In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.

Johnson has hit .263 with a .354 on-base percentage in 571 career plate appearances in the first spot of the lineup.   In the 123 plate appearances he’s garnered as the Braves first batter of the game, he’s hit .212 with a .276 on-base percentage.

In 418 plate appearance while serving as the first batter of an inning, Johnson has hit .271 with a .349 on-base percentage.

I had no idea what some of those numbers would be until I started researching them on baseball-reference.com.  But I think it’s safe to say that I said “Wow” when I saw the difference in the numbers Johnson and Escobar have produced while serving as their team’s first hitter of the game.

Because of his speed, there’s still certainly a chance that Jordan Schafer eventually finds himself in the leadoff spot.  With 12 walks in his past nine games, the rookie center fielder has certainly shown some patience than he did during his first two weeks in the Majors.  But some scouts believe he’s still learning the strike zone and is best suited to stay near the bottom of the lineup.

Sammons gets his first start:  With an afternoon game tomorrow and left-hander Mike Hampton pitching tonight, the left-handed hitting David Ross will rest while Clint Sammons gets his first start of the year behind the plate in the opener of this three-game series against the Astros. 

That’s it for today.  I’ll update you if Brian McCann has anything good to say about his progress.  Garret Anderson was running in the outfield this afternoon and should be ready to play early next week.

Twitter @mlbbravesscribe 

Schafer and fans need to show patience

After Saturday’s loss to the Pirates, Chipper Jones echoed the popular sentiment by saying that he was concerned about the fact that Jordan Schafer was striking out too often.  But as the same time, he said he was confident the 22-year-old center fielder would soon cut down on his swing and utilize his speed to end his mini-slump.

“He’s smart,” Jones said. “He works hard and he wants to get better. Guys like that make the adjustment eventually.” 

With his three-hit performance on Sunday, Schafer halted his forgettable five-game slump and followed Jones’ suggested blueprint.   After notching a second-inning single, he produced a fourth-inning bunt single. 

Then with Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche standing on the edge of the infield grass to protect against another bunt, Scafer lined another single off of a diving LaRoche’s glove.

Suddenly Schafer could smile again and forget about the fact that he’d recorded one hit and struck out 13 times in the 21 at-bats he’d recorded during his previous five games. 

“You don’t want to get to the point where you start doubting yourself,” Schafer said. “I know that I can hit.  I just need to start making adjustments a lot faster than I did. I know that I can compete here.” 

As we all started to wonder whether the Braves had made the right decision by bypassing the option to provide Schafer more Minor League seasoning, we were showing the same lack of patience that factored heavily in the development of this short skid.

Having hit two homers in his first three Major League games, Schafer has been going to the plate with the same overanxious excitement that has caused him to be too overaggressive in his pursuit of multiple fly balls over the past couple of weeks.

There have been a couple of near-collisions when he’s ventured into the left and right center field gaps.  Plus his insistence to race all the way to the wall in pursuit of balls that are going to riccochet back into the outfield grass  has been somewhat maddening.  But this really only proved costly on Friday night, when he allowed Brandon Moss to turn a double into a triple and score the only run charged to Jair Jurrjens in 6 2/3 innings.  

The man who has taught me more than anybody about player development has always said “trust your instincts” and “the player will let you know when he’s ready.”

While watching Schafer for six weeks during Spring Training, my instincts told me that he was ready for the Majors.  At the same time,  I was mindful of the fact that you have to guard against being overly impressed by results produced by prospects in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues. 

But the instinctive reason for believing Schafer was ready extended far beyond his statistics and five-tool talents.   There’s just something about the quiet confidence that is displayed through his actions and words.  

Like Chipper Jones, Schafer is one of those few players who truly gives you a sense he was born to play the game of baseball.

In a roundabout way, I guess I’m saying that instead of panicking about a five-game stretch we should just trust the evaluations that we’d compiled with data that was collected over a much longer period of time.

Left field concerns:   While I’m confident that Schafer will prove effective while battling through inevitable strikeouts, I’m also pretty sure the Braves spent about $2.5 million too much on the left field manequin that Scott Boras sold them in February.

When you talk to Garret Anderson, he’s as lifeless as he looks during those few occasions that he’s actually deemed himself healthy enough to be on the field.  He’s a nice guy who has had a nice career. 

