Results tagged ‘ Kris Medlen ’

Minor will make Major League debut Monday

Mike Minor will make his Major League debut Monday night in Houston.  Braves general manager Frank Wren confirmed Thursday afternoon that Minor will fill rotation spot vacated by Kris Medlen. 

An MRI exam performed Thursday revealed that Medlen has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  Following standard protocol, the Braves will monitor him for a few weeks before determining whether he will need to undergo the Tommy John ligament transplant surgical process that would sideline him for close to a calendar year.

Wren also revealed that Kenshin Kawakami has agreed to spend the next few weeks with Triple-A Gwinnett.  Kawakami will be attempting to rebuild the endurance he’s lost while pitching just one inning since losing his rotation spot after his June 26 win over the Tigers. 

Minor will pitch two innings for Gwinnett during tonight’s game at Lehigh Valley.  The 21-year-old, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in the five starts he’s made since being promoted to Gwinnett.

Showing respect to Kawakami has proven costly

Recognizing that he would be embarrassed in his native land and protecting their future interests in bringing other Japanese players to Atlanta, the Braves never aggressively persuaded Kenshin Kawakami to go to the Minors to continue serving as a starting pitcher.

Consequently they find themselves in a position where Mike Minor appears to be the only sensible option to fill the rotation spot that was opened when Kris Medlen suffered a potentially serious right elbow injury.

Once the MRI results are reviewed, we’ll learn whether Medlen will indeed need to undergo Tommy John surgery and be lost for a year. If that’s the case, then the Braves may have no other choice but to get Minor’s service clock rolling and throw him into the heat of a pennant race.  

If the Braves still had the seven-game advantage that they possessed over the Phillies two weeks ago, then maybe they could send Kawakami to the mound Monday night with the hope that he could work at least three or four innings. 

But if there was even an inkling to do this, you’d have to think they would have at least allowed him to pitch the final two innings of last night’s win against the Mets.   Yet with a four-run eighth-inning advantage, they provided further indication that have little confidence in his ability to be a reliable contributor to their pitching staff. 

It’s certainly not Kawakami’s fault that he has pitched just one inning since ending his days in the rotation with his victorious June 26 effort against the Tigers. Instead, this reality has now grown into an even greater problem for the Braves.

With the possibility that Medlen will be sidelined until at least August of next year, there may now be a need to put Kawakami in the 2011 rotation.  But with the assumption that Minor will be a part of it, the Braves may have to trade either Jair Jurrjens or Derek Lowe to open a spot for the Japanese right-hander, who is still owed a little more than $8 million through the end of next year.   

Given that Minor has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in the five starts he’s made since being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, there’s certainly a chance he will prove to be a reliable fifth starter.  But he has made just 24 starts since leaving Vanderbilt last year and just 20 of those have been completed above the Class A level. 

While some of you have expressed concern about the fact that Minor went 2-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Mississippi this year, I don’t think this should be viewed in a negative manner.  From what I have been told, the defensive support at Mississippi was shoddy at best. 

Mike Leake, who was taken one selection after Minor in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has proven to be a key piece to the Reds resurgence this year. 

The Braves now may have to hope that Minor provides similar value.

Minor will start for Gwinnett at Lehigh Valley tonight.  If he throws just a couple of innings, he could still be in line to fill Medlen’s rotation spot Monday when the Braves open a three-game series in Houston.

The Braves have recalled Cristhian Martinez from Triple-A Gwinnett.  He could be asked to throw a couple of innings Monday night as a starter or reliever. 

If the Braves decide to give Minor at least one more start at Gwinnett, Martinez and Kawakami could piggy-back each other during that series opener in Houston.   

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman  

 

Jurrjens to the DL, Kimbrel to the Majors

Jair Jurrjens’ strained left hamstring has provided Craig Kimbrel a chance to get his first taste of the Major League scene.  

Before Wednesday night’s game against the Nationals,  the Braves placed Jurrjens on the 15-day disabled list and purchased Kimbrel’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett.  

Kimbrel, the hard-throwing right-hander who is regarded as the club’s future closer, was attempting to get to Washington D.C. before or during Wednesday’s game.    

