Results tagged ‘ Martin Prado ’

Infante returns to face red-hot Nationals

Coming off a weekend during which Kris Medlen was one of the many players that proved to be huge at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are back at Turner Field to host the red-hot Nationals.  
Do I get any kind of bonus Scrabble points for describing Medlen as huge and the Nationals as red-hot in the same sentence?  

During my nine seasons on this beat, I’d have to say this past weekend’s four-game set in Los Angeles was one of the best series that I’ve witnessed.   How many times do you see a team bounce back from a potentially demoralizing walk-off loss with consecutive extra-inning victories and then end  up taking three of four against a team that entered the series possessing the best record in the Majors?

While their pitching staff has been weakened by injuries, the Dodgers still are one of the National League’s elite teams and this weekend, the Braves proved to themselves and everybody else that they have the potential to work their way into that same category.   

But everything that was accomplished in Los Angeles will go to waste if the Braves aren’t able to prolong this successful run against the Nationals, who have posted a 3.88 ERA and compiled a .322 batting average during the eight-game winning streak that they carry into tonight’s series opener.  

The Braves have lost 16 of their past 27 games against the Nationals and they realize that taking care of business during these next two days would put themselves in great position this weekend, when they welcome the Phillies to town and have the opportunity to directly affect how things look at the top of the NL East standings.

Chipper Jones seemingly understands the importance of these two games.  When he arrived at his locker before Tuesday’s batting practice he was told that his name wasn’t in tonight’s lineup.

“It’s not in there?” Jones said. “Excuse me a second.”  

A few minutes later after having a brief discussion with Bobby Cox, Jones returned and said that he was back in the lineup.  

Jones strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice and was absent while the Braves won three straight against the Dodgers.   The ailment bothered him while he was in Los Angeles, but when he awoke on Tuesday he felt no discomfort and was determined to play.  

“If I can play at all right now, I’m going to play,” Jones said.  

Jones’ return to the lineup led the Braves to shift Omar Infante from third base to second base.  Martin Prado was positioned at first base because Cox opted to sit LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.  

Since joining the Braves LaRoche has five hits in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.  But he’s batting just .171 (7-for-41) against them since July 1 and is hitless in six career at-bats against Lannan.  

When the Braves activated Infante from the disabled list, they optioned Diory Hernandez to Triple-A Gwinnett.  With Infante’s presence, the Braves no longer needed to keep Hernandez around to serve as Yunel Esobar’s backup. 

While Greg Norton has hit just .138 this year and .087 (4-for-46) from the left side of the plate, it still seemingly made more sense to keep him around with the hope that he’ll turn things around.   It’s not as if Hernandez gave the Braves reason to believe he could be a valuable right-handed bat off the bench.   He’d hit just .143 in the 42 at-bats he’d compiled dating back to June 28. 

It was somewhat concerning to see Nate McLouth return to the bench during Tuesday’s batting practice and tell Bobby Cox that he was still feeling some discomfort in the same left hamstring that sidelined him for a week earlier this year.
 
McLouth, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday’s 10th inning,  said he really doesn’t feel any discomfort until he attempts to push off while attempting to run down a fly ball.
  
Given McLouth’s blue-collar, win-at-all-costs approach to the game, it’s definitely in his best interest to wait a few more days before returning to regular action.   If he were to push himself attempting to score from second base or while running into one of the outfield gaps, he could incur an injury that would certainly handicap the Braves during this stretch run.  

McLouth expects to play on Wednesday

Having never previously experienced the excitement of a chase toward the postseason, Nate McLouth certainly isn’t going to allow a little lower back soreness to prevent him from being a part of the excitement he and his Braves teammates have recently created.  <p>

With a secure lead during Tuesday night’s 8-1 win over the Giants, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to use some precaution by allowing McLouth to rest his back during the final three innings. 

But when reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum toes the rubber for the Giants on Wednesday night, McLouth plans to be the first Braves batter that he faces.  

“I’ll be in there,”  McLouth said. “I’ll be fine.”

