Results tagged ‘ Martin Prado ’

Where is Mark Cuban when you need him?

This would have been a good weekend to have Mark Cuban calling the shots here in Braves land.  I think it’s safe to say that he would have attempted to create some fireworks or simply have some fun by using today to announce Fredi Gonzalez as the newest member of the Braves organization.

In fact, Cuban would have likely done something like stage a press conference to be shown on the big screen in center field while the Marlins are taking batting practice tonight.

But with Cuban worrying about Dirk Nowitzki’s future in Dallas, the Braves will likely wait at least another week or two before revealing that Gonzalez will serve as some kind of advisor for the remainder of this year. 

Admittedly, I rolled my eyes when some of you said adding Gonzalez to the organization would hurt the feelings of guys like Eddie Perez or Terry Pendleton, who at one time may have been in line to serve as Atlanta’s next manager.   I mean this is the big leagues and they are big boys, who entered this season knowing that Gonzalez would become a favorite for the managerial job if he became available.  

But I do get the sense that there are members of Braves management who share this concern.  Thus if they do eventually give Gonzalez a role where he can spend the next few months evaluating the organization’s talent and personalities at both the Major and Minor League levels, they’ll do so much more quietly than Cuban would have. 

While resting yesterday, the Braves gained a half-game on both the Mets (2 games back) and Phillies (4 games back)    Before going to Philadelphia on Monday to compete against what’s left of the injury-ravaged defending National League champs, the Braves will receive a stiff challenge this weekend from three of Gonzalez’s former pitchers.

During tonight’s series opener, Kris Medlen will be opposed by Josh Johnson, who has recently been the game’s top pitcher and quite honestly it wouldn’t be hard to argue that he has been every bit as impressive as Ubaldo Jimenez throughout this entire season. 

In his past nine starts, Johnson has gone 5-2 with an 0.83 ERA and limited opponents to a .183 batting average and  .226 on-base percentage.  Within the 65 innings that have encompassed this span, he has recorded 60 strikeouts and issued 11 walks.  

Jimenez is still considered widely considered the midseason choice to win the NL Cy Young Award.  But his league-leading marks in ERA (1.83)  and quality starts (14) have been matched by Johnson, who leads the NL in WHIP (0.96) and opponents OPS  (.544).  The .199 batting average he has surrendered has been bettered only by Mat Latos (.197). 

In attempt to regain an optimistic tone, I’ll let you know that Medlen ranks fifth in the NL with a 4.15 strikeouts-to-walk-ratio, one spot ahead of Johnson’s 3.96 mark. 

Anibal Sanchez, who has gone 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA in his past nine starts, will take the mound for the Fish on Saturday afternoon to oppose what should be a rather determined Tommy Hanson.  Based on his mood, there hasn’t been any indication that Hanson has been mentally scarred by his past two outings. 

When Ricky Nolasco opposes Tim Hudson in Sunday’s series finale, it will be the first time he has stood on the Turner Field mound since Sept. 30, the night that he recorded 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. 

By the time Hudson toes the rubber Sunday night, he will have likely learned that he has gained his third career All-Star selection and first since 2004.  Considering there are a number of deserving candidates, that previous sentence might have been a bit presumptuous. 

But it’s hard to imagine Hudson won’t find a place on this year’s NL pitching staff.  He ranks fifth in ERA  (2.37) and his 13 quality starts are just one off the league-leading mark posted by Jimenez, Johnson and Adam Wainwright.  In addition, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts. 

While converting 16 of 18 save opportunities and posting a 1.15 ERA, Billy Wagner has also made himself a solid candidate for this year’s All-Star roster.  His ERA is better than the marks posted by any other NL closer. 

But when attempting to fill a 13-man pitching staff will there be room for Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton and Brian Wilson?  Heck I didn’t even mention Francisco Cordero or Matt Capps, who have posted the NL’s top two save totals while compiling higher ERA than any of the aforementioned deserving candidates.

There are also a number of deserving starting pitchers that could bump Hudson out of the equation.  If Michael Bourn isn’t selected to serve as an outfielder, Roy Oswalt might end up being Houston’s representative.  The only other clear possibility would be Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, who could further diminish the odds of Wager gaining a selection. 