By the time the Braves made the decision to disable Jurrjens, Kimbrel was either traveling or preparing to travel with his Gwinnett teammates from Atlanta to Syracuse, NY. 
 
Kris Medlen will now make Saturday afternoon’s start against the Phillies.   Medlen completed a season-high three innings against the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon after Jurrjens was forced to exit after one inning because of the hamstring strain.  <p> 

Final roster decisions expected to be made today

As many of the Braves pitchers are running and throwing in the bright green Turner Field outfield grass, manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and the members of the coaching staff are discussing their final roster decisions. 

It’s 3:15 p.m. ET and within the next hour or two we could learn who is going to fill the final two bullpen spots and whether the final spot for a position player will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston. 

While I am pretty confident that the final two bullpen spots will be given to Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes, I’m not going to be shocked if the Braves select Conrad or Thurston to begin the season as an extra utility player. 

The similarities between Conrad and Thurston extend far beyond the fact that their defensive abilities limit them to second base and third base.  Conrad runs a little better and draws the benefit of being a switch-hitter. 

Based solely on their offensive performances during the Grapefruit League season, Thurston would be the easy choice.  While he has finished strong and improved his batting average to .319 through 47 at-bats, Conrad has slumped and enters today hitting just .229 in 48 at-bats. 

But as you know, these decisions are never solely based on statistics compiled during Spring Training.

Despite the fact that Conrad has struggled with the bat recently, I still think his advantage comes from the fact that he was with the organization last year.  In the process, the Braves came to appreciate the work ethic and no-nonsense approach that he brought to the park every day. 

At the same time, Thurston must have been doing something right while appearing in 124 games last year for a Cardinals team that won the National League Central.   In the 64 games that he started he hit .227 and in his 61 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he hit .216 with a .344 on-base percentage.

Reyes and Chavez will likely earn the final roster spots solely based on their experience.  Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have much higher upsides and the need to spend a few more weeks or months nurturing their skills at the Minor League level. 

The potential ramifications of having Reyes begin the year in the bullpen have been discussed.  But with Kris Medlen available to serve as an emergency starter, the Braves seem willing to roll the dice through that they can escape the first 4-6 weeks of the season without having to deal with a rash of injuries in their starting rotation. 

Medlen is certainly capable of making a few starts if necessary.  And if the Braves were to lose two starters during the early portion of the season, they would have a problem that would trump the fact that one of their most glaring weaknesses entering the season is the fact that they don’t have any enviable depth beyond their first five starting pitchers. 

Heading down to the clubhouse.  I’ll be back shortly with the decisions. 

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 

Roster battles taking shape

Before this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, I mentioned that I felt the final two bullpen spots would be claimed by Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez.  A few hours later, I’m willing to make this assumption with greater confidence and also say that I think Brooks Conrad currently holds the lead in the battle for the last roster spot for a position player. 

Conrad ended an 0-for-15 slump that extended back to March 18 with a seventh-inning homer this afternoon off Chad Durbin.  But my thinking has more to do with the fact that even during his prolonged slump the Braves never soured on this journeyman, who gained a lot of favor with the work ethic he brought to the park during his short stints with Atlanta last year. 

Had Thurston been in the Braves organization last year he might have gained the same advantage.  So far he has proven to be the same kind of likable player who is very similar to Conrad in many ways. 

But if I had to guess right now, the nod will go to Conrad, who also draws the advantage provided by the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster and Thurston isn’t. 

“Brooksy did a great job for us last year,” Bobby Cox said. “He won us some games.”

Chavez at least regained his sanity this afternoon while working a perfect inning against the Phillies.  During his previous two outings, he had worked 1 1/3 innings, allowed 11 hits (all singles) and eight earned runs.

“The last two outings haven’t been indicative of the way he’s pitched,” Cox said. “He kept the ball down and he did it again today.  It was the same as the last two times for me.” 

Cox has repeatedly pointed out that Chavez was marred by bad luck in those previous two outings and those who witnessed both could certainly back up my belief that this wasn’t just another case where the veteran manager was going out of his way to back up a player that didn’t deserve to be defended. 

