Results tagged ‘ Nate McLouth ’

McLouth returns to the top of the lineup

After playing the entirety of Friday afternoon’s 13-inning loss, Melky Cabrera returned to the clubhouse on Saturday afternoon and learned that he was getting a chance to rest. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox has Nate McLouth starting in center and handling the leadoff role for tonight’s contest against Giants right-hander Todd Wellemeyer.  If McLouth can show some consistency at the plate, he could find allow Cox to utilize his original plan to have him in the leadoff spot on a daily basis. 

Obviously many of you will be interested to see if Jason Heyward can escape his mini-funk tonight.  While going 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts since Opening Day, the young phenom hasn’t looked like the same disciplined hitter that we saw in Spring Training. 

But while the strikeout total might be somewhat alarming, there really isn’t any reason to panic or start making any comparisons to Jordan Schafer.  This is a 20-year-old kid who shares the same mortal flaws as the legendary figures who couldn’t avoid the rude initiation this game presents. 

Ken Griffey Jr. recorded one hit in the 15 at-bats he tallied through the first four games of his career and the great Hank Aaron had three hits (two doubles) in the 15 at-bats that he carried into the fifth game of his career.

Those four strikeouts that Heyward registered on Friday afternoon could have been a product of his desire to drive a ball into the bay.  Or quite simply, he might have simply been showing some fatigue after making the first cross-country trip of his professional career. 

Whatever the case, there isn’t much reason to currently worry about Heyward.  In fact, if he’s able to end this mini-slump quickly, you’ll have more reason to understand why his demeanor is just as much of an asset as his tremendous physical skills. 

Before I head down to the clubhouse, I wanted to let you know that Scott Proctor recorded two strikeouts and worked  perfect inning in his debut for Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday night.  I’m still thinking the veteran reliever could join the Atlanta bullpen at some point next weekend.

BRAVES LINEUP
McLouth 8
Prado 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Infante 4
Lowe 1 

McLouth begins the day with a blast

Back in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of Bradenton, former Pirate Nate McLouth has set himself up to break out of his maddening slump.

As I was completing this blog, McLouth drilled Charlie Morton’s 0-1 pitch the other way and over the left field wall for a leadoff homer.   It was the Braves center fielder’s  first extra-base hit since March 6 and just his third hit in the 39 at-bats he’s compiled this year. 

McLouth, who was acquired in the June trade that sent Morton to Pittsburgh, has taken advantage of two opportunities this week to compile at-bats in Minor League games.  Before today’s game, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said that he was gaining the sense that the 28-year-old outfielder was putting less pressure on himself and finding comfort at the plate. 

POSITION BATTLE:  When Brooks Conrad was seemingly making a highlight play with his glove on a daily basis, there was reason to believe that he was at least establishing himself as the favorite to win the last roster spot for a position player.  

But with the end of the Florida portion of the exhibition season just a week away, it seems pretty difficult to get a sense about whether the Braves are leaning toward filling this final spot with Conrad or Joe Thurston.

There isn’t any reason to read to much into the fact that Conrad is starting at third base for this afternoon’s game against the Pirates and Thurston will enter during the middle innings.

While you could decipher this to mean they are currently favoring Conrad, you could also deduct that this means they want to get a better look at Conrad playing third base. 

Having made 55 starts at third base for the Cardinals last year, Thurston has already shown what he can do at that position. 

STATS entering Thursday’s game
Conrad    .265 BA (9-for-34),  1 HR,  .390 OBP, .441 SLG
Thurston  .353 BA (12-for-34), 2 HRs, .371 OBP, .529 SLG 

The fact that Conrad is already on the 40-man roster might seemingly give him a slight advantage.  But when it comes time to make their final roster decisions, the Braves seemingly have the flexibility to add both Jason Heyward and Joe Thurston if they desire.  In fact, they may even be able to make room for Craig Kimbrel too. 

With Diory Hernandez recovering from shoulder surgery, the Braves could open a roster spot by placing him on the 60-day disabled list.   In addition, I think they could comfortably remove Stephen Marek, James Parr and possibly even Luis Valdez, who still hasn’t arrived because of visa problems, without too much fear of losing them to another clubMcLouth 8

McLouth 8
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Hinske 3
Infante 4
Ross 2
Conrad 5
Kawakami 1 .

 

 
  

Cabrera positioning himself for the leadoff role

With just 10 Grapefruit League games remaining, it’s still unclear exactly who will be filling the final spots on the Braves Opening Day roster.  But with Nate McLouth still fighting to break out of his slump, there’s certainly reason to doubt that he will begin the season as the club’s leadoff hitter.  

Melky Cabrera is positioned at the top of the lineup again for this afternoon’s game against the Mets and as I mentioned the other day, there’s at least reason to wonder if he could be there on a regular basis while the Braves use him as part of a platoon in left field and center field. 

With this being said, it’s far too early to simply assume that McLouth won’t be able to right himself before the exhibition season concludes.   While hitting eighth today, he’ll get his first chance to see if he benefited from the six plate appearances (one per inning) he gained during Sunday’s rain-shortened Minor League intra-squad game. 

