Results tagged ‘ Kenshin Kawakami ’

Rainy update from PNC

While we’re sitting through a rain delay here at PNC Park, here are some tidbits that were gathered this afternoon.

Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to rest Troy Glaus tonight and start Eric Hinske at first base tonight.  While Glaus could certainly benefit from a break, I think Cox also saw this as an opportunity to give Melky Cabrera a chance to get rolling.  With Hinske at first base, Cabrera will be be in left field. 

The switch-hitting Cabrera is hitting just .200 this season but has posted a .237 mark against right-handed pitchers.  Virtually everybody has hit Pirate starter Charlie Morton this year.  But he has had his greatest troubles against left-handed hitters, who have compiled a .350 batting average against him.

Heyward’s improved approach:  It does seem like Jason Heyward has been a little less selective since Cox suggested that he be more aggressive early in the count.  But Heyward thinks the success he has experienced over the past three weeks is just a product of the natural development process.  

During the first 20 games of his career, Heyward hit .224 (15-for-67) with four homers 25 strikeouts and a .358 on-base percentage.   In the 18 games he played since Cox expressed his desire, the Braves 20-year-old right fielder hit .367 (22-for-60) with five homers, five strikeouts and a .458 on-base percentage.   <p>

His ability to significantly improve his on-base percentage seems to be product of the fact that he struck out once every 2.68 at-bats during his first 20 games and just once every 12 at-bats during the 18 games he has played since Cox told media members that his young outfielder needed to start swinging the bat a little more often.  <p>

“You can’t hit with two strikes against you every at-bat,” Cox said. “Especially with runners on, if you get a pitch to hit, you better hit it.  He’s smart.  He’s got a great idea at the plate every at-bat.  He’s not going to swing at the first pitch, unless it’s a great pitch.”    <p> 

To his credit, Heyward didn’t then immediately evolve into a free-swinger.  He still has put the first pitch of an at-bat in play just six times in his career.   But it does feel like he is drawing hitter’s counts much more frequently than he did during the early weeks of the season.

Entering Saturday, he was hitting .192 (14-for-73) when ending an at-bat with a two-strike count.  But when he had put a ball in play when ahead in the count, he had hit .356 (16-for-45).

Kimbrel needs more time:   The decision to send Craig Kimbrel back to Triple-A Gwinnett further proved why the Braves felt the need to hire Dave Wallace as their new Minor League pitching instructor this offseason.  

With Kent Willis handling this role over the course of the past few years, the Braves too often found themselves stocking their Major League pitching staff with young pitchers who still hadn’t learned the finer points of their craft.  

There are still some concerns about Kimbrel’s control.  But the six walks he issued in 3 1/3 innings for Atlanta were likely a product of nerves.  The kid threw strikes while at Gwinnett earlier this year and he’ll likely show this same kind of control when he returns to Atlanta. 

More alarming to the Braves Major League coaching staff was the fact that Kimbrel proved to be very slow to the plate while throwing all of his pitches from the stretch.   In order to maximize the potential of his tremendous arm, the 21-year-old right-hander will spend the next few weeks and possibly months developing a delivery that will allow him to be less susceptible against opposing basestealers.

Kawakami Update: Kenshin Kawakami’s back discomfort has subsided over the past few days and he is expected to make his start against the Marlins on Tuesday.

Looks like we’ll get this game started at some point tonight.  But as of 7:50 p.m. ET, the tarp was still on the field.
 

Will the starting rotation live up to expectations?

After suffering his Major League-high fifth loss on Tuesday night, the still-winless Kenshin Kawakami actually used the word pathetic (or that was at least what was interpreted) while describing how he has pitched this season.
 
If you agree that the tough-luck Kawakami has been “pathetic” this season, then how would you describe the path that Derek Lowe has traveled on the way to winning four of his first 6 decisions?
   
Lowe   4-2,  5.18 ERA   .264 BA .350 OBP  .774 OPS  33 IP, 33 hits and 17 BBs
Kawakami  0-5, 5.47 ERA  .298 BA .342 OBP .852 OPS   26 1/3 IP  31 hits and 8 BBs

Lowe has been opposed by six pitchers who have combined to go 10-12 with a 5.74 ERA this year.   The five pitchers who have served as Kawakami’s mound opposition have gone 18-3 with a 1.94 ERA.