But there were a number of better, more economically-sound options for the Braves, who would have been wise to just stick to their initial intention to give some of their own players a chance to prove they could play left field.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox pushed for Anderson’s signing and he has continued to show support for the 36-year-old outfielder.  Cox  has labeled him to be a “glider” who moves effortlessly toward balls in the outfield.  In addition, he’s believes the 36-year-old outfielder will be a key piece to this year’s success. 

Well Cox is entitled to his opinion and I’m entitled to believe the Braves will be putting Matt Diaz in left field much more frequently than Anderson.  

Don’t let Diaz’s .217 batting average concern you.  He’s owns a .255 career batting average in April.  During the season’s other five months, he’s combined to hit .322.

Weekend remains
:  While shutting the Braves out for a second consecutive game on Saturday, the Pirates threw just one pitch with a runner in scoring position.  

Adding to the afternoon’s frustration was the fact that early in the game, some of the Braves players felt that they had started to decipher the pitch signals Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was relaying to Ian Snell.  Still with Kerrigan in plain sight, Braves left-handed hitters recorded just one hit (Casey Kotchman’s fourth-inning double) in 22 at-bats against Snell.

Boyer update:
  I don’t have the details yet, but it sounds like the Braves are close to completing a trade that will provde them a return for Blaine Boyer.  They aren’t going to get more than a marginal Minor Leaguer in return.  But that’s better than nothing.

I’m taking a few days off to enjoy time with the family here in Wheeling, WV.  I’ll check in from time to time and follow the games scheduled to be played in rainy D.C. this week.  .    

  

Anderson injures calf again

As Brian McCann’s two-run homer cleared the right field wall in the first inning this afternoon, how many of you said, “who needs Chipper and Garret anyway?”

Obviously you probably already know that Chipper Jones and Garret Anderson were scratched from today’s lineup.  Jones is dealing with a bruised left thumb that likely won’t keep him out of the lineup for more than one game. 

But I’m expecting to hear the Braves announce that Anderson is going to be out a little longer with the strained right calf muscle that he aggravated before today’s game.  This same ailment sidelined him for more than three weeks during Spring Training. 

While I don’t know if Anderson will miss another three weeks, I think we can prepare to see Matt Diaz in left field on a regular basis. 

Anderson hasn’t played more than 106 games in the outfield during any of the past five seasons and he didn’t play more than 85 games out there either of the past two seasons.

When the Braves signed Anderson in November, there was reason to question his durability.  Now that he’s dealing with this calf strain that seemingly could prove to be a lingering problem, I think we should assume that he’ll once again be limited to playing 80-90 games in the outfield.

Day of anniversaries:
  Most of you know that today is the 35th anniversary of the day Hank Aaron hit his 715th career homer.  Some of you might also remember this is the 15th anniversary of Kent Mercker’s no-hitter against the Dodgers. 

But how many of you remember this is the one-year anniversary of the day that Major League Baseball announced that they giving Jordan Schafer a 50-game suspension. 

Obviously we’ve talked a lot about how much Schafer has matured over the course of the past year.  He’s a likable kid with a bright future, who isn’t dwelling on the past. 

“I didn’t even know this was the date,” Schafer said Wednesday morning.  “It’s 100 percent behind me. I really don’t think about it any more.”  

Lowe set the tone

While enjoying some idle time in Philadelphia yesterday, one of the Braves coaches asked me, “what was the most important thing that happened last night?”  Thinking it might be a trick question, I initially thought about Jordan Schafer’s homer, Jeff Francoeur’s homer and Mike Gonzalez’s ability to escape the ugly ninth-inning mess that he created.

Another comical bystander said, “I think it was McCann’s monstrous first-inning homer.  That just intimidated everybody.”

But while the homers hit by Francoeur and Schafer created nice story lines, Derek Lowe’s masterful performance undoubtedly was the most important Opening Night development.  He allowed just two Phillies to reach base over the course of eight innings. SI.com’s Tom Verducci reported that no pitcher had previously allowed two baserunners or fewer while throwing at least eight innings at Citizens Bank Park.

