Results tagged ‘ Mike Gonzalez ’

Lowe set the tone

While enjoying some idle time in Philadelphia yesterday, one of the Braves coaches asked me, “what was the most important thing that happened last night?”  Thinking it might be a trick question, I initially thought about Jordan Schafer’s homer, Jeff Francoeur’s homer and Mike Gonzalez’s ability to escape the ugly ninth-inning mess that he created.

Another comical bystander said, “I think it was McCann’s monstrous first-inning homer.  That just intimidated everybody.”

But while the homers hit by Francoeur and Schafer created nice story lines, Derek Lowe’s masterful performance undoubtedly was the most important Opening Night development.  He allowed just two Phillies to reach base over the course of eight innings. SI.com’s Tom Verducci reported that no pitcher had previously allowed two baserunners or fewer while throwing at least eight innings at Citizens Bank Park.

Whether or not you want to call Lowe an ace, you can’t dispute the fact that his performance trumped any other produced by any other pitcher so far this season.   With that being said, Felix Hernandez’s effort with a bum ankle yesterday was certainly masterful. 

During Spring Training, one veteran observer told me that Hernandez was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen and that Tommy Hanson ranked right behind King Felix.  Hanson and the Triple-A Gwinnett team will get things started on Thursday morning in Charlotte.  First pitch is set for 11:15 a.m and you’ll be able to follow the game via the Gameday feature provided on Milb.com.

Enough about the future ace.  Let’s turn our attention back to Lowe, who undoubtedly set the tone for the Opening Night victory that allowed the Braves to truly enjoy yesterday’s rain-filled offday in Philly. 

If McCann hadn’t drilled his first-inning two-run homer into the second deck, there’s a chance that Lowe could have once again been undone by the emotions that had felled him during his previous two Opening Day starts. 

But straying away from the “if my aunt had a beard” line of thinking, Lowe didn’t and consequently allowed the Braves to begin the season in a near-perfect manner.   While evaluating that game, critics could only point toward the stress-filled ninth-inning that Gonzalez experienced while attempting to protect a four-run lead.

After the game, manager Bobby Cox talked to Gonzalez about the need to bounce his breaking pitches when ahead in the count.  The two singles surrendered by the left-handed closers came on sliders that were thrown during at-bats that began with first-pitch strikes.  

When pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett fell behind with a 1-2 count and then laced a single into left field, it was impossible to forget about last year, when the Phillies claimed four of their 14 wins over the Braves in games that they were once trailing by at least three runs.

But after Chase Utley drew a five-pitch walk to bring Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run, Gonzalez began pitching like he did during the 2006 season, when he successfully converted each of his 24 save opportunities, despite allowing opponents to produce a .325 on-base percentage.

With runners at first and second and the Braves holding a two-run lead, Gonzalez recorded game-ending conseuctive strikeouts of Howard and Raul Ibanez.  He utilized nine sliders (including five of six pitches to Howard) during this 12-pitch sequence and recorded both strikeouts with fastballs that registered 93 mph.

That was the best velocity we’ve seen from Gonzalez at any point this year.  But I think it’s becoming more apparent that his success will be better dictated by his control and ability to efffectively throw his breaking balls. One positive he can draw from Sunday is the fact that his slider certainly improved as the inning progressed. 

By the way, during the 2006 season with runners on first and second base, Gonzalez limited opponents to four hits in 24 plate appearances, recorded eight strikeouts and issued one walk.   There’s no doubt that he has the abilty to thrive under pressure. 

But for the sake of Cox’s blood pressure, let’s hope that some of his ninth innings prove to be a little less stressful. 

Francoeur catches a big one

Unable to take batting practice because of a potential rainstorm that never arrived, the Braves spent the past couple of hours rehearsing for the inevitable long rain delays that await them this year. 

Jeff Francoeur grabbed a fishing pole and threw his line into a pond that is located just outside the visitor’s clubhouse here at Osceola County Stadium and came away with 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass, that was slightly bigger than Kris Medlen.

Speaking of Medlen, he’s going to pitch tonight and attempt to once again put himself in position to grab one of the final bullpen spots.   His candidacy was tarnished on Friday when he allowed the Blue Jays three runs  —  two earned — and three hits in 1 1/3 innings. 

Medlen’s odds of beginning the season in Atlanta might have already been diminished earlier today, when Rafael Soriano enjoyed a pain-free bullpen session at Disney.  The right-handed reliever will pitch here at Francoeur’s Fishing Preserve on Thursday, when the Braves conclude their Grapefruit League season against the Triple-A Astros.

Chipper Jones ended tonight’s top of the first by looking at a called third strike thrown by Russ Ortiz.  Unfortunately, the Astros found it difficult to swing and miss anything that Derek Lowe threw them during the bottom of the first inning. 

When Lowe exits tonight, Peter Moylan and Mike Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch.  There no longer seems to be reason to wonder whether Moylan will be in the bullpen when the season starts on Sunday night.

“I’m sick of reading the Braves remain hopeful that Moylan will be ready,” Moylan said. “I’m going to be ready.”