Martin Prado, who will likely start at second base in Chase Utley’s absence, and Jason Heyward seem to be the only Braves who should expect to hear their names announced during Sunday afternoon’s selection show (noon on TBS).  I will be surprised if Hudson and Wagner don’t gain selections and there’s still a good chance the players will once again give Brian McCann a selection. 

But some time Sunday afternoon, I think we’ll be looking at Troy Glaus as one of the deserving players who were not selected.  Albert Pujols will start at first base and Reds first baseman Joey Votto will most definitely gain a reserve spot. 

I heard Peter Gammons jokingly say Phillies manager Charlie Manuel won’t go to Anaheim to manage the NL team if it doesn’t include Roy Halladay.  Well the same can be said about Ryan Howard, who along with Adrian Gonzalez will almost definitely gain a selection before Glaus. 

Trade front:  As you know the Braves are looking to add a bat before the July 31 trade deadline.  But right now, I don’t gain the sense that they are actually targeting specific players or even have a preference whether they gain a right-handed or left-handed bat. 

The most popular names linked to them have been David DeJesus, Corey Hart and Jose Bautista. Right now, the sense is that the Royals want too much in return for DeJesus.  But who could blame them.  Last time I checked, I think he was rumored to be on the wish list of 29 Major League clubs and part of the entourage that will be playing with LeBron James next year.

Bautista was simply ridiculous while compiling 12 of his 20 homers in May.  But how much are you going to give up for a career .237 hitter, who has batted .229 this year and just .204 in the 42 games he has played outside of Toronto.  

Just a few months ago, Hart was drawing negative comparisons to Jeff Francoeur.  Like Francoeur, Hart has turned things around this year and in a much more impressive manner.  In the 44 games he has played dating back to May 15, the Brewers outfielder has hit .299 with 15 homers and a .999 OPS. 

In other words, Hart spent the past six weeks living up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded him since he established himself as a 20-20 player in 2007 and ’08.  If he’s available and the price is right, he’s the guy the Braves should target.

It was interesting to see Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley throw B.J. Upton’s name into the mix the other day. During the 2008 postseason, there wasn’t a player that I enjoyed watching more than Upton. 

Though he has struggled in the two years that have followed, the potential is certainly still there for Upton.  My guess is that he won’t be available at this time of the year. But if the Rays grow impatient with his development and attemp
t to cut costs by moving him in the offseason, he should be at the top of Frank Wren’s wish list.     

Braves set to conclude a memorable May

Before looking at how the Braves have positioned themselves to move into first place within any of the next three days, I want to thank my father, uncle and each of you who have given us this opportunity to take time today to remember why we have been afforded the chance to enjoy the freedoms provided us here in the United States. 

Based on the way the Braves have played over the course of the past three weeks, there was growing reason to believe there could come a point where they would start seriously challenging Philadelphia’s National League East supremacy.  But two weeks ago, when they sat a season-high 6 1/2 games back, there certainly wasn’t much reason to think they could enter June as the division leaders. 

With the Phillies having scored a total of seven runs while losing six of their past eight games, their manager Charlie Manuel brings a staggered bunch into Turner Field this week.  Winners of 15 of their past 19 games, the Braves enter this afternoon’s series opener just a half-game back in the NL East race. 

Over the course of the previous four seasons, the Braves never even held a share of first place after May 15.   In fact during the 2006, 2008 and 2009 seasons, they never sat above second place this late in the season after April 12.

Now if Phil Niekro can get his arm loose and find some of his get his knuckleball to start dancing again this week, the Braves might really be able to prolong Philadelphia’s offensive woes this week.  

The Phillies have been shutout five times over the course of their past eight games and the only time they scored during any of the six losses that encompassed this span was when they tallied three ninth-inning runs after knuckleballer Tim Wakefield blanked them for eight innings on May 23.

Forty-eight hours after being handcuffed by Wakefield’s knuckler, the defending National League champs were blanked by the one delivered by R.A. Dickey.   This prompted Bobby Cox to playfully tell one of the members of his club’s media relations staff, “why don’t you throw Niekro in there as one of our probables for the Phillies series.”

“With that lineup, it’s just a matter of time before they bust loose,” Chipper Jones said. “Fortunately I like our pitching staff and I think our pitching staff can continue to hold them down.”    

