Results tagged ‘ Kelly Johnson ’

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 

Waiting on updates from McCann and Glavine

Regardless of how Jair Jurrjens fares against Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, this should be an interesting day for the Braves.  We should learn more about Brian McCann’s condition and Tom Glavine may provide some information about his future.

McCann was scheduled to visit Dr. Alan Kozarsky this morning to gain more clarity about why he’s been experiencing blurred vision in his left eye since the season started.  Hopefully, the remedy will prove to be as simple as once again undergoing Lasik surgery.

It’s understandable that his vision could have changed since he initially underwent this procedure at the age of 23 at the end of the 2007 season.  But while admitting I can’t spell ophthamology without Google’s assistance, I still have to wonder what has caused the dry sensation he’s complained about.

While McCann is in the early stages of a career that could one day be preceded by the words “Hall of Fame”, Glavine is simply hoping for the opportunity to enhance the numbers that will be linked to him when he’s immortalized in Cooperstown. 

Tomorrow will mark the two-week mark since Glavine asked for two more weeks to evaluate the status of of his troublesome left shoulder.  If he hasn’t realized some improvement this week, he’s not interested in waiting around another couple of weeks before resuming  preparations.  This would essentially take him back to the point he was when he arrived at Spring Training in early March and set up the likeliehood that he wouldn’t be ready to make his first start until some time in June.  

Thus within the next two days, we can expect to  hear him say that he’s going to begin another Minor League rehab within the next week or that he’s ready to put an end to his storied career that has included 305 wins. 

Even before Glavine found some success during Spring Training, there was reason to believe there should be fewer concerns about him than Kenshin Kawakami.  This was based solely on the fact that he’s spent the past 20-plus years learning exactly what it takes to retire Major League hitters.

The 7.06 ERA that Kawakami has notched in four starts isn’t nearly as concerning as the fact that he’s allowed at least one homer during each of his outings.  This development hasn’t exactly been surprising.  During the early days of camp, it was apparent that he has a tendency to live up in the zone with far too many pitches. 

That’s a recipe for disaster while facing hitters that physically stronger than the ones that served as the opposition during his successful days in Japan.

With this being said, Kawakami has the potential to be a successful fourth or fifth starter in the Majors.  The first homer he surrendered to Jay Bruce on Sunday came courtesy of a mistake he made in a situation when he should have issued a walk.  The opposite-field shot snuck inside the left field foul pole. 

From there it seemed like Kawakami allowed his emotions to get the best of him.  He could have easily escaped the fifth inning unscathed.  But as the adversity built with an intereference call on a potential double-play grounder and an infield single, he began to throw more high strikes, much to the delight of Joey Votto and Bruce, who has now hit .609 with four homers in six career games against the Braves.

Still regardless of what occurs with Glavine or Kawakami during the next few weeks and months, the Braves rotation is shaping up nicely for the final months of the season.  

While regaining his aggressive approach during his past two outings, Jurrjens has enhanced the strength of a rotation that has been solidly anchored by Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez.  And of course, it won’t be long before we start to see Bobby Cox sending Tommy Hanson to the mound every five days.

Through his first four starts for Triple-A Gwinnett, Hanson is 0-3 with a 2.18 ERA.   He has allowed one earned run or fewer in three of those outings and opponents are hitting just .205 against him. 

It was encouraging to see Hanson complete six innings with 95 pitches against Charlotte on Friday night.  During his two previous outings, he had reached the 95-pitch mark before completing five innings and was removed to preserve the arm strength that could prove to be so benefiical in Atlanta during the season’s final months.

Kelly’s inconsistencies:  During the first eight games of the season, Kelly Johnson hit .333 with a .412 on-base percentage.  But in the past 10 games, the current leadoff hitter has batted .111 with a .220 on-base percentage. 

This better explains why the Braves have scored two runs or fewer in six of their past 10 games.  It hasn’t helped that Chipper Jones missed three of those games or that McCann’s bat has essentially been absent since the end of the season’s four game. 

But Johnson’s inability to serve as a catalyst in the leadoff spot during the past 10 games, has certainly played a factor. 

With McCann absent,  Johnson and Yunel Escobar have to find a way to consistently provide Jones with run-producing opportunities.  Casey  Kotchman has spent the past three games in the cleanup spot and he’s still on pace to go homerless this year.

During the just-completed nine-game road trip, the Braves received a .135 (5-for-37) batting average, .220 on-base percentage and .162 slugging percentage from the batters hitting in the leadoff spot.  Those players batting in the ninth spot of the order hit .167 with a .333 OBP and .208 SLG.  

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 makes scoreless debut

When Adam LaRoche was traded to Pittsburgh, I said, “Please do whatever you can to keep my dad interested in the Pirates until at least the end of May.”

Two years later, Dad’s positive remarks about the Pirates still solely center around PNC Park and their Friday night fireworks displays. It’s been 17 years since the late John McSherry incorrectly ruled Sid Bream to be safe and still it’s downright painful to be a Pirates fan. 