When we approached Chavez this afternoon, he looked relieved.  Thinking back on his two previous outings, he could only laugh and say, “what did I give up like 11 singles and only about half of them even left the infield?”

“I’m not the first to say it, but I’m not a spring pitcher,” said Chavez, who was a surprise addition to Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster last year. “But this is what it’s for.  Get them out of the way now and be ready to roll once the lights turn on.”

It was interesting to hear Cox say after today’s game that there is some concern about putting Reyes in the bullpen to start this year because of the fact that as a starter at Gwinnett he would provide insurance if one of the members of the Atlanta rotation was sidelined.

“It’s a predicament because Jo-Jo is a starter/backup guy if we send him out,” Cox said. “If we keep him, he could help us here too.”

With Reyes pitching two perfect innings today and Jonny Venters seemingly crumbling under the pressure while allowing the Phillies three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, there’s even more reason to believe the Braves would rather go with Reyes. 

Venters allowed a leadoff double to Jimmy Rollins and issued consecutive walks to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (with the bases loaded) before recording his first out.  As for Craig Kimbrel, the only thing he surrendered while going up against Utley, Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino was a single by Howard. 

But the Braves seem to be shying away from sending the still-green Kimbrel to the Majors with just 14 games of experience above the Class A Minor League level.  With this being said, he’s shown enough to lead me to expect to see him in Atlanta at some point this year.

If all of this proves to be true, those final bullpen spots will go to Chavez and Reyes.  And if the Braves are really hesitant about the fact that they don’t have much depth in the starting pitching department, they could send Reyes to Gwinnett to get stretched out when Scott Proctor is deemed ready to join the Atlanta bullpen. 

While Kris Medlen is certainly capable of making a spot start if necessary, his positioning in the rotation could weaken the bullpen’s depth.  As mentioned last week, this young right-hander has proven that his versatility extends to his ability to be a detriment to left-handed hitters. 

With Medlen in the bullpen mix, the Braves could be confident carrying Eric O’Flaherty as their only true left-handed middle reliever.  

 

 

 

Heyward still impressing

Despite the fact that he struck out for the first time this year, Jason Heyward enjoyed another productive day during Saturday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to the Astros at Kissimmee.

When Heyward struck out against Jeff Fulchino in the third inning, it marked the first time he had done so in 14 Grapefruit League at-bats.  But two innings later the 20-year-old right fielder showed off his legs while hustling into second base with a double to right field.

More impressive was the patience that Heyward showed when he spit on Roy Oswalt’s 3-2 breaking ball in the first inning.  Through his first 15 plate appearances this year, the Braves phenom has hit .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles, drawn four walks and damaged the baseball that hit him after being thrown by Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton on Friday. 

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk returned to Florida on Saturday morning and said that everywhere he goes in Atlanta people are talking about Heyward. 

While there are those who may still argue that the club could benefit financially by sending him to the Minors to begin the season, the club continues to provide no reason that they will go this route unless he gives them a sense he is not ready for the Majors. 

So far, that hasn’t happened and if you want to argue this from a financial standpoint, he is the one guy in the organization that could influence the attendance totals at Turner Field. 

Medlen’s control:  Kris Medlen worked two scoreless innings on Saturday afternoon, dented the backstop with a couple of wayward warmup tosses and kept the Astros off balance while throwing 15 of his 35 pitches for strikes. 

Medlen issued consecutive walks to load the bases in the second inning with nobody out in the second inning and then induced a popout before escaping unscathed with a double-play groundout.

“With the bases loaded, I just decided I would grip it and throw it,” Medlen said. 

Medlen said that he over-corrected the delivery of his four-seamer after it cut on him a couple of times in the bullpen. After developing a two-seamer last year, he went away from throwing the traditional fastball as often as he had in the past.

“I made pitches when I had to,” Medlen said. “It’s Spring and it’s early and my arm feels fine.  It was just the over correction and the whole mental part of it.”

While Medlen has a bullpen spot that will be secured as long as he has a decent Spring, Manny Acosta is still a part of that bullpen battle that has been altered with the early struggles incurred by Jesse Chavez. 