Garret Anderson is getting his first opportunity to test his right calf as an outfielder tonight.  Thanks to the fact that Lowe’s sinker didn’s sink too much during the first inning, the veteran outfielder has already had to do some running.

When Brian McCann returns to the lineup on Wednesday, he might be wearing a suit of armor.  A foul tip bruised the All-Star catcher’s right ring finer on Saturday and then when he returned to action on Monday, a foul ball left a nasty bruise just above his right knee.

 
francoeur.jpg 

Hanson scheduled to pitch exhibition season finale in Atlanta

Tommy Hanson is coming to Atlanta.  Well sort of.  Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami are scheduled to pitch next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers at Turner Field. 

With the Braves opening the season in Philadelphia the next night, manager Bobby Cox won’t want to use any of his projected relievers.  Thus  Kawakami will pitch the first four or five innings and Hanson will likely handle the next four innings.  

This will put Hanson in line to be the Opening Day starter for the Triple-A Gwinnett team that will begin its season on April 9 at Charlotte.   The relocated team will play its first game in Gwinnett on April 17.   If the schedule holds true Hanson’s first home start would occur on April 20.

Cox plans to announce his rotation on Sunday.  Kawakami’s season debut could come during April 10 home opener at Turner Field.  Or the Braves could keep projected Opening Day starter Derek Lowe on schedule and allow him to pitch that game.  This would mean Kawakami’s season debut might actually occur on April 11 against the Nats. 

While pitching in next Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers, Kawakami will have a chance to acquaint himself with the Turner Field mound. 

Kawakami will make his final Grapefruit League start on Monday afternoon when he faces Daisuke Matsuzaka.  The Braves hurler has only previously opposed Dice-K came during Spring Training games in Japan. 

When asked how many media members will likely cover Monday’s game, Kawakami smiled and said “It is Japan.”    Or at least that’s what his interpreter told me that he said. 

Today’s games:   Jair Jurrjens is going to face a Yankees lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira.   Peter Moylan is scheduled to complete one inning during a Minor League game this afternoon.   Moylan will make two more appearances within the next six days and if everything goes well, he’ll begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen. 

After Jurrjens exits this afternoon’s game, Boone Logan and Mike Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch.  Logan has had two consecutive rough outings and Gonzalez is coming off an appearance during which he surrendered three earned runs and then raved about the increased velocity that he’d displayed.

We’ll be watching the radar readings when Gonzalez takes the mound to pitch in front of a sold-out crowd.  Fans have already covered most of the grass on the left field berm.

Left-handed relievers:  The Braves released left-handed reliever Jeff Ridgway this morning.  Ridgway battled elbow inflammation most of this month and really never figured into the Braves plans after they acquired Logan and Eric O’Flaherty during the offseason. 

O’Flaherty enjoyed a impressive rebound effort on Friday, when he recorded two strikeouts in a scoreless inning against the Tigers.  He had surrendered nine runs and nine hits in his previous outing. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren has provided no indication that he’s felt the need to explore ways to find veteran left-handed reliever to add to his bullpen mix.  O’Flaherty has had just the one bad outing and Logan will have a chance to end his recent struggles this afternoon.

There’s still a chance that both of these left-handed relievers will begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Former Angels: 
First baseman Casey Kotchman, who has been sick and sidelined since April 18, took batting practice on Saturday and might return to the lineup on Monday.   His former Angels teammate Garret Anderson is expected to return to action on Sunday.  Anderson has been sidelined since March 6 with a strained right calf. 

Today’s Lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Greg Norton 1B
Matt Diaz RF
Brandon Jones LF
Martin Prado 2B
Jair Jurrjens P 

 

Can I still claim Dale Murphy as my favorite player?

When we were about eight-years-old, my best friend, Steve Myers, adopted Dale Murphy as his favorite player. Ignoring the globalized options provided by TBS, I stayed within the region and tabbed Pirates catcher Tony Pena.

More than 25 years later, it’s still obvious that I ended up on the short-end of this selection process.  While Pena taught us bad technique to utilize behind the plate, Murphy has spent his entire life proving to be a great example on and off the field.  

Murphy arrived in camp this morning and he’ll stay with the Braves over the course of the next week to essentially serve as an ambassador/special instructor.  The 53-year-old, two-time National League Most Valuable Player remains one of the kindest and most considerate individuals ever to be associated with baseball. 

I spent some time talking to Murphy and Bobby Dews about the days they spent together in the Minors.  I’ll provide more information in a story that I’m writing later this afternoon.  But to provide a teaser, I’ll let you know that it will include details about a day when Dews attempted to kick dirt toward an umpire and ended up breaking his foot. 

Transitioning from one of the most beloved outfielders in Atlanta history to the newest one, you’ll be glad to hear that Garret Anderson plans to resume running exercises on Friday.  The 36-year-old left fielder has been sidelined since March 6 with a strained right calf.  It still looks like he could return to action some time next week.