(NOTE:  As somebody pointed out after this post was published, it was actually Randy Marsh who made the call. McSherry started behind the plate and then began feeling ill.  Personally, I didn’t begin feeling ill until Bonds unleashed that toss, which certainly didn’t appear to have  the assistance of any banned performance-enhancing aids.)

But the Buccos do have a great Spring Training park and it’s a beautiful Friday afternoon for baseball.  Kenshin Kawakami worked a perfect first inning and allowed just a bloop single off LaRoche’s back in his scoreless two-inning sting. 

Kawakami threw 18 of his 29 pitches for strikes and ended his afternoon with a strikeout of Jose Tabata.  While pitching in the United States for the first time, the Japanese hurler made a solid first impression.   

In a few innings we’ll gain a better understanding about why members of the Braves front office are so high on Kris Medlen, who actually looks younger than Brent Lillibridge,

Medlen has been described as a poor man’s Greg Madddux.   The 24-year-old right-hander stands 5-10, weighs approximately 185 pounds and has a baby face that might lead some cinema workers to card him if he attempted to purchase tickets to a rated-R movie. 

After moving into Double-A Mississippi’s starting rotation midway through the 2008 season, Medlen worked 92 1/3 innings, recorded 90 strikeouts and issued 21 walks.  In the 25 innings he worked during the Arizona Fall League, he registered 25 strikeouts, issued one walk and limited opponents to a .203 batting average. 

“If he was 6-foot tall, you’d be hearing a lot more about this guy,” one National League scout said.

When asked this morning about who he is considering to use as his leadoff hitter, Braves manager Bobby Cox mentioned Josh Anderson, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.  It still appears Anderson is the favorite. 

But the fact that Anderson has recorded a .340 on-base percentage during his Minor League career provides some concern.  He doesn’t possess the same plate discipline as Gregor Blanco and there’s reason to wonder what his OBP would be over the course of an entire big league season.

Some of you have said you would have the perfect leadoff hitter if you meshed the best traits presented by Anderson and Blanco.  Over the past few days, I’ve heard some of the Braves coaches (not Cox) say the same thing.

- Mark Bowman   

While waiting on Griffey…

There’s a chance we’ll hear something about Ken Griffey Jr. within the next few hours.  Then again we might not know anything until tomorrow.  It doesn’t appear the Braves or Mariners are planning to make an announcement tonight.

My gut feeling remains that he’ll choose the Braves.  But guarding against the chance that he’s suddenly hired Paul Kinzer to serve as his agent, I’m not making any guarantees.

As for Tom Glavine, there was certainly reason to believe he and the Braves would have reached an agreement today.  But it looks like it will be at least one more day before things get finalized with the veteran hurler.

In other camp news, Tommy Hanson tore the nail of his right index finger during his live batting practice session on Wednesday.  He should be cleared to resume pitching in the next few days.

There’s a chance Kelly Johnson and the Braves could reach an agreement tonight.  But if not, the second baseman will leave camp on Wednesday to prepare for his arbitration hearing in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Kenshin Kawakami threw with some more velocity during his bullpen session and even mixed in four curveballs.  The Braves are allowing him to get ready for the season at the pace that he used while in Japan.

In an earlier post, I guessed that Anthony Lerew and Gregor Blanco might be the two players removed from the 40-man roster to accommodate Griffey and Glavine.  I’m now changing that prediction to Lerew and Phil Stockman.

- Mark Bowman

Griffey and Glavine still the buzz in camp

There’s still no definitive word that Ken Griffey Jr. has chosen the Braves over the Mariners.  But we’ve reached a point where I’d definitely be shocked if Griffey wasn’t stretching alongside Chipper Jones and Brian McCann on Wednesday, when the Braves hold their first full-squad workout of the season. 

Even if Griffey makes his decision today, there’s a chance the Braves wouldn’t hold a press conference until Wednesday.  At the same time, they could officially announce that they’ve reached also reached an agreement with Tom Glavine.

These signings could prove historic for the Braves. I still haven’t found any other instance where any of the six members of the 600-homer club have been a member of that club while playing with one of the 23 pitchers who had already joined the 300-wins club. I’ll let you know if Elias provides verification later today.

If the Braves do indeed get both Glavine and Griffey, they will have to remove two players from their 40-man roster.  My guess is that right-handed pitcher Anthony Lerew and outfielder Gregor Blanco will be the roster victims.

I walked in with Jeff Francoeur today and there certainly didn’t  seem to  be any indication  that he’s disturbed by the fact that it appears he’ll be going to Phoenix for an arbitration hearing on Friday. 

It still seems quite hard to believe that Francoeur even has a chance to win the $3.95 million salary that he’s requesting.  As for Kelly Johnson, it still appears he’ll reach an agreement before his scheduled arbitration hearing on Thursday.

– Mark Bowman  

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