Acosta seemed to aid his cause on Saturday, allowing one unearned run and recording three strikeouts in two innings. 

“You can’t throw any better than that,” Cox said. “He was really impressive today.”

Another pitcher that caught Cox’s eyes was the hard-throwing Kyle Cofield, who allowed a hit and recorded a strikeout in his one scoreless inning.  The 23-year-old right-hander will quickly rise to the Majors if he consistently shows the kind of control that he did against the Astros.

As you may remember, earlier this week an American League scout said that Cofield reminded him of John Smoltz.

Tommy Hanson will be back on the mound tomorrow afternoon when the Braves host the Astros.  Peter Moylan highlights the list of relievers scheduled to appear.     
 

A review of the Grapefruit League opener

One game into the Braves exhibition season, Tommy Hanson has provided the reminder that he’s a special talent and Martin Prado has already laced a couple of liners that provide indication that he can still hit with his slimmed-down frame. 

And of course, Mr Heyward took advantage of the opportunity to prove his game consists of much more than the power potential that fueled all of those batting practice stories that you read last week. 

Bobby Cox called Heyward’s third-inning single through the right side of the infield, ”  “the hardest-hit single you’ll ever see in your life.”   But just as impressive was the 20-year-old outfielder’s ability to draw a walk after falling behind with a 1-2 count in the first inning.  

After showing good bat control while fouling off an offspeed pitch that seemed to initially fool him, Heyward showed great poise while sitting on a 3-2 curveball.  Then two innings later wanting to increase Yunel Escobar’s options to drive him home with one out, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound outfielder easily swiped third base.

As Heyward slid into third base, I immediately thought about Chipper Jones saying that the phenom would earn a spot on the Opening Day roster once he proved that he has a grasp of the finer points of the game  — like knowing when to hit to the right side and knowing when to take an extra base.  

After the game, I caught up with Darryl Strawberry, who is in camp with the Mets as a special instructor.  The eight-time All-Star had some praise for the Braves outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to him.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself,” Strawberry said.  “That’s a big part of this game.  If you believe in yourself, you can excel.  He has a good idea about what the game is all about.  He’s going to go through some highs and lows.  That’s just what the game is all about for everybody.  If he stays focused and plays hard, he will be very special.”

Check out more of Strawberry’s comments within a story that should post shortly on MLB.com and braves.com.  

If Heyward isn’t deemed ready for the Majors at the conclusion of camp, the starting rightfielder’s job will go to Melky Cabrera, who laced a single the other way during the second inning and made an over-the-shoulder catch that drew attention from Cox.

“It wasn’t a great play,” Cox said. “But it was a (darn) good play in these conditions with the wind and you couldn’t see the ball.”

Cox also took time to send some praise in the direction of Kris Medlen, who allowed one hit and registered a strikeout in two scoreless innings.    

Tuesday’s negatives:  Nate McLouth experienced a rough debut with a pair of strikeouts, including one that was registered with a questionable call on a check swing.   Another former Pirate, Jesse Chavez also proved unable to provide the same kind of impression he had during the early days of camp. 

Chavez was charged with three runs  — two earned — three hits and one walk in just one inning of work.   His damage might have been reduced had shortstop Brandon Hicks not lost a liner in the sun.

“Chavez was just geeked up a little bit, just fastball, fastball, fastball,” Cox said. “He fell behind and got hit.  He didn’t really have a chance to pitch.”

Tomorrow’s game:  Tim Hudson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings of Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Mets at Disney.  Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty headline the cast of relievers who are scheduled to appear.  Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus should also be making their exhibition season debuts.   

 

No reason to panic about Jurrjens yet

While we wait to learn Jair Jurrjens’ MRI results, it’s still too early for Braves fans to panic. But it’s quite obviously not a news angle the Braves wanted surrounding them as their players start filtering into their Spring Training camp.

As much as the Braves might want to hope that Jurrjens is simply dealing with normal soreness, there’s little normal about the fact that his right shoulder discomfort has proven significant enough for him to fly back to Atlanta to see the team’s doctors.  