McLouth said he felt a twinge in his back during his first-inning at-bat.  As he beat out a fifth-inning infield single, he showed enough discomfort to at least draw a quick visit from Braves manager Bobby Cox.

As he was receiving treatment in the trainer’s room, McLouth said he was thinking about how exciting the past couple of weeks have been.   With a 13-6 run, the Braves have put themselves in a position that the 27-year-old outfielder never experienced during his days with the Pirates.

“It’s been great the past couple of weeks,” McLouth said. “This is a feeling you want to continue.”

With Arizona’s win over Colorado on Tuesday night, the Braves moved to within three games of the lead in the National League Wild Card standings.  They’re tied with the Cubs and looking up at only the Giants and Rockies.

The Giants and Rockies will stage a three-game series against each other at Coors Field this weekend.   

“Right now, we’re playing all-around good baseball,” Brian McCann said. “We’re hitting great, pitching great and our defense has been unbelievable.   It seems like every night our middle infielders are making highlight plays and it’s rubbing off on everybody else.” 

While McCann supplied four RBIs during Tuesday night’s win, the top highlight was provided courtesy of the acrobatic double play turned by Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado.

“Prado made a great play and Esky the same thing,” McCann said. “They work on that during batting practice all the time.  When you put it to work during the game, it’s fun to watch.   I get the best seat in the house.  Both guys made an unbelievable play.” 

After diving to his right to rob Travis Ishikawa of a first-inning RBI single, Prado flipped to Escobar, who vaulted off the second base bag and made an accurate throw to first base that at least in umpire Tim Timmons’ view beat Ishikawa.

“Somebody said he was safe at first,” Prado said. “It was one of those plays where the umpire gives you that. It was a big play in that inning. I saw him coming to the bag and I just flipped it to the base. That’s the only thing I could do. It was  a reaction play. I just flipped it and he was there and he jumped and threw the ball.”

Prado said that Escobar routinely attempts to make these kinds of acrobatic turns during batting practice.

“Escobar is one of those guys in batting practice that wants to practice those kinds of plays,” Prado said. “That happens once in a while. It happened tonight and he was like ‘You see? I told you it would happen.’ We have a great friendship and he’s a great player. He makes us play harder every day.”

When asked where he would rank this turn among the other turns he’s completed during his young career, Escobar responded  “Numero Uno.”

Then with Jair Jurrjens serving as an interpreter, Escobar added, “You practice how you play.”
       
 

Braves not looking to move Escobar

Jeff Francoeur is out of the lineup for a third straight game.  Tim Hudson felt fine while throwing an 18-pitch live batting practice session.  And, Martin Prado was named the National League’s Player of the Week.  

But before digging into today’s events, it seems more important to at least quiet the Yunel Escobar rumors that are circulating. 

Look I understand the entertainment value of the rumor market that will swirl over the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline.  But at the same time, I think it’s time to take Yunel Escobar’s name out of the mix. 

Teams have certainly called to express interest in Escobar and with his stubborn personality the talented shortstop has given the Braves at least reason to ponder the possibility of moving him.

But from what I’ve gathered, the Braves have zero desire to move Escobar.  He’s simply not the kind of player that you move because you’ve found another warm body to fill the shortstop position.  

While his mental mistakes have sometimes been maddening, Escobar is a top-flight defensive shortstop, whose offensive production will grow as he continues to increase his power.   He ranks second in the National League with a .405 batting average with runners in scoring position and his team-leading 42 RBIs have been gathered at a cost of $425,000.  

Still one year away from becoming arbitration eligible, Escobar will once again prove cheap again next year, when he’ll once again be with the Braves.

Huddy update: The five-minute, 18-pitch live batting practice session that Hudson threw today was essentially what he would have completed had this been the first day of Spring Training.  He will throw another short session again on Tuesday and then steadily work to increase his arm strength in preparation for his for Minor League rehab start with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach on July 19. 