Even though he has been awarded more than a third of the 11 wins the Braves have recorded this season, should we say that Lowe been “slightly less-than-pathetic?”

Or should we simply look at the big picture and realize that the early-season offseason woes have overshadowed the possibility that this Atlanta rotation might not be as strong as we projected entering the season? 

Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson, who will combine to start the final two games of the current three-game series against the Nationals, have provided indication that they are capable of being the ace-like pitchers the Braves believed they would be.  

But entering Wednesday night’s game, the Braves starters ranked eighth in the National League with a 4.28 ERA and 13th with just 143 2/3 innings completed through the season’s first 26 games.   An Atlanta pitcher has completed seven innings just three times this season with Hanson, Hudson and Jair Jurrjens accounting for those outings.

In comparison, the Phillies have seen their starting pitchers complete at least seven innings nine times already.  Yes, Roy Halladay has accounted for six of these outings.  But with Cole Hamels going eight innings in two of his past four outings, can the Braves still confidently say that their starting rotation is better than that injury-depleted one that supports the lethal offense that exists in Philadelphia? 

While Joe Blanton made his return to the Phillies rotation on Monday, the Braves currently don’t know who will be starting the final two games of this weekend’s series in Philadelphia.   Jurrjens doesn’t believe his strained hamstring will allow him to pitch on Saturday and Kawakami is at least questionable for Sunday’s start because of the blister that formed on his right foot during Tuesday night’s fourth inning.

Less than a week removed from a nine-game losing streak the Braves now find themselves battling a lack of depth in the starting pitching department.  James Parr could make Saturday’s start.  But if he does can the Braves be confident that he would eat enough innings for them to not have to call upon either Kris Medlen or Jonny Venters, the relievers who could be asked to make a spot start on Saturday. 

The Braves knew they couldn’t complete an entire season with all of their starting pitchers healthy and at this point, they can at least take solace in the fact that neither Jurrjens or Kawakami will miss any significant time. 

But as fate would have it, the Braves find themselves battling this potential dilemma during a weekend that could provide them a chance to remain within striking distance of the Phillies. 

Still I guess things could certainly be worse for the Braves.  I mean it’s lot like they suffered a 43-point loss during the first game of a conference semifinal last night.  

Speaking of yesterday, a loyal Braves fan, James Reese, snapped this picture of Tom Glavine, Frank Wren and  Dr. Joe Chandler watching Class A Rome’s home game on Tuesday.

glavwren.jpg 

Just like with his previous trip to Rome, Glavine returned to Atlanta having not allowed a run. But this time, it appears that he will incur a different fate. 

As of 2:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there was no indication that the former hurler has since been told that he has been released from his duties as a broadcaster and special assistant to the president. 

Sorry Frank, it was too easy.

Wren and Glavine are spending some time in Rome this week evaluating some of the club’s young prospects and Jordan Schafer, who has gone 2-for-7 in his first two Minor League rehab games.  The young center fielder will continue to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand before joining Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster.  

The big league Braves will have the benefit of sending Hanson to the mound tonight to oppose Luis Atilano, who has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first three career starts.   The Braves selected Atilano with their first pick (35th overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and then traded him to the Nationals on Aug. 31, 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats 5/5/2010

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

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

  

Kawakami draws another tough assignment

If Kenshin Kawakami was currently on a Minor League rehab assignment, the odds are that he would have been the one opposing Stephen Strasburg on Friday night, when the Nationals young phenom makes his Triple-A debut in Syracuse against the Gwinnett Braves.  

Through his first four starts this season, Kawakami has already been opposed by Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo No-No Jimenez and Jaime Garcia, who has posted a 1.13 ERA in his first five starts for the Cardinals.  

Thus it is only fitting that Kawakami will make his fifth start tonight against Livan Hernandez, who is the only National League pitcher with a better  ERA than Garcia or Lincecum.   The 0.87 mark that he carries into this start matches Jimenez for the league lead.
 
There was a time when the Braves had little reason to fear a matchup against Hernandez, unless of course Eric Gregg was calling balls in strikes for him in a National League Championship Series game. 