Jurrjens is tough, but he’s also smart. Given that it is still just Feb. 16, maybe it does make the most sense for him to take whatever precautions to attempt to prevent this shoulder discomfort from lingering throughout the season. 

Seeing how you are now saying, “I told you the Braves never should have traded Vazquez”, I’ll remind you that Javier Vazquez was sent back to Atlanta to be evaluated when he felt some discomfort during his final start before the All-Star break. 

These kinds of things happen to pitchers.  You just have to hope that when they do occur, you don’t find yourself worrying about the arm of young pitcher as talented as Jurrjens.

While the best-case scenario would be for doctors to give him a clean bill of health and allow him to resume all throwing activities immediately, you have to think that the best thing Jurrjens will learn is that he just needs to rest his arm for a few weeks. 

This obviously would put him behind schedule and in position to miss the beginning of the regular season.  Unfortunately for the Braves, this year’s schedule forces them to utilize each member of their five-man rotation before the first weekend is complete. 

As you might remember, last year’s schedule was aligned in a way that would have provided Tom Glavine just two starts in April, with the first coming on April 20.

If Jurrjens is forced to miss more an extended amount of time, there’s no doubt that it would be a big blow to the club’s chances of sending Bobby Cox out as a winner.  But as long as Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe pitch live up to the expectations set by their successful pasts, this Atlanta rotation would still be strong enough to help the team become a postseason contender. 

It seems like Cox is really looking forward to seeing Kris Medlen in the bullpen this year.  But the 24-year-old right-hander, who recorded 72 strikeouts and issued 30 walks in 67 2/3 innings last year, would likely start the season in the rotation if Jurrjens is unable to do so. 

Another name you’ll hear often over the next couple of weeks is Jose Ortegano, who Eddie Perez has labeled the best pitcher he’s seen in the Venezuelan Winter League the past two years.  Ortegano caught upper management’s attention last year when he went 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts for Double-A Mississippi.

The 22-year-old Ortegano and Mike Minor, the club’s top selection in last year’s Draft, seemingly need to gain some more seasoning in the Minors.  But either of them could find their way into the rotation at some point this season.

Within the next couple days, there might no longer be a need to speculate about who could fill Jurrjens’ spot in the rotation. 

But for now, the Braves are going to deal with the fact that regardless of the MRI results, they will be spending the early days of camp with a lot of attention placed in the direction of Jurrjens’ shoulder.
  

Wren heading to Indy with a shorter shopping list

Now that we know that Tiger Woods wasn’t slipping out in the middle of the night to take advantage of one of last week’s door-buster sales, it’s time to focus on the remaining shopping list that Braves general manager Frank Wren will take to next week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.
  
Would it have been more appropriate to refer to them as window-busting sales?

Regardless, it’s safe to say Wren certainly came out swinging during the early stages of this offseason.  While bidding adieu to a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) who could net him four picks in next year’s Draft, Wren grabbed a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito) while losing just one draft pick.   

Saito would have been labeled a Type A free agent had the Red Sox not dropped them from their 40-man roster in October.  This was simply a procedural move that provided them the opportunity to pursue the Japanese right-hander at a cost cheaper than the option (worth at least $6 million) that was in his contract.

Wren certainly took a small risk by offering arbitration to both Gonzalez and Soriano when he had a good sense that in the next 48 hours he would sign both Saito and Wagner.  But it was a calculated one primarily based on the fact that Gonzalez and Soriano now arguably stand as the two best relief options on a free-agent market that grew thinner this week when the Braves reconstructed the back-end of their bullpen. 

There’s very little reason to believe Gonzalez would align himself with Scott Boras and then opt to take the one-year contract that would come via accepting the arbitration offer.  He’s going to get some of the same attractive multi-year deals that will be offered to Soriano, whose health history provides even more reason for him to find the security provided by a multi-year offer.  

Soriano and Gonzalez have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday to accept these arbitration offers.  It’s hard to imagine them doing this and ignoring the opportunity to field the offers that will be made by those teams that may have seen their wish lists shortened this week by the signings of Wagner and Saito. 

With his bullpen needs filled, Wren will head to Indianapolis with the opportunity to focus his attention on finding at least one bat and a suitor that is willing to deal for either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. 