With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe set to take the mound this week, the Braves seemingly match up much better than the Phillies, who will not be sending Roy Halladay or Jamie Moyer to the mound during this week’s series. 

Like knuckleballers have been Philadelphia’s kryptonite, Moyer arguably had the same effect on the Braves when they endured their nine-game losing streak at the end of April.   The 47-year-old left-hander has allowed at least four earned runs in six of his first 10 starts this year.  But in two outings against Atlanta he has completed 15 innings without surrendering an earned run. 

Halladay marked the beginning of that nine-game losing streak and the next night Moyer prolonged it by throwing six scoreless innings at Turner Field.  Seven days later, the Braves had endured a nine-day stretch during which they had hit .223 and totaled 17 runs.

As miserable as that span seemed to be, the potent Phillies offense has actually been even worse recently.  During their past eight games, they have batted just .186 and tallied seven runs.

Within these eight games, the Phillies have missed Jimmy Rollins’ presence at the top of their lineup and seen Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth combine to hit .130 (11-for-84) with two extra-base hits  (a double and a triple). 

In the 16 games played since Martin Prado began handling the leadoff role on virtually an everyday basis, the Braves have hit .289 and scored 5.6 runs per game.  Whey exited Philadelphia on May 9, they had gone through the season’s first 31 games hitting .232 and scoring 3.9 runs per game. 

It appears this is a much different Braves club than the one that lost four of its first six games to the Phillies this year.   But if they are going to maximize the dividends created by the turnaround they have enjoyed this month, they need to make a statement this week at Turner Field. 

Exiting this series in first place would simply be a by-product of the more important opportunity to gain further confidence by claiming a series victory against these Phillies, who are currently vulnerable and always dangerous. 

NOTES:  If the Braves are able to claim a victory with Hanson on the mound this afternoon, they will have gone 20-8 in May.  In other words no matter what happens in this series opener, they will not lose more games during this 31-day stretch than they did during that forgettable nine-game stretch in April…Jason Heyward enters this series opener with an NL-best 1.017 OPS.  He’s legitimized his candidacy for an All-Star bid and also given reason to be an early MVP favorite…Prado leads the NL with a .325 batting average. Back when they were playing in the Minors, Brian McCann predicted Prado would win a batting title.  We’ll see if his words prove prophetic this year.

Suddenly rejuvenated offense returns home

While mixing Mucinex, Zyrtec  and a couple of cough drops this week, I could have sworn that I saw the Braves go into Milwaukee and score 28 runs over the course of just three games. 

Had I also seen Jo-Jo Reyes come off the disabled list to earn one of those three wins over the Brewers,  I would have certainly been moved to immediately check myself into the nearest hospital.  

With their first road sweep of the season, the Braves may have saved hitting coach Terry Pendleton’s job and given us reason to believe they are capable of scoring at least one earned run against Jamie Moyer at some point this season.  

Had Pendleton been chosen to be the fall guy, there likely wouldn’t have been a significant public backlash.   When a preseason contender hits .232 and compiles a .337 slugging percentage through the season’s first 31 games, you find yourself nearing a point where change seems imminent.  

Fortunately for Pendleton, the Braves did what they were supposed to do against Doug Davis on Monday night and then gladly put Jason Heyward back in their lineup for the final two games in Milwaukee.  

Instead of saying Heyward is a difference maker for the umpteenth time this year, I’ll point out that despite totaling just three at-bats while battling a sore right groin over a six-game stretch last week, he still enters tonight’s series opener against the D-backs with more RBIs (28) than the combined totals of Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar.  

Looking at one of the new-age stats, Heyward’s 2.70 WPA (win probability added) ranks second in the Majors only to the 2.88 mark posted by Miguel Cabrera, the early favorite to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.  

FanGraphs.com defines WPA as the difference in win expectancy (WE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ WPA for individual plays is added up to get his season total WPA.

If this stat still seems confusing, just ignore it and accept the fact that your eyes haven’t deceived you.  It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the Braves lineup is severely weakened whenever it doesn’t possess Heyward’s presence.  

Now with Chipper Jones expected to return tonight and  Yunel Esobar likely coming off the disabled list in time to start Saturday’s game, where should Heyward sit in the lineup over the course of the next couple weeks or months?