When it was mentioned that McLouth was 1-for-35 with 14 strikeouts, ESPN’s Peter Pascarelli thought back to his early days as an Orioles beat writer and told a story about the questions he asked Earl Weaver when Eddie Murray went 3-for-42 during Spring Training. 

“Weaver told me, ‘he’s the worst Spring Training hitter ever,’”  Pascarelli said.  “Then he said, “don’t worry about him.’”

Based on memory, Pascarelli remembers Murray driving in somewhere around 120 runs that same season.

At the end of the day, Spring Training batting averages really don’t matter.  But during these final days of the exhibition season, McLouth can provide some encouragement by at least putting the ball in play with greater regularity.

This marks the fourth time the Braves have seen the Mets this year and the first time that they will be facing a lineup that includes Jeff Francoeur, who enters this game hitting .194 (6-for-31) with a homer and four RBIs.

Jason Heyward is present and could be inserted during the late innings of this game, which will be televised by ESPN.  

BRAVES LINEUP
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
McLouth 8
Hanson 1
 

 

Bullpen picture becomes clearer on a cloudy Sunday

With ominous rain clouds hovering around the Disney area this morning, Jair Jurrjens and Nate Mclouth may have to alter today’s plans.

But it now appears that Mother Nature may cooperate until at least 2 p.m. ET.  This would likely allow Jurrjens the chance to complete the four innings that he is scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals today.  

If rain prevents the Braves and Cardinals from playing this afternoon, Jurrjens would get his work in during a Minor League game tomorrow. 

Because the Braves slated each of their pitchers to have at least one extra day of rest before their first regular season start, Jurrjens would still be on a normal schedule leading up to his season debut on April 7 against the Cubs. 

Speaking of Minor League games, McLouth was originally slated to bat eighth during this afternoon’s game against the Cardinals.  But the Braves decided it would be better to have him head to one of the back fields today to rack up some at-bats against Minor Leaguers.

If this Minor League game is played, McLouth would be able to compile nine at-bats (one per inning) and possibly get out of the funk that has led him to record just one hit and 14 strikeouts in his first 35 at-bats this year. 

If Mother Nature prevents play today, McLouth could certainly attempt to compile these at-bats during the same Minor League game that Jurrjens would be pitching in tomorrow.

Second round of cuts:  The battle for the final two available spots in the Braves bullpen lost a few candidates this morning, when it was revealed that right-hander Jeff Lyman and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez will spend the rest of camp on the Minor League side. 

Dunn and Lyman were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.  Gomez was among four players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others were catcher Orlando Mercado and outfielders Mitch Jones and Brent Clevlen.

While Dunn showed the strong arm the Braves knew they were getting when they acquired him as part of the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees, he also displayed the inconsistent command that has been present since he ended his days as a position player at the conclusion of the 2006 season.

“Dunn has that good arm,” Cox said. “He just needs more command of that fastball.  He rushes out there a little too much.  It’s just a matter of command.” 

Lyman, who allowed one run and recorded five strikeouts in four innings, also impressed Cox during his first big league camp. 

But as we move forward, it now appears that the battle for the final two bullpen spots will be waged between Scott Proctor, Jesse Chavez,  Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Jo-Jo Reyes and Manny Acosta.

It still seems optimistic to think that Proctor, who is just 10 1/2 months removed from Tommy John surgery, would be ready by Opening Day. Cox understands that the veteran right-hander wouldn’t be available on a regular basis during the early weeks of the season.

But with some scheduled offdays present during this two-week stretch, Cox is still at least keeping this possibility alive. 

Assuming that Proctor begins the season on the disabled list, Chavez, Venters and Reyes could be deemed the front-runners in this competition.  Kimbrel undoubtedly has the greatest upside and it’s obvious that Cox really likes this young flamethower.

But Kimbrel could benefit from a little more Minor League seasoning and the Braves would have reason to be reluctant to open a 40-man roster spot for him with the understanding that he might be sent back down when Proctor is deemed ready. 

Chavez has pitched more effectively since struggling in his first two outings and has the experience that he gained while making 73 appearances for the Pirates last year.

Venters or Reyes would team with Eric O’Flaherty to give the Braves two left-handed options during the middle innings. 

With the lack of depth in the starting pitching department, it still would seemingly benefit the Braves to have Reyes start the year with Gwinnett and be stretched out in the event that one of Atlanta’s starting pitchers goes down with an injury.

While Kris Medlen would be available to make a spot start or fill a vacant rotation spot for an extended stretch, you could argue that his move into a starter’s role weakens the depth that could benefit the Braves as they attempt to protect the arms of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Proctor. 

Still with Reyes pitching just one inning in his past two outings, it seems the Braves are seriously thinking about having him begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen. 

Cox has routinely praised Venters’ sinker and history has shown that he likes to have a pitcher (think Kevin Gryboski) like this available to utilize when there’s a need to erase a threat with a double-play groundout. 