During his first 24 career regular season starts against the Braves, Hernandez went 3-15 with a 5.63 ERA.   In 15 starts that stretched from 2001-2005, he went 0-11 with a 5.95 ERA against this same organization that he dominated for the Marlins during the 1997 NLCS.  

But the 35-year-old Hernandez managed to go 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in the three starts he made against the Braves last year.
 
As you’ve likely already heard, Hernandez  and the rest of the Nationals pitching staff won’t have to deal with Yunel Escobar this week.   The Braves placed Escobar on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and promoted Brandon Hicks from Gwinnett to fill his roster spot.
 
Considering that Escobar is 5-for-10 with a double and a triple in his career against his fellow Cuban, the Braves might have benefitted from his presence in the lineup tonight.  But he certainly isn’t the only Atlanta player who has experienced success against Hernandez. 

This might be a good night for Chipper Jones to cure the swing that has produced just one hit in his past 24 at-bats.   The Braves veteran third baseman has hit .354 with 10 doubles and a homer in 65 career at-bats against Hernandez. 

Martin Prado, who enters the evening with the NL’s fourth-best batting average (.354) has four hits, including a double, in seven career at-bats against Hernandez.   On the flip side, the veteran right-hander may be able to prolong Nate McLouth’s struggles. 

McLouth has one hit and five strikeouts in 13 career at-bats against Hernandez.
  
This much-improved Nationals club has also experienced some offensive struggles since facing Jimenez.  In the 10 games that they’ve played dating back to that assignment against the Rockies righty, they have hit .218 and scored 2.9 runs per game.  

Just received word that Jason Heyward was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month.  I’ll post tonight’s lineups when I get to the park. 

 

Heyward returns and Chipper sits

Jason Heyward has returned to the Braves lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Astros.  OK, now that I’ve informed you that the phenom’s shin splints are no longer keeping him sidelined, is there really anything else below this that will prove to be any more interesting?

Well, I guess you might want to know that Chipper Jones was scratched from today’s lineup with because of an ingrown nail on his left big toe.  Or maybe, you’d like to know that Kenshin Kawakami’s blister on his right index finger won’t prevent him from making his final preseason tuneup during a Minor League game that will be held here at Disney on Sunday.

“No problem,” Kawakami said without needing the assistance of his Japanese interpreter.

Likewise, Jones said that his ingrown toenail wouldn’t be a problem if this was the regular season.  The veteran third baseman has batted .343 in the 35 at-bats he’s compiled during this exhibition season and like everybody else, I think he’s ready to take this show north. 

This morning, I had two players and one coach approach me and say something like, “are you guys getting as sick of this Spring Training stuff as us?”  While it’s always nice to come down here to Florida, I think it’s safe to say all of are looking forward to packing our bags tonight and heading back to Atlanta this weekend. 

Speaking of this weekend, it will be interesting to see the slimmed down-version of Andruw Jones, who will be coming to town with the White Sox for a two-game series.  Entering today, Jones was hitting .326 (15-for-46) with two homers. 

Mark Kotsay, who assumed Jones’ role as the Braves center fielder during the 2008 season, has hit .426 in the 47 at-bats he has compiled with the White Sox this year.   While Kotsay was in Atlanta for just about five months, I’d still have to say that he ranks as one of the best human beings that I have encountered in this business.

Speaking of good guys,  I had conversations this morning with Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner about the value of having the kind of cohesive clubhouse that the Braves believe that they possess this year.  Check braves.com later this afternoon for a story on this subject. 

“From a personality standpoint, this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,”  Hudson said. “There’s a really, really good mix of guys and personalities in here. I don’t want to make it sound like we didn’t have a good group of guys before us, but I think with this group everybody is really going to like each other.”

BRAVES LINEUP
Cabrera 8
Heyward 9
Prado 4
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Hinske DH
 

  

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). 

It sure looks like an Opening Day lineup

When a couple of national scribes look at tonight’s Braves lineup, they essentially said something that amounted to “tonight’s game must be televised because that certainly looks like an Opening Day lineup.” 

With Chipper Jones back in the mix to face Roy Halladay and the Phillies tonight, Braves manager Bobby Cox has indeed assembled a lineup that could very easily be identical to the one he constructs before the April 5 Opening Day contest against the Cubs. 