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to pitching in a game, seeing hitters out there and having that added adrenaline rush,” said Hudson, who likely won’t be able to rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25. 

Francoeur sits again:  Not to long ago, it was noteworthy whenever Jeff Francoeur was out of the lineup.  Thus, it was certainly newsworthy to see Cox leave Francoeur out of his lineup for a third straight game on Monday.

It’s near impossible to keep Matt Diaz’s bat out of the lineup right now and with the Cubs throwing right-hander Randy Wells tonight, Cox wanted to keep Garret Anderson’s bat in the mix.

When asked if he’d like to be traded Francoeur said, “It’s not something that I want.  I just want to play. You can take that however you want to.”

Prado POW:  When asked what he thought about being named the NL’s Player of the Week, Martin Prado talked about how surprised he was to win an honor that could have gone to the likes of Albert Pujols.

But while hitting .577 (15-for-26) with a .621 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage last week Prado deservedly earned this award over the likes of Pujols, who hit .429 (9-for-21) with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage.

 

Every pitch counts

When you dissect the progression of a baseball season, you can lead yourself to believe that every pitch has the potential to produce consequences that extend beyond the game during which it was thrown.
 
Had plate umpire Bill Hohn called a strike on the 0-2 fastball that Eric O’Flaherty threw during Sunday afternoon’s game at Fenway Park, J.D. Drew wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deliver the next pitch off the Green Monster for a one-out, go-ahead RBI single. 

The Braves believe Hohn’s call cost them that series finale against the Red Sox.  Extending this arguable belief, did this call also deny them the opportunity to carry a four-game winning streak into tonight’s series finale against the Yankees?

If Drew had been called out on strikes, with first base open, two outs and left-handed slugger David Ortiz on deck, Cox said that he still would have called upon Peter Moylan to face the right-handed hitting Kevin Youkilis. 

But had first base umpire first base umpire Tim Welke not ruled in Jake Fox’s favor on a bang-bang play  with two outs in the seventh inning of Monday night’s win over the Cubs, Cox wouldn’t have needed to replace Javier Vazquez with Moylan, who needed just two pitches to end that threat and his evening.

After needing 14 pitches to erase Tommy Hanson’s potential sixth-inning damage and toss a perfect seventh inning during Tuesday night’s win over the Yankees,  Moylan was given a night to rest. 

Thus he was unavailable when Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game.   Had the Braves gotten the desired ruling from Welke, there’s seemingly reason to believe that the Aussie would have been the one facing A-Rod.
 
Instead, the Braves were forced to call upon Jeff Bennett, who allowed A-Rod to halt a 1-for-24 skid with a two-run single that gave the Yankees a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. 

There’s no guarantee that Moylan wouldn’t have allowed A-Rod to deliver the clutch hit.   But they certainly likely would have had the option to stay away from Bennett, who opted to challenge the veteran third baseman with four consecutive fastballs before seeing his 0-2 delivery deposited into center field.

Bennett, who was the one who surrendered Nick Green’s walk-off shot on Sunday, was inching closer toward ending his days in Atlanta.  But he’s at least bought himself some time with the fractured left hand he suffered when he punched a door after Wednesday’s sixth inning.  

When you’ve seen opponents hit .316 against you in 33 appearances and .295 with runners in scoring position, there seemingly must come a time when you’re the one who wants to do some hitting.   All indications are that the defenseless door  simply suffered a bruise similar to the one on Kenshin Kawakami’s neck. 

Kawakami, who was hit on the right side of his neck with a Joba Chamberlain line drive on Wednesday night, reported that he was feeling better than expected on Thursday.   Still with an offday on Monday, the Braves will likely skip his next turn in the rotation and allow him to make his next start during the July 4 game in Washington D.C.  

Tonight’s lineup:   With left-hander Andy Pettitte starting tonight’s series finale for the Yankees, Cox opted to keep Garret Anderson’s hot bat in the lineup.  But he did stick with his second base platoon with the insertion of Martin Prado, who is batting second.  