Given that Chipper Jones has hit .231 with 12 homers and a .736 OPS over the course of his past 123 games, there is certainly reason to wonder if the Braves would benefit from replacing him in the third spot of the lineup with Heyward.  

But this isn’t something that is going to happen immediately and when you look at the recent results maybe it is time to believe Jones’ contention that he feels good at the plate and is seeing the ball much better than he did during the second half of the 2009 season.  

Jones has hit .350 (7-for-20) with three doubles in his past seven games.   When he first felt some discomfort in his hip on April 23, he was hitting .295 with a .959 OPS.  Over the years, the veteran third baseman has drawn criticism because of the amount of time that he has spent out of the lineup.  

But the numbers certainly provide reason to believe that his current statistics are a product of the fact that he chose to play through some pain because the team was enduring a rough stretch (the nine-game losing streak).  

From April 24-May 2, Jones recorded just one hit in 24 at-bats.  Take away that eight-game stretch and he would currently be hitting .313, which is right in line with the .307 career batting average that he carried into this season.   

If Jones continues to hit third, the Braves could put Heyward in the second spot and move Martin Prado into the leadoff spot.   Bobby Cox loves all the skills that Prado provides in the second spot.  But there isn’t much need to have the  ability to hit the ball to the right side of the infield or consistently advance runners when the guys (leadoff hitters)hitting in front of you have compiled an NL-worst .253 on-base percentage.  

Nor should it matter that Prado isn’t much of a threat to steal a base.  The Jimmy Rollins-less Phillies and Cubs are the only National League clubs with fewer stolen base attempts than the Braves this year.

The Braves simply need to supply a table setter for Heyward, Jones, McCann, and the suddenly red-hot Troy Glaus.  To give Escobar a chance to continue being the solid run producer that he was last year, I think the best choice is to at least try Prado in that leadoff role for a week or two.  

If it doesn’t work, they could flip-flop him with Escobar, who has .307 with a .370 on-base percentage in his career as a leadoff hitter.  During his first plate appearance in  the 78 games he has started a game as the leadoff hitter, he has hit .395 with a .410 on-base percentage.  

Escobar will make a rehab appearance for Triple-A Gwinnett tonight.   Reyes is scheduled to start for Gwinnett, which will also likely welcome Jordan Schafer to its roster at some point this weekend.  Schafer has hit .294 with three doubles in the nine rehab games he has played for Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this year.

Quick turnaround brings Braves to San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco, where the Braves are just now awaking and preparing for this afternoon’s game that would have appropriately been presented by Red Bull, Monster or any other  approved energy booster.
 
The last pitch in last night’s 2-0 loss to the Cubs was thrown at approximately 9:55 p.m. ET and about 90 minutes later, the Braves embarked on a five-hour charter flight that got them to their hotel here in San Francisco at about 2:30 a.m. PT, or just shy of  the time that many of you in Atlanta were preparing to go to the office or take the kids to school. 

While it might not sound good, the Braves players would have still been able to get around six or seven hours of sleep before heading to the ballpark.  Of course, knowing Bobby Cox, he probably went to the stadium around 7 a.m. to continue preparing for this weekend’s series that could seemingly be played without the services of Chipper Jones, who strained his right oblique muscle during last night’s game.

Shortly after arriving in San Francisco around 5 p.m. PT yesterday, I started to get texts and emails that alerted me that Jones had exited with what was originally termed a “sore right side”.    Initially it seemed like it might be something that sidelines him for just a couple of days and that still might be the case.

But having been down this road a couple of times, I’d have to say that Jones’ postgame comments at least provided reason to believe that he could miss the entirety of this six-game West Coast swing that pits the Braves against the Giants and Padres. 

In the past when Jones has been dealing with oblique issues, he has occasionally removed himself because he felt one more swing could severely aggravate the region.  But last night when he said something like “it bit me pretty good”,  I immediately gained the sense that we could be seeing Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad playing third base at least through Thursday’s series finale in San Diego.

Check back later this afternoon for an update on Jones’ condition and today’s lineup.   Tim Hudson was on my flight out here to the Bay Area and thus had the opportunity to get plenty of rest before making his season debut today. 
My guess it that Jason Heyward will fill in for Jones  in the third spot of the batting order.  Or Cox may choose to bat Heyward second and move Martin Prado into the third spot.