Whether or not you want to call Lowe an ace, you can’t dispute the fact that his performance trumped any other produced by any other pitcher so far this season.   With that being said, Felix Hernandez’s effort with a bum ankle yesterday was certainly masterful. 

During Spring Training, one veteran observer told me that Hernandez was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen and that Tommy Hanson ranked right behind King Felix.  Hanson and the Triple-A Gwinnett team will get things started on Thursday morning in Charlotte.  First pitch is set for 11:15 a.m and you’ll be able to follow the game via the Gameday feature provided on Milb.com.

Enough about the future ace.  Let’s turn our attention back to Lowe, who undoubtedly set the tone for the Opening Night victory that allowed the Braves to truly enjoy yesterday’s rain-filled offday in Philly. 

If McCann hadn’t drilled his first-inning two-run homer into the second deck, there’s a chance that Lowe could have once again been undone by the emotions that had felled him during his previous two Opening Day starts. 

But straying away from the “if my aunt had a beard” line of thinking, Lowe didn’t and consequently allowed the Braves to begin the season in a near-perfect manner.   While evaluating that game, critics could only point toward the stress-filled ninth-inning that Gonzalez experienced while attempting to protect a four-run lead.

After the game, manager Bobby Cox talked to Gonzalez about the need to bounce his breaking pitches when ahead in the count.  The two singles surrendered by the left-handed closers came on sliders that were thrown during at-bats that began with first-pitch strikes.  

When pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett fell behind with a 1-2 count and then laced a single into left field, it was impossible to forget about last year, when the Phillies claimed four of their 14 wins over the Braves in games that they were once trailing by at least three runs.

But after Chase Utley drew a five-pitch walk to bring Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run, Gonzalez began pitching like he did during the 2006 season, when he successfully converted each of his 24 save opportunities, despite allowing opponents to produce a .325 on-base percentage.

With runners at first and second and the Braves holding a two-run lead, Gonzalez recorded game-ending conseuctive strikeouts of Howard and Raul Ibanez.  He utilized nine sliders (including five of six pitches to Howard) during this 12-pitch sequence and recorded both strikeouts with fastballs that registered 93 mph.

That was the best velocity we’ve seen from Gonzalez at any point this year.  But I think it’s becoming more apparent that his success will be better dictated by his control and ability to efffectively throw his breaking balls. One positive he can draw from Sunday is the fact that his slider certainly improved as the inning progressed. 

By the way, during the 2006 season with runners on first and second base, Gonzalez limited opponents to four hits in 24 plate appearances, recorded eight strikeouts and issued one walk.   There’s no doubt that he has the abilty to thrive under pressure. 

But for the sake of Cox’s blood pressure, let’s hope that some of his ninth innings prove to be a little less stressful. 

Something memorable will occur

During the final day of last year’s September series in Philadelphia, Jeff Francoeur sat in the dugout and talked about how he was looking forward to being back in that same spot to open this season. 

At the time, he specifically mentioned being here on the afternoon of April 6.  But that was before the Phillies won a World Series and prompted ESPN to choose tonight’s game as the one that will kick off Major League Baseball’s season. 

This marks the second straight year that the Braves will participate in the first game played on United States soil.  Last year in Washington, the Nationals were opening a new stadium and George Bush was present to throw the first pitch, which drew an ovation only trumped by the one elicited after Ryan Zimmerman drilled the evening’s final pitch over the left-centerfield wall.

After tonight, this long marathon will include 161 more regular season games and
there’s sure to be some pitching matchups that will create some
midseason energy.  But until you get to October, it’s hard to match the
adrenaline you feel leading into an Opening Night (Day) game. 

Something will happen tonight that you’ll remember for many years to come.    

I seriously can’t remember the second game that was played during any of the past four seasons.  But  Ihave vivid memories of each of the Opening Day contests that were played during this span.  In 2005, the Marlins ruined John Smoltz’s return to the rotation and in 2006, Tim Hudson teamed with Derek Lowe to allow the Braves and Dodgers to stage an 11-10 offensive slugfest that was decided by Ryan Langerhans’ eighth-inning solo homer.  

In 2007, Edgar Renteria hit a late-inning opposite-field homer that propelled the Braves to victory over the Phillies and then last year, Zimmerman gave Nationals fans reason to celebrate by christening the stadium with its first walk-off homer.