Yunel Escobar, who leads the club with 36 RBIs, is batting in the fifth spot.  Escobar is hitting .385 (25-for-65) with runners in scoring position.  

Will daunting stretch be the turnaround point?

As the Braves prepare for this 13-game stretch that will pit them against the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Phillies, we can either focus on the tone of “Taps” or take the optimistic approach by taking the belief that this will be the two-week stretch that will turn the whole season around. 

While taking two of three against the Yankees this week, the Nationals provided hope or  at least made Herm Edwards proud by proving that “you play to win the game.”

With their starting rotation, the Braves will at least enter this stretch with the confidence that they’ll have at least be in every game that is played.  But as Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez will be the first to attest, mound dominance will only lead to utter frustration when backed by an offense that has habitually provided minimal support. 

But we’re going to keep things positive and take the assumption that Thursday’s seven-run uprising in Cincinnati was a sign of things to come for Bobby Cox’s offense.  With his four-RBI performance, Nate McLouth showed what he could do at the top of the lineup and at the same time provided himself more reason to feel comfortable within his new enviroment. 

In addition, we were reminded that things seem to click when Martin Prado and Matt Diaz are in the lineup.  Unfortunately the Braves are scheduled to face right-handed starters during each of their next five games and thus we may find ourselves watching much more of Garret Anderson and Kelly Johnson than Diaz and Prado. 

The Braves are 14-11 in the games that Prado has started and 15-13 in the games started by Diaz.  They are 14-10 in games against a left-handed starting pitcher and 17-24 in games during which the opponents starts a right-hander.

During Thursday’s win, Diaz certainly made an impressive bid to earn more time in left field.  His fourth-inning solo homer provided cushion and his sixth-inning leadoff double led to a three-run inning that allowed Tommy Hanson to cruise toward his second straight win. 

But Diaz’s bid to earn more playing time was most significantly enhanced with his fifth-inning diving grab in left-center field with one out and runners on first and second base.  If Anderson had been in left field, that ball gets to the wall, at least one run scores and there’s no guarantee that Hanson would have been able to once again wiggle out of the ensuing jam.

While finding himself in a platoon, Anderson certainly hasn’t provided the offensive production the Braves envisioned.    In 108 at-bats against right-handers, he has hit .231 with a .612 OPS.   In 43 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, he has hit .326 with a .774 OPS. 

Then of course, while hitting .238 with a .670 OPS in June, Anderson hasn’t recently found consistent success against anybody.  At the same time, 2ith a .267 batting average and .746 OPS this month, Diaz hasn’t exactly set the word on fire.

But with his defense and further proof that he is capable of finding equal success against right-handers and left-handers,  Diaz at least provided further reason to argue that he should be seeing more time in left field.

In 60 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year, Diaz has hit .267 with a .777 OPS.  In 58 at-bats against lefties, he has hit .293 with an .812 OPS. 

Prado’s case: While hitting .306 (15-for-49) against lefties and .238 (15-for-63) against righties, Prado has made it a little harder to argue that he should be seeing more time at second base. 

But his argument proves to be much stronger when you account for the fact that Johnson has hit .148 with an abysmal .402 OPS in 14 games this month.  If a bigger sample size is needed, Johnson has hit .216 with a .630 OPS in his past 27 games. 

Statistically, Johnson has once again proven that he doesn’t necessarily benefit from the platoon that puts him in the lineup against right-handers.   He is hitting .196 with a .569 OPS in 148 at-bats against righties and .303 with a .948 OPS in 66 at-bats against lefties.

Weekend prediction:  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be a productive weekend for Jeff Francoeur.  Playing in front of his Boston-area relatives, Frenchy is once again going to prove that he’s one of those guys who can rise to the occasion.  During his only previous three-game series at Fenway Park, he had eight hits, including a double and a homer, in 15 at-bats.

Lowe’s blog is live:  On Saturday, Derek Lowe will be making his first start in Boston since helping the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series.  He talks about some of those memories in the first installment of his new blog.    

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