Looking at the small sample sizes provided, Nate McLouth, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar enter today’s game looking forward to prolonging their success against Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

Escobar has three hits, including a double, in six career at-bats against Sanchez.  McLouth has homered in the process of matching the 3-for-7 career performance that McCann has posted against the southpaw. 

However the lineup is now situated, the Braves seem to be better equipped to survive for a few days without Jones.  They went 16-12 without him in the starting lineup last year.    This was a definite improvement in comparison to the previous two seasons — 2008 (17-27) 2007 (12-18).  

Heyward provided another day to rest

As Jason Heyward went back to the right field wall on Tuesday night to attempt to rob Jayson Werth of the two-run homer that he hit off Kenshin Kawakami, I was half expecting to see the young phenom leap to the top of the wall, make the catch and then perform a dismount that would have made Shaun White proud. 

Instead, Heyward proved mortal while running face-first into the wall and watching helplessly as the ball fell into the Braves bullpen.  In the process, the 20-year-old right fielder tweaked his upper back and led Bobby Cox to take the precautionary route by giving a chance to rest during this afternoon’s game against the Mets.

“It’s nothing, he could play easily,”  Cox said. “I told (our trainer Jeff Porter) that I’m going to make 10,000 people mad today.”   <p>

Heyward, who compiled each of his three plate appearances after running into the wall, is expected to be back in the lineup on Thursday night, when the Braves visit the Yankees. 

As this camp has progressed, it has been fun to hear writers, players and coaches compare Heyward to a number of different players from yesteryear.   Fred McGriff, Darryl Strawberry and Dave Parker have been popular choices. 

Cox provided an interesting comparison yesterday when he linked his young outfielder to Larry Walker, who arrived in the Majors with a large athletic frame and the same kind of five-tool talents possessed by the Braves young outfielder. 

Thoughts about Halladay: When Matt Diaz arrived this morning, he asked if Roy Halladay had been as impressive on Tuesday night as his line (3 IP, 3H, 0ER, 5 Ks) indicated.  My immediate response was “ask Martin Prado”. 

Halladay froze Prado with front-door cutters for called third strikes during the first and third innings.  It would have been great to see replays of both of these picture-perfect pitches to see just how identical they when they crossed the inside black portion of the plate. 

Four of Halladay’s five strikeouts came at the expense of Prado and Nate McLouth, who has struck out five times in the 12 at-bats he has recorded entering this afternoon’s game. 

Like it’s too early to begin worrying about McLouth, it’s also far too early for Troy Glaus to be overly excited about the fact that he has singled in each of his past eight at-bats. 

“It’s a positive reinforcement,” Glaus said. “But I’ve been doing this long enough that it doesn’t matter right now.  I’ve had good springs.  I’ve had bad springs.  I’ve had in between springs.  It doesn’t matter.”

Glaus’ hot streak will be delayed until Thursday.  Like Heyward, he has been given the day off.

BRAVES LINEUP
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Hinske 3
Cabrera 9
Diaz 7
Infante 6
Ross 2
Lowe 1

Lowe is scheduled to pitch three innings today.  Takashi Saito, Kris Medlen, Kyle Cofield, Mariano Gomez, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are scheduled to serve as the relievers.   

Odds and ends from Day 4 at Braves camp

After Bobby Cox surprised his players by saying that he felt nervous while delivering this morning’s annual preseason speech, Jason Heyward lived up to expectations with an impressive power display during his first on-field batting practice session of the year. 

Well I guess you could argue that assistant general manager Bruce Manno wasn’t exactly expecting Heyward to drill his car with one of the many titantic shots that soared over the right field wall. 

But enough about what Heyward did against the batting practice pitches delivered by Terry Pendleton, who playfully threw behind the 20-year-old outfielder after nearly being hit with a liner that was torpedoed itself into the protective screen in front of the mound. 

The day’s most significant news centered around the signing of Edward Salcedo, the highly-regarded, 18-year-old Dominican shortstop.  At a cost of $1.6 million, the Braves believe that they secured one of the best available players in the international market. 