The Braves opened the 2007 season with a three-game sweep in Philadelphia and then, six months later, watched the Phillies celebrate the first of two consecutive division titles.

Obviously nothing will be detemined tonight, this week or even this month.  But you can be assured that something memorable will happen tonight. 

Speaking of memorable, I’m looking forward to July 17, when the Braves retire Greg Maddux’s number.  It was an absolute pleasure to watch him on the mound and a true honor to get to know him.  Analytical, hilarious, crude, competitive and humble are all appropriate descriptions.

To provide an example that his analytical skills functioned away from the mound, I’ll tell you about a day in 2003, when we were in Puerto Rico.  Chipper Jones told me that Mark DeRosa had visited a store and bought a can of dip that he was sure must have been transported on The Mayflower. 

After relaying DeRosa’s humorous line, Maddux simply looked at me and said, “It wouldn’t have been the Mayflower.  I think the Pinta or Santa Maria were the boats that would have landed down here.”

It doesn’t matter whether the Pinta or Santa Maria actually arrived in Puerto Rico.  The point is that Maddux was always thinking and while taking joy in his argumentitive skills, he always made you feel like he was that much smarter than you.  But he always did so in a very humble manner.

Maddux had a great impact on a number of pitchers, including Derek Lowe, who will make his Braves debut tonight against Brett Myers and the Phillies. 

This marks the fourth straight year the Braves have opened on the road and their only two Opening Day wins during this span came in games that were started by Lowe (2006 Dodgers) and Myers (2007 Phillies).

Will Jordan Schafer be the one who provides the lasting memory while making his Major League debut tonight?  Or will it be Francoeur, who would love to take the opportunity to show a national television audience why this year will be so much different than last year.   
 

 

Schafer makes the cut

Jon Cooper, who is covering for me tonight, just called to confirm that Jordan Schafer won the starting center field job.  In other related news, the Braves confirmed that they’ll open the season on Sunday night in Philadelphia.

As expected, the Braves will start the season with eight relievers and Jeff Bennett claimed that final spot.  The eight relievers are Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, Jorge Campillo, Buddy Carlye, Eric O’Flaherty and Bennett.

The Braves also announced that Schafer will wear No. 24.  That jersey is going to be a popular seller for many years to come.

Goodbye Florida

Seven weeks have passed and Ken Griffey Jr. still hasn’t shown up.  If you run into any of his friends, ask them to tell Jr. that the Braves are heading home tonight and that they’ve decided to ignore his decision to play in Atlanta. 

Actually the Braves are heading home with reason to feel good about the fact that Griffey decided to play in Seattle.  We haven’t had the opportunity to see a lot of Garret Anderson.  But while watching him race into left-center field to make a catch yesterday in Lakeland, I was officially convinced that the Braves are better off with Jr. in Seattle.
 
The modern-day version of Jr. wouldn’t have gotten to that ball.  Nor can he display the kind of offensive consistency that Anderson has shown since he allowed his right calf to heal for more than three weeks.   When he’s recorded outs over the past three days, they’ve been loud ones.
 
Did I mention that we’ve been down here seven weeks?  I’m certainly not going to complain about having had the opportunity to spend the past 50 days watching baseball in the Florida sun.  But I echo the sentiments of Bobby Cox and all of the Braves players when I say that it’s time to come home.

Because I’m fatigued and anxious to return to Atlanta, this Spring Training simply feels like it’s been long.  But thanks to Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, it will also prove to be one of the most memorable. 

Schafer and Hanson proved why many believe they could have a significant impact in Atlanta this year.  As for Heyward and Freeman, they simply exceeded any expectations you’d place on a pair of 19-year-old kids who were experiencing their first big league camp.

Tom Glavine had already notched 19 wins and compiled 65 career starts before Heyward was born.
  
While utilizing baseballmusings.com and baseball-reference.com to research these numbers, I found that Glavine actually tossed his fourth career shutout two days before Heyward entered this world. 

On that Aug. 7, 1989 night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Glavine surrendered four hits to a Dodgers lineup that included Willie Randolph, Eddie Murray and Mike Scioscia.

Now that we’re strolling down memory lane, I’m going to reminisce about some of the most humourous things I’ve heard and witnessed over the past seven weeks.