And yes, you will get a chance to see Jason Heyward and Co. on television tonight.  The game will be carried on CSS, MLB Network and online by  MLB.TV.

When asked if tonight’s lineup was an Opening Day lineup, Cox laughed and said, “We might not be able to keep Heyward down that low in the lineup if he keeps hitting like he has been.”

TONIGHT’S LINEUP
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Melky Cabrera 7
Kenshin Kawakami 1

Schafer and Jurrjens updates: The most important health-related news of the day might have been the fact that Jair Jurrjens completed another pain-free live batting practice session and is now ready to start against the Yankees on Thursday night in Tampa.

But given that was expected, the most important health-related development seemingly came courtesy of Jordan Schafer, who took batting practice in the indoor cages this afternoon and returned to the dugout with a smile on his face. 

“That’s the best that I’ve felt in 10 months,” said Schafer, who injured his left hand on during the fourth game of last year’s season and then dealt with frustration and discomfort until the ailment was surgically repaired in September. 

Because he was in a cast for an extended period following the surgery, Schafer found himself feeling weak while attempting to swing the bat during the early days of camp.  But it now appears there’s at least a chance he’ll be ready to begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Tonight’s pitchers:  Kenshin Kawakami is scheduled to pitch three innings and Billy Wagner will attempt to rebound from Friday’s shaky season debut. There will also be reason to keep an eye on Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever who has struggled during his first two appearances of the year. 

 

 

Braves to face Halladay Tuesday night

This upcoming week should be an interesting one for the Braves, who are scheduled to meet the Phillies and Yankees in a span of three days. 

Tuesday night’s matchup against the Phillies at Disney will give the Braves to get their first look at Roy Halladay in a Philadelphia uniform.  Halladay, who replaced fellow former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee in the Phillies rotation, will be opposed by Kenshin Kawakami.

As you likely remember Kawakami began showing his “big-game” capabilities when he tossed eight scoreless innings and led the Braves to a 1-0 win over Halladay and the Blue Jays last year.

It seems safe to assume this will be the first of many matchups against Halladay, who has made just this one regular season start against the Braves in his career. 

Thursday night’s game against the Yankees in Tampa will pit the Braves against another former Blue Jay.  But the storyline following the matchup against A.J. Burnett will certainly be trumped by Jair Jurrjens, who could make his Grapefruit League season debut that evening.

The Braves have not announced that Jurrjens will start.  But if his live batting practice sessions go well on Sunday and Tuesday, there’s a good chance that he’ll be making his exhibition season debut against the defending world champions. 

Filling Jurrjens’ rotation spot, Kris Medlen will start this afternoon’s game against the Astros. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Troy Glaus didn’t make this cross-town trip to Kissimmee.  But Jason Heyward is once again in the lineup, batting third. 

Don Sutton and Jim Powell will be broadcasting today’s game which can be heard on MLB.com by clicking here.  If you’re in your car in Atlanta, turn the dial to 680 The Fan.    

Braves Lineup
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Heyward 9
Hinske 3
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
Infante 5
Ross 2
Mitch Jones DH

Chavez impresses and Proctor appears to be ahead of schedule

The Braves enhanced the depth of their bullpen this past offseason and while watching his pitchers throw during their first official workout of the season, Braves manager Bobby Cox came away impressed by a number of the new acquisitions.
 
After Saturday’s workout concluded, Cox said he was impressed with what he saw from his closer Billy Wagner and his primary setup man Takashi Saito.  But he also had high praise for Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever who was acquired in exchange for Rafael Soriano in December.  

“I remember how hard he threw, but I didn’t know he had that changeup,” Cox said of Chavez. “The way he threw it today, it looked like he’d been throwing it forever, with the location and the break.”  

Chavez made an impression on Brian McCann, who labeled the reliever one of the toughest guys he faced last year.  Now he’ll be spending the next couple of weeks attempting to win one of the final available spots in the bullpen.  

Wagner, Saito, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty and Kris Medlen are in position to account for five of the seven available bullpen spots.  Chavez, Craig Kimbrel, Luis Valdez and surprisingly Scott Proctor  appear to be in position to battle for the final two spots.  