This deal was completed with a handshake last week.  But after the young shortstop’s agent then seemingly started soliciting other offers, Braves director of international scouting Johnny Almaraz went directly through Salcedo to get the deal completed. 

Some Braves talent evaluators have compared the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Salcedo to Hanley Ramirez. While it remains to be seen whether the kid can live up to this lofty comparison, there’s certainly reason to believe that he would have equated to a top 10 draft selection this year. 

Based on the way the Braves handled Yunel Escobar and many of their other young stars, I think it’s safe to assume that Salcedo will spend a majority of this season with Class A Rome.

Unless he utterly terrorizes the South Atlantic League, there’s little reason to believe that he would be rushed to Myrtle Beach this year.

Jurrjens update:  Jair Jurrjens played catch from a distance of 60 feet today and felt better than he did while completing this same exercise on Sunday.  If he feels good when he awakes on Wednesday, he’ll begin playing long toss and then possibly begin playing off the mound early next week. This still presents the possibility that he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. 

Jurrjens is feeling a slight pinch in the front of his shoulder when he releases the baseball.  But he has been encouraged that the discomfort level has steadily subsided over the last week. 

Lighter Prado: 
With assistance from the P90X nutrition plan, Martin Prado lost 14 pounds during the offseason and reported to camp noticeably leaner than he was last year.  This should certainly help increase his range at second base. 

Prado, who spent the offseason with his girlfriend here in the Orlando area, is happy to currently have his mother in the United States.  She will have to return to Venezuela next month, but will be permitted to return in June for an additional five months. 

This is obviously encouraging news for Prado, who began experiencing exertional headaches in August, while dealing with the stress he felt when his mother had to return to Venezuela.

Diory injured:
If you hadn’t already, you can erase Diory Hernandez from the list of candidates to fill one of the final roster spots.   The infielder injured his left shoulder while sliding into a base while playing in the Dominican Winter League.

Hernandez said he will begin hitting off a tee again in about a month.  But the club doesn’t believe he’ll be ready to resume playing for at least another 3-4 months. 

Murph’s neighbor:
When you look at the power numbers that Mitch Jones produced during his Minor League career, there’s reason to believe he would be physically imposing.  But the 32-year-old outfielder is just your run-of-the-mill 6-foot, 215 pound player, who obviously finds a way to generate power with his swing. 

Jones, who led the Minors with 35 homers last year, said that he has theorized his power is a product of the many hours he spent helping his dad screen print t-shirts in the family-owned screen printing shop. 

“I grew up a long time in a screen printing shop, screen printing shirts,” Jones said. “So I don’t know, maybe my hands got stronger.”

Jones’ Orem, Utah home is located just a few blocks away from Dale Murphy’s residence.  He said that he often runs into Murph at the local high school or Home Depot. 

Murphy is expected to be in camp within the next couple of weeks.  This year’s other special spring instructors will include Phil Niekro, Gene Garber and the always-popular Javy Lopez.     

Braves will continue to focus on moving their pitchers

With this being the last fully day of this year’s Winter Meetings, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Braves general manager Frank Wren will leave Indianapolis on Thursday possessing the same offensive needs that existed when he arrived. 

Wren has placed his current focus on fulfilling his role as the GM, who has the pieces to solve the pitching needs possessed by a number of his peers. 

Before traveling back to Atlanta, Wren will continue attempting to move Rafael Soriano and Derek Lowe (or Javier Vazquez if necessary).  Yesterday he mentioned that there was at least one club that might be interested in trading for both of these veteran pitchers. 

But despite the fact that they fit this description, there’s little reason to believe that Wren would contemplate sending his former ace and former closer to either the Phillies or the Mets.  In fact, he’s going to continue exploring all options before reaching a point where he would determine that it would be best to send either of these hurlers to either of these division rivals. 

I’ve previously mentioned the Astros as a potential suitor for Soriano.  But there seems to be a belief that their financial situation might eliminate them from being a major player in the bidding for the right-handed reliever’s services. 

As mentioned last night, there appears to be mutual interest between the Braves and Xavier Nady.  If they were able to secure him with a free-agent deal, it appears he would primarily play first base and also spend some time in the outfield. 

Nady’s versatility would allow him to occasionally spell one of the regular outfielders  — a group that I would currently project as being Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward. 