The Braves still seem hopeful that they’ll be able to move Lowe instead of Vazquez.  My feeling has been that John Lackey, the top starter available on this year’s free-agent market, will sign before the Braves are able to move one of these two hurlers. 

But Wren doesn’t believe this is necessarily true.   

“I think teams have to have some sense of what the market is,” Wren said. “It’s the unknown that makes it difficult for clubs.  The top guy doesn’t necessarily have to sign.  But the top guy has to have a market established.  That will obviously create some players and some non-players.” 

In other words, during next week’s meetings, when we start hearing what clubs are offering Lackey, we may gain a better sense about which teams will prove to be the most likely suitors for Lowe and Vazquez.

Whether the Braves deal Vazquez, who is set to make $11.5 million in the final year of his contract, or Lowe, who is owed $15 million during each of the next three seasons, they will still seemingly have a similar amount of fund to fill their offensive needs. 

If they are able to trade Lowe, it still seems like they will have to eat somewhere between $1-2 million per year.   Thus their potential cost savings made by dealing either of these two hurlers may be only differ by this same range.  

As he evaluates who will play first base and fill his final outfield void, Wren has his sights set on finding a right-handed bat.  Marlon Byrd’s agent, Seth Levinson, said earlier this week that the Braves have “strong interest” in his client. 

But it seems like Byrd, who hit 14 of his career-high 20 homers inside Texas’ offensively-friendly ballpark this year, stands as just one of many candidates that Braves are evaluating.   
Some of the Braves players are lobbying for the club to bring Mark DeRosa back.  DeRosa would certainly prove valuable in the fact that he could play a number of different positions and add some power potential to the roster. 

It’s believed that DeRosa would be willing to take a “hometown discount” from the Braves.  But it might take some time before his view of a discount corresponds with what the Braves are willing to offer.  

As the next week progresses, we’ll likely learn more about the interest being shown to these players and other free-agents like Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady and Mike Cameron.  In addition, Wren has made it known that he could opt to fill his offensive needs via trade.

“Right now, there are a lot of different possibilities,” Wren said.
 
Odds and ends:  Don’t forget that you can help Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren  and Ernie Johnson, Sr. move one step closer to the Hall of Fame by voting for this year’s Ford C. Frick Award.  Click here for the ballot.
 
You may have noticed that Wagner will wear the No. 13 jersey that was adorned by Nate McLouth last year.  Wagner said that he knows he may have to provide McLouth a portion of his new $7 million contract to show appreciation for the opportunity to continue wearing this number that he has sported dating back to his childhood days in Virginia. 
 
Wagner said the number has gained more sentimental value since his now-deceased grandfather provided him a medal that was engraved with the No. 13.   The medal was one of the ID pieces that his grandfather wore while working in the coal mines.
 
Tim Hudson invited Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen to join him for last week’s Iron Bowl in Auburn, Ala.  As a sign of appreciation the two comical hurlers arrived on Hudson’s former campus and asked where they might be able to buy some Alabama gear.  

Braves playoff hopes still alive

Within yesterday’s offday story, I pointed out that based on the developments that occurred during the previous two seasons, you can’t completely rule out the possibility that the Braves could still win the National League East.

At the same time, I provided a couple of recent examples (2007 Rockies and 2004 Astros) to reinforce the belief that the Braves are still very much alive in the National League Wild Card race.   Of course, I wrote that approximately 12 hours before the Rockies completed their 14-inning marathon against the Giants with Ryan Spilborghs’ walk-off grand slam.

While playing golf, fishing or resting tired muscles yesterday, the Braves lost a half-game in both the National League East and Wild Card races.  They now trail the Phillies by seven games and sit 4 games behind the Rockies.  

Having won seven of their last eight and 17 of their past 24, the Rockies aren’t providing any indication that they’re ready to release their stranglehold atop the Wild Card standings.   But at the same time, they’re providing reason to wonder if they may eventually fall out of this equation and catch the NL West-leading Dodgers, who have gone 10-12 this month and seen their lead over the Rockies shrink to three games.