Jair Jurrjens and Mike Gonzalez are both scheduled to pitch today against the WBC-less Mets, whose lineup is headlined by Marlon Anderson, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church.  While not providing any predictions about the game, I’ll guarantee you that Church will be getting down if he’s sliding into second base with Yunel Escobar attempting to turn a double play. 

Both teams will be wearing green hats today.  And with that, I’ll say Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Today’s Lineup
Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Matt Diaz LF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Omar Infante 3B
David Ross C
Josh Anderson CF
Jair Jurrjens P 

Taking a look at the bullpen

Does the art of in-office procrastination remain enjoyable when you are overwhelmed by stories about T.O. and A-Rod?  Just wondering and assuming that you guys are ready to do some debating before the Braves stage “Bullpen Audition Night” tonight. 

This isn’t exactly a reality-show type competition.  When Jeff Bennett, Boone Logan, Manny Acosta and Phil Stockman face the Astros tonight, one of them isn’t necessarily going to be voted off of Disney Island.  But if they were to perform like Jeff Ridgway has recently, they certainly could be subject to the type of criticism that would make Simon Cowell proud. 

In two appearances, Ridgway has recorded a total of three outs, allowed seven earned runs, issued four walks and surrendered five hits. For Triple-A Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage’s sake, let’s hope things turn around for the left-handed reliever once the regular season begins.

There are still plenty of questions to answer about this year’s bullpen.  But a little more than a week into the Grapefruit League season, we can at least speculate about what it will look like on Opening Day.

Assuming that they prove to be healthy, I’d say that Moylan and Soriano join Mike Gonzalez and Blaine Boyer as the current locks to begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Boone Logan and Eric O’Flaherty are the top candidates to serve as the left-handed middle relievers and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Cox carries both to begin the season.  When you’re fighing in a division that includes Ryan Howard, Carlos Delgado, Adam Dunn and Chase Utley, you can’t ever have enough lefties in your pen.

Assuming Logan and O’Flaherty will both begin the season in the bullpen, Buddy Carlye, Jorge Campillo, Acosta, Bennett and Stockman could find themselves fighting for the final available spot.

If Bobby Cox wants to keep a long-relief guy, Carlye might be chosen over Campillo, simply because the club might want Campillo to start the season at Gwinnett and remained conditioned as a starter in case he’s needed before Tommy Hanson is officially deemed ready for the Majors.

Of course if Jo-Jo Reyes continues to pitch like he has during his first two appearances, the Braves could choose to use him as their safety net and allow Campillo to start the year in Atlanta.  But let’s not forget that Carlyle was rock solid last year, minus two appearances that occurred right after the All-Star break.

If Moylan is available and capable of regaining his pre-TJ surgery form, the Braves may be less inclined to begin the year with Jeff Bennett as their late-inning groundball speciailist.  Moylan’s versatility arguably makes him the most important piece to this bullpen.

Even though he’s out of options, I’d still have to view Stockman as a longshot to start the year in the Atlanta bullpen.  I’m also putting have Acosta in that same category.

All of these projections come with the assumption that Moylan and Soriano will both be healthy at the start of this season.  With that being said, this certainly isn’t a guarantee. 

In fact, the only thing I’d be willing to guaranteed right now is that one or more of these relievers fighting for one of the final bullpen spots will be traded before the start of the regular season.  There are plenty of teams looking for economical bullpen solutions and they’ll be calling the Braves in the very near future.

- Mark Bowman 

No need to wait for pitchers and catchers

Before beginning to discuss the Braves, I want to thank Delta for safely bringing me to Florida.  Of course in the future, I’d appreciate it if they’d place me and my luggage on the same plane.

But with this being said, waiting an additional three hours for a piece of luggage didn’t bother me as much as the AirTran baggage police that used rulers and the Pythagorean theorem to determine I wouldn’t actually realize the savings I’d anticipated when I chose to use their airline for my holiday season travel.

Two paragraphs into a blog and I’ve already attacked Atlanta’s two major airlines. Pitchers and catchers don’t report until Saturday and as a baseball writer I’d have to say my “negative voice” is already in midseason form.

Actually my attitude right now is anything but negative. I’m heading to the stadium tomorrow morning to see some of the camp’s early arrivals and in some ways this feels like the night before the first day of school.

Mike Gonzalez, Blaine Boyer and Kenshin Kawakami are among the pitchers who have been in town most of this week. 

Speaking of Kawakami, the throng of Japanese media members who will follow him throughout Spring Training have spent the past two days attempting to get glimpses of him through the left field fence.  The Braves decided not to open the stadium or their clubhouse to the media until Friday.

Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann are among the offensive players who arrived in camp earlier this week.  They’ve been swinging bats in the morning and golf clubs in the afternoon. 

Thursday’s round was shared with former Brave Adam LaRoche, who claimed bragging rights with an impressive 18th hole birdie.  After hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, LaRoche tamed the par-5 finishing hole by drilling a 260-yard shot to within 30 feet of the pin. 

While his former Braves teammates might not have enjoyed watching ever-cool Roachy prove clutch, Pirates fans are probably just surprised to learn that he can in fact make solid contact before June’s arrival. 

– Mark Bowman

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