Martin Prado would be able to play first base during those days when Nady (or another player that possesess similar versatility).  While Omar Infante could fill in as the second baseman, there’s also reason to wonder if the Braves will reach a point during this offseason, when they attempt to add another middle infielder.

With the Yankees seemingly prepared to add Curtis Granderson to their outfield mix, there have been reports indicating that Nick Swisher will be available via trade.

The Braves were interested in Swisher last year and like Nady he would be able to provide the same kind of 1B/OF versatiliy.

Mark DeRosa would also fit this category.  But he won’t fit on the Braves radar until his cost drops closer to the $5 million (average annual salary) range.  

This provides a sense of what Frank Wren has been alluding to when he has mentioned that he is still exploring a number of options that could satisfy his offensive needs.

The Braves had some interest in Ross Gload (another player who could serve as a 1B/OF) before he signed with the Phillies last night.  They were very high on his defensive skills at first base.

One American League scout described Gload as “a guy who will hit .270 play solid defense and provide little power.” 

To which I was left to wonder, “Does he also come with Casey Kotchman’s vibrant personality?”  

Let the Hot Stove season begin

When I arrive at Citizens Bank Park for this afternoon’s  Division Series workout,  I’m going to present Ryan Howard with the First Annual White Flag  –  an award that will be presented to the player that proves to be the most destructive to the Braves over the course of the regular season.

Howard won this year’s award in a close battle against Dan Uggla and Jeff Bennett, who  will receive an autographed picture of Kevin Brown to recognize that he was  unanimously chosen as the Braves player who was most destructive against clubhouse property this year.

When the Braves won seven of the first nine games they played against the Phillies this year, Howard hit .250 with two RBIs, seven strikeouts and a .659 OPS.  The powerful first baseman didn’t homer or walk during this span

While dropping six of the final nine games played against the defending world champs, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a 1.776 OPS.

Despite his early struggles, Howard still hit more homers (8) and  collected more RBIs (16) than any other player against the Braves this year.  Among those who registered at least 20 plate appearances, his .794 slugging percentage ranked fourth behind Jay Bruce (1.000), Ryan Braun (.833) and Andre Ethier (.800).

During their final six wins against the Braves this year, the Phillies totaled 27 runs.  Howard drove in 11 of those runs and each of these RBIs came courtesy of the longball.

When Tommy Hanson took the mound during home games this year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”

My suggestion would be for the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate at Turner Field in the future.  Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s  “Walk This Way”.  

Before flying to Philadelphia last night, I went to Turner Field to talk to Bobby Cox and Frank Wren.  Here are some of their interesting thoughts that weren’t included in the story I wrote for MLB.com and  braves.com.

At the All-Star break, I chose Yunel Escobar as the team’s first-half MVP and I think I’d have to say he deserves he still deserves this distinction when evaluating the entire season.   (We’ll debate that in a blog I’ll post later this week).

Anyhow, those mental mistakes that tarnished Escobar’s tremendous talents during the first half were basically non-existent during the second half.  He committed just two errors in his last 75 games and continued to take advantage of a healthy percentage of the opportunities he was provided to drive in runs.

When I asked Cox if Escobar made some impressive strides this year, he chose not to address the improvement element.  But he does now share the opinion that Chipper Jones expressed last year, when Escobar’s name was being included in the Jake Peavy trade talks.  
“He’s the best shortstop in baseball right now,” Cox said.  “I can’t think of anybody better honestly.”

Another guy who would draw consideration as the club’s MVP this year is Martin Prado, whose value extended far beyond his .307 batting average.   He’s not  a Gold-Glove infielder, but he certainly enhanced the club’s defense after he was provided a chance to play second base on a regular basis.

When asked about Prado, Cox talked about what he’s heard about the defensive skills Prado has shown while playing the outfield in Venezuela.

“They say he’s a real good outfielder ,” Cox said. “That’s why we weren’t hesitant to put him out there  (on Sunday)) when we had to pinch-hit  (Brooks) Conrad to try to win the game.  He plays right field on a regular basis in Venezuela.  He has for the past couple of years.  So he’s a possible candidate.”  

Yes the Braves will be looking for a power-hitting, right-handed outfielder.  But I wouldn’t expect Prado to ultimately fill this need.  