While Valdez wasn’t present on Saturday because of visa problems that are preventing him from getting to the United States, Proctor impressed Cox with a 50-pitch bullpen session that served as part of the rehab process that has followed the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgical process he underwent in May.  

Originally, the Braves didn’t think Proctor would be available during the first month of the upcoming season.  But Cox said the veteran right-handed reliever might be ready to be part of the Opening Day roster.  

“He’s going to have plenty of time,” Cox said. “We’re going to get him out there as much as we can.   I think he will be ready out of camp.   If he’s not, he’ll be real close.”  

Cox said based on his velocity, Proctor seems to be ahead of where Peter Moylan was during the first week of camp last year.  As you likely remember, Moylan returned from this same surgical process in time to be part of the Opening Day roster.  

Saito and Kawakami chose not to throw live batting practice during the first day of workouts.  Instead both Japanese pitchers opted to get all their work in during 10-minute bullpen sessions.

Going to continue doubting Kawakami

When I got downstairs after last night’s game, one of the female Japanese reporters looked at me with one of those sarcastic smiles.  Confident that I didn’t have a “kick me” poster sitting on my back, I simply responded with a “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Seeing no reason to end a good thing, I don’t see any reason for me to allow one of the guttiest and impressive pitching performances provided by a Braves pitcher this year to stop me from casting doubt in Kenshin Kawakami’s direction. 

I mean it’s not like that Dodgers lineup that he dominated for seven innings on Saturday night even leads the Los Angeles area in batting average.  Last time I checked they rank second in the Majors in that category behind the mighty Angels. 

Nor is it like he’s even been able to match the 3.38 ERA that the heralded Jair Jurrjens has posted since the start of May.  But I guess I will at least concede that the 3.46 ERA that Kawakami has posted during this span is at least better than the 4.42 ERA that Derek Lowe has compiled.

And seriously isn’t it still easier to put more faith in the surgically-repaired right elbow of Tim Hudson than it is that fatigued one that allowed Kawakami to end his 125-pitch effort with consecutive strikeouts with the bases loaded last night? 

While I’ll attempt to continue to help Kawakami by continuing to doubt him, I’m going to have to end this sarcastic rant to provide you some news. 

Hudson will throw a bullpen session on Monday and if all goes well, he’ll resume his Minor League rehab assignment by starting for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night.

As things currently stand, I would have to think Hudson likely won’t return to the Major League roster until it expands in September.  At that time, the Braves will have to decide whether there’s a logical place for him in there rotation. 

Before Saturday night, the logical assumption was that Hudson would simply replace Kawakami.  But as long as the Japanese hurler is able to overcome his troublesome right shoulder every five days, can you really take him out of the rotation and replace him with somebody who hasn’t faced Major Leaguers for more than a year.

The Braves will say, “these things always work themselves out” and they often do. But for now, you have to at least wonder if the best course of action is to get Hudson stretched out to serve as a starter and then allow him to fortify the bullpen if there isn’t a logical spot to place him in the rotation. 

McLouth sits during finale:  While chasing down a seemingly uncatchable ball in right-centerfield during Saturday’s 10th inning, Nate McLouth tweaked his right hamstring.  Thus Ryan Church made his second straight start in center field during Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium.

McLouth and Chipper Jones (strained left oblique) will both be evaluated when the Braves resume play at Turner Field on Tuesday. 

Infante could return Tuesday:  Braves manager Bobby Cox indicated that Omar Infante could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday.  Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand, has spent the past week playing for Class A Rome.

Happy Birthday Heyward
: Early indications show that Jason Heyward isn’t nearly as good as he was when he was a teenager.   As I write this sentence, he’s gone hitless in his first four at-bats for Double-A Mississippi.  This obviously isn’t the way the top prospect envisioned celebrating his 20th birthday.

In the 30 games he’d played for Mississippi entering Sunday, Heyward had hit .422 with five homers, a .504 on-base percentage and a .725 slugging percentage.

When told of these numbers, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said, “Is that all?”

Braves general manager Frank Wren spent the past few days watching Heyward and likely gaining a better sense about when it might be best to promote highly-regarded prospect to Gwinnett.  

Braves looking for a reliever

As recently as a week ago, I would have thought there was a chance that Javier Vazquez would me making his final start for the Braves tonight.   