Jeff Francoeur’s catch:  Francoeur caught a 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass in the pond behind the visitor’s clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday night.  Since then I’ve learned that the right fielder is certainly a novice fisherman, who simply found some luck after he grabbed one of the clubhouse attendant’s fishing pole and threw it into the water. 

Braves assistant clubhouse and team travel manager Chris Van Zant, who supplied the picture of Francoeur’s catch, has since told me that the right fielder initially had trouble casting his line further than five feet.

“Just like he always does, he stayed persistent and then ends up catching a fish that guys spend hours trying to catch,” Van Zant said. 

DOB’s furor
:  As I was walking toward my car in Bradenton on Feb. 28, I heard a guy across the street yelling and screaming in my direction.  I began to laugh when I realized it was the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Dave O’Brien, whose car had been locked in a lot at a car repair shop. 

This might have been one of those “you had to be there” moments.  But I’ll attempt to explain the humor by saying that when agitated, O’Brien can make Archie Bunker seem like a lovable teddy bear.

Tiger’s line:   For this final tidbit, I’ll simply pull these graphs from my March 13 story about Francoeur: 

After Francoeur opened the back nine at Isleworth Country Club with consecutive birdies on March 4, (Tiger) Woods asked, “Who are you?”  
 
Francoeur, quickly responded, “I just wanted to see how the world’s number one golfer reacts with his back up against the wall?”  
  
This prompted Woods to reply, “Yeah, well I was wondering how much time you plan to spend playing in Mississippi this year?”

And with that, I’ll close by saying the dramatic improvement Francoeur has shown over the past seven weeks has provided the most signific reason for the Braves to be encouraged heading into the 2009 season. 

The Florida sun has been fun.  But it’s definitely time to bring this show home.     

francoeur.jpg

Blanco starts in center

With Gregor Blanco receiving limited playing time since he’s returned from the World Baseball Classic, it’s been hard to believe the Braves when they’ve said they haven’t decided where Jordan Schafer will begin the season.  

Obviously, they cant’ exactly use the “well we want to see what Jordan can do” excuse, when they have every reason to want to see Blanco much more than he did while compiling a .676 OPS  during his rookie season last year. 

Blanco, who has registered two hits in 18 Grapefruit League at-bats, will get a chance prove himself against the Tigers this afternoon, when he starts in center and Schafer starts the game on the bench.  This is just the third start he’s made in the nine games that have been played since he returned from the Classic.

Schafer has one hit in his last eight at-bats and we’ve discussed how
important this final week would be for him.  But,
he showed enough during the previous four weeks to prove the Braves
would severely weaken their roster if they opted to start the season
with Blanco in center. 

I understand the theory about protecting future investments.  Some have
wondered how Schafer’s psyche would be affected if he were to start the
season in Atlanta and hit around .200 during the first two months. 

In response, I wonder how his psyche would be affected if the Braves approach him later this week and tell him that everything that he’s done over
the past few weeks has earned him the opportunity to gain further
seasoning in the Minors.

Had the Braves kept Josh Anderson, Schafer might have been able to live
with the fact that from a business perspective there was a better
option for the club to utilize in center.  But they didn’t and by doing
so, I think they’ve left themselves with just one option.

Ross update:  David Ross strained his right groin during Tuesday night’s game and reported to the park on Wednesday feeling some relief.  But the Braves still seem concerned about the possibility that he could start the season on the disabled list.  If this occurs, Clint Sammons will likely be on the Opening Day roster. 

“Ross is a good backup catcher,” Cox said. “He’s a good catch-and-throw guy and he’s always in the game while he’s on the bench.  He’s really a team guy.”

With Brian McCann’s bruised right knee still providing some discomfort, Sammons is behind the plate for today’s game.  McCann will likely don the catching gear again on Thursday or Friday.

Heyward still crushing:
  Durign a Double-A game in Viera yesterday, Jason Heyward went 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs.  The 19-year-old phenom will likely begin the season with Class A Myrtle Beach.  But don’t be surprised if  he’s with Double-A Mississippi by the time the first week of May arrives.

Justin Verlander is completing his warmup pitches and Tom Glavine is done warming up in the bullpen.  Thus it’s time for me to end this entry. 

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