Cox’s comment likely had something to do with the fact that the Braves don’t know what they’ll do with Kelly Johnson.  Despite his struggles this year, Johnson is still drawing attention from a number of clubs, who recognize his talents and believe he can still experience some of the success  that has been on display in the past.

So I would think they’ll be able to trade him before reaching a point where they may have to debate whether to tender him a contract.

“We just can’t give up on Kelly,” Cox said. “He had too solid of a season last year.  I think if he’d have gotten the at-bats, he’d have been close with all of those numbers (from 2008), except for the batting average maybe.  But the homers, doubles and triples, if you add another 250 at-bats would have probably been the same.

“I feel bad about Kelly Johnson, not being able to get him in there at all. After Prado got in there, you couldn’t take him out.  He was the hottest hitter we had.”

Next week, Jason Heyward will begin competing in the Arizona Fall League.  At the same time while the Braves are holding their planning meetings in Orlando, the 20-year old top prospect’s name will be a hot topic of discussion.  Or that’s at least Cox’s expectation.  

Heyward has just 173 at-bats above the Class A level.  This was Wren’s response when he was asked if the club could go into Spring Training with an open mind about the possibility of the young phenom starting the 2010 season in the Majors:  

“I think it’s premature to have any mindset about Jason,” Wren said. “We know that he’s an outstanding  young talent.  We just want him to go play in Arizona and get as much experience as possible.  We’ll see where that takes him.”  

I’ll be covering the Phillies-Rockies Division Series and the NLCS.  But obviously I’ll be keeping up with the Braves-related news and updating this blog frequently.    The Hot Stove season will allow us to keep this forum just as lively as it was during Spring Training and the regular season.  

Braves place McLouth on the 15-day DL

The  Braves have placed Nate McLouth on the 15-day disabled list and purchased Reid Gorecki’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett.
 
Gorecki received word around 2 p.m. ET  on Monday and immediately packed his bags in an attempt to join the Braves in time for their 4 p.m. makeup game against the Diamondbacks at Turner Field.
  
McLouth experienced some more discomfort while testing his strained left hamstring on Monday morning.  The 28-year-old center fielder strained the hamstring on Aug. 8 and then noticeably favored his left leg when he returned and attempted to play against the Phillies on Friday and Saturday.
 
With Martin Prado limited to pinch-hit duties until he determines what caused the dizziness and headaches he experienced this past weekend, the Braves were going to be severely short-handed if they’d waited a few more days to see if McLouth’s hamstring improved.
  
Gorecki has hit .286 with nine homers and 14 stolen bases in 106 games with Gwinnett this year.  The 28-year-old outfielder has never previously played in the Majors.   

Updates on McLouth and Prado

While claiming a 4-3 walk-off win over the Phillies at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, the Braves lost Nate McLouth to a nagging hamstring injury that could sideline him for more than just a couple of days.

McLouth strained his left hamstring on Aug. 8 at Dodger Stadium and still seemed to be favoring it when he returned to the Braves lineup on Friday night.  After doing so again on Saturday, the Braves decided it would be best to give him some further rest. 

“We’re not going to disable him,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But it sure slowed him down.  It was very noticeable even more than last night.  He’s a center fielder and he’s limping.  You’ve got to face the facts.  But we’ll wait three or four days.” 

If the Braves are forced to place McLouth on the disabled list, they’ll utilize Ryan Church in center field.  While Church has proven to be a sound defender, he’s not capable of providing the speed that McLouth has provided the Braves since they acquired him in a June 3 trade with the Pirates.

“We’d miss him,” Matt Diaz said.  “He’s a big reason for the turnaround we’ve had this year.  When we traded for him, he changed our offense.  He’s a big part of our team.  Hopefully, he’s fine.”

McLouth was removed after drawing a fifth-inning walk just before Martin Prado took a swing that forced him to feel light-headed and dizzy. 

Prado was removed before the start of the next half inning with what the Braves termed “heat-related symptoms.”  The Braves second baseman said that he simply didn’t drink enough water before the game and became dizzy after consuming an energy drink.  <p>

While he still had a headache while talking to the media after the game, Prado said he’ll be ready to play during Sunday night’s series finale against the Phillies.   

  

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