But while winning 14 of their past 20 games and six of eight since the All-Star break, the Braves have at least suspended thoughts of selling Vazquez or Rafael Soriano before next week’s trade deadline.  

Barring an utter collapse during the six games that will precede next Friday’s deadline, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever and explore the limited opportunities to add a bat to their lineup.  

There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from gaining more power potential at first base and their outfield trio.   But while compiling the second most runs in the National League this month, they’ve at least learned that they may already have the pieces that are capable of supporting their strong starting rotation.  

If the Braves do something before the deadline, the best bet is that they’ll add a reliever.  But while looking at a group of available options that include Danys Baez, Takashi Saito, Ron Mahay and John Grabow, it’s apparent that there isn’t much available.  

Still while working with the handicap of not being able to add to their payroll, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever, whose presence could at least create a better opportunity for Peter Moylan and some of their other relievers to stay fresh for the stretch run.

Peter Moylan leads the National League with 53 appearances, Eric O’Flaherty ranks third with 50 and Mike Gonzalez has already garnered 49 appearances, which is five shy of his career-high total posted in 2006, when he missed September while nursing the elbow soreness that likely led to the Tommy John surgery that he underwent the following May.

Because Manny Acosta hasn’t provided full confidence that he can handle some of the late-inning pressure situations, the Braves may need to continue steadily inserting Kris Medlen into their regular bullpen mix.  They also could gain some depth within the next week, when Buddy Carlyle is activated from the disabled list.

Forget what occurred when the Giants scored their four unearned runs while Moylan was on the mound during Thursday’s loss.  If you want to place the blame somewhere, you may want to point it in the direction of Casey Kotchman, whose lackadaisical lob toward first base allowed a sacrifice bunt attempt to equate to an infield single.  

Adam LaRoche made a similar mistake during the 2006 season and was publicly chastised for a couple days.  But that’s neither here nor there.  This was just a longwinded way of pointing out that Moylan has proven to be better since he was given the opportunity to gain some rest during the All-Star break.  

During his four appearances since the break, he’s worked four innings, allowed just two unearned runs, limited opponent to a .200 batting average, recorded five strikeouts and issued no walks.  

While making eight appearances during an 11-day span leading up to the break (July 2-12), Moylan worked 6 2/3 innings, surrendered  11 hits, allowed five earned runs,  issued three walks and registered three strikeouts.

In order to provide Moylan the opportunity to consistently display the promising form he displayed before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves could benefit from at least giving Bobby Cox another arm to call upon during late-inning situations.  

Halladay Watch hits Atlanta area:  The Roy Halladay watch will extend into Gwinnett County tonight, when a Blue Jays scout will watch Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco face the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
 
If the Blue Jays choose not to move Halladay, there’s at least some reason to believe the Braves might be able to get even more for Vazquez from a pitching-hungry club.
 
But as things stand now, it appears Vazquez’s future in Atlanta will be determined during the offseason, when the Braves decide whether they want to keep his $11.5 million cost or exercise  Tim Hudson’s  $12 million option. 
 
There doesn’t seem to be any way that they could keep both of them on next year’s payroll and even less reason to believe the Braves could make room for both by moving Kenshin Kawakami’s contract.

Who is that Wise guy?  If I’ve told this story before, I
apologize.  But with his tremendous catch to preserve Mark Buehrle’s
perfect game on Thursday afternoon, Dewayne Wise produced the reminder
of the first day that I saw him during Spring Training in 2004.  

As we were standing in the middle of the clubhouse just shooting the
breeze with Cox, Wise, a non-roster invitee who had previously been in
the Blue Jays system, approached his new manager to introduce
himself.  

And staying true to his ability to make all of his players feel like
they’re wanted and important, Cox responded with a firm handshake, a
smile and, “Hey I’ve heard a lot about you, it’s great to have you
here.”   

Then as Wise walked away, Cox asked, “Who was that?”

While none of the surrounding reporters knew him at that particular
moment , the entire baseball world certainly now knows about Wise, who
even drew some attention during President Barack Obama’s speech in
Chicago on Thursday.

Wise hit .228 with six homers in 56 games for the Braves in 2004.  His
regular role with Atlanta was diminished when Charles Thomas hit the
scene in late June and proceeded to enjoy his dream season.

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