The Dodgers, who owned an eight-game advantage over the Rockies entering this month, have hit .266, compiled a .330 on-base percentage and scored 4.5 runs per game in August.  From a pitching perspective, they’ve posted a 3.23 ERA.  

In the 24 games the Rockies have played since being shut out in consecutive games by the Mets, they’ve hit .274, compiled a .359 on-base percentage and tallied 5.79 runs per game.  During this span, their pitchers have posted a 3.95 ERA.  

While winning 14 of the 21 games they’ve played this month, the Braves have hit .272, reached base at a .348 clip and tallied 5.29 runs per game.   In the process, their pitchers have posted a 3.41 ERA.  

Looking at a larger sample size, the Cliff Lee-aided Phillies (3.04) are the only NL team that has posted a better ERA than the Braves (3.23) since the All-Star break.  With Spilborghs’ walk-off shot, the Rockies (5.30) became the only NL team that has scored more runs per game since the break than the Braves (5.28).   

Yesterday’s offday story also pointed out that the Braves current record of 66-58 matched the ones the Phillies had tallied on the way to winning the NL East both of the past two seasons.  In addition, I’ve since noticed that the 2006 world champion Cardinals also posted this same mark through their first 124 games.  

On the way to winning the Wild Card and advancing to the 2007 World Series, the Rockies possessed a 63-61 record and sat 3 games back in the Wild Card standings.  

Obviously the variables differ from year-to-year and the Braves certainly aren’t guaranteed the luxury the Phillies gained while the Mets collapsed both of the past two Septembers.   But recent history proves that they are still very much alive with the hope they’ve created courtesy of the recent success that they’ve encountered.  

Red-hot Roachy:  When the Braves acquired Mark Teixeira before the 2007 trade deadline, many immediately compared it to the trade that brought a first baseman named Fred McGriff to Atlanta for the final two months of the 1993 season.

While hitting .289 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and a .711 slugging percentage through his first 20 games,  Teixeira provided the similar immediate impact that McGriff did while hitting .364 with seven homers, 15 RBIs and a .753 slugging percentage during his first 20 games in Atlanta.  

When Adam LaRoche was acquired before this year’s trade deadline, there wasn’t any reason to put pressure on him to produce these kinds of outrageous numbers.  But through his first 20 games back as Atlanta’s first baseman, Roachy has hit .406 with seven homers, 16 RBIs and a .739 slugging percentage.  

Based on this success, the Braves will certainly attempt to keep  LaRoche in Atlanta after he hits the free agent market this offseason.  But with Freddie Freeman just a year or two away from reaching the Majors, they aren’t likely to offer him more than a two-year deal.  

Speaking of Freeman, he’s been placed on the seven-day disabled list with a bruised left hand.   During his first 41 games with Double-A Mississippi, the 19-year-old first baseman has hit .248 with two homers and a .650 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).  

For those of you who looked at yesterday’s box score and also noticed that Jason Heyward didn’t play for Mississippi, he simply got a day to rest.   Through his first 43 games at the Double-A level, Heyward has hit .338 with seven homers and a 1.046 OPS.  

These numbers are even more impressive when you account that he’s hit just .162 with one homer and three RBIs in his past 10 games.   The fact that he’s hit .243 with four homers and an .847 OPS this month should simply be a reminder that even the greatest 20-year-old prospects are going to encounter some form of struggles as they make their march toward the big leagues.  

Medlen’s turnaround:
  While Brian McCann provided the necessary offense, Sunday afternoon’s game against the Marlins couldn’t have been won without the two scoreless innings provided by Kris Medlen.  His effort negated the fact that Derek Lowe was forced to exit after five innings and just 67 pitches   –  a combined product of ineffective mound work and a short bench.
 
In his 13 appearances since the All-Star break, Medlen has worked 19 1/3 innings, posted a 0.93 ERA and limited opponents to a .197 batting average and .250 on-base percentage.
 
This obviously isn’t the same kid who was a nervous wreck when he arrived in the Majors in May.  Much more relaxed, Medlen has proven to be a funny dude in the clubhouse and a talented pitcher, who is going to continue to have chances to provide major impacts as the Braves continue to march into the heat of the postseason races.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43,855 other followers