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Cardinals

Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 5
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Blanco 8
Jurrjens 1 

   
 

The Grim Reaper destroys another vehicle

Welcome back to the world of ESPN where sports reign and vehicles become sitting ducks when Jason Heyward takes batting practice. 

Once again proving that he presents a greater danger to automobiles than a Toyota manufacturer, Heyward returned to Champion Stadium this afternoon and destroyed the mirror on the passenger side of  Braves media relations director Brad Hainje’s SUV. 

“He’s like the grim reaper,” Hainje said. “You know he’s going to get you.  You just don’t know when or how.”

During the early days of camp, Heyward destroyed the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s rental car.  

As mentioned yesterday, Braves president John Schuerholz said the club likely won’t construct a net to protect the cars the the executives park just beyond the right field wall here at the Disney complex.

“We’re just all going to drive convertibles next year,” Schuerholz said with a smile. 

McLouth update:  When I arrived around 1:30 p.m. ET this afternoon, Nate McLouth was in the indoor batting cages working to battle out of his maddening slump.  The 28-year-old center fielder  has just one hit and 12 strikeouts in his first 31 at-bats this year.

“It looks like he’s pressing a little bit,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who opted to give McLouth a night off on Friday night.  

While McLouth still has a little more than two weeks to get himself righted, he may not have enough time to convince the Braves that he is indeed the right man to serve as their leadoff hitter. 

Melky Cabrera has been utilized in this role numerous times and he’s back at the top of the lineup for tonight’s game against the Tigers.  The switch-hitting Cabrera found nearly equal success against right-handed (.277 BA and .332 OBP) and left-handed pitchers (.268 BA and .343 OBP last year. 

With this in mind, the Braves could opt to put him in the leadoff spot on essentially an everyday basis.  With this arrangement, he would spell the left-handed McLouth in center on days that the opponent is starting a southpaw.  On this days the left field position  would be manned  by Matt Diaz, who obviously needs to be in the lineup whenever the opposing team is starting a left-hander.

When the opponent is starting a right-hander, Cabrera could play left field and allow open the center field position for McLouth, who hit .269 against right-handers and .230 against lefties last year.

Braves manager Bobby Cox hasn’t said that he plans to utilize this arrangement.  But as McLouth continues to struggle, he at least has consider this to be one of his other options.

Since Troy Glaus signed with the Braves, Bobby Cox has never fully committed to saying that Glaus will definitely rest in the cleanup spot on an everyday basis.  Instead, he has often said something like “he’ll be somewhere around there.” 

With the Tigers starting Jeremy Bonderman tonight, Cox has his left-handed hitting catcher Brian McCann in the cleanup spot and Glaus hitting fifth

Glaus’ career numbers against left-handed pitchers include a .277 batting average, a .957 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 4.41 at-bats.  Against right-handers, he has hit .248 with an .822 OPS and struck out once every 3.77 at-bats.

NOTES:  The Braves still seem to be seriously thinking about having Jo-Jo Reyes begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.  But even if this arrangement is made, once Scott Proctor is deemed ready, there’s a chance Reyes could be moved back to Gwinnett to serve as a starter…Jordan Schafer took batting practice on the field today and felt little discomfort in his surgically-repaired left hand.  Schafer doesn’t believe he’ll be ready to be a part of Gwinnett’s lineup until the mid-to-latter part of April.

BRAVES LINEUP for Friday vs. Tigers

Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Escobar 6
Heyward 9
Diaz 7
Kawakami 1      

 

Another Saturday, another shutout

Two weeks into the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have incurred their only shutout losses during the two Saturday games that they’ve played.  Suddenly, I know how some of those University of Virginia beat writers felt during those many Saturdays that Al Groh spent on their campus.

But seriously how did the Braves expect to score today while Jason Heyward was enjoying a chance to rest under this sunshine that finally arrived in Florida today.  As mentioned earlier, Heyward will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon with the split-squad that is going to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. 

There really wasn’t a lot to report from today’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.  Tim Hudson allowed three runs (two earned) and seven hits in four innings.  But he came away feeling even more confident that his splitter and changeup are better than they were before he underwent Tommy John surgery and was unable to consistently find the high arm slot that he is currently displaying. 

Billy Wagner worked a perfect fifth inning and Peter Moylan found greater comfort with his changeup in a scoreless sixth that a pair of strikeouts, a walk and one hit.  Eric O’Flaherty verbally allowed the whole stadium know he was upset after issuing one of his two walks in a scoreless seventh inning and Jesse Chavez surrendered two hits before completing a second consecutive scoreless outing. 

It was a rather productive day for the Braves pitchers and quite a quiet one for the offense, which was limited to five singles, two of which came off Melky Cabrera’s bat.

This morning Nate McLouth explained his vision isn’t to blame for his early struggles.  Then while going 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts against the Blue Jays, he prolonged them.  He now has eight strikeouts through his first 19 at-bats this year. 

McLouth began Friday’s game with a bunt single that was erased from the statistics because the game was called after three innings because of rain.  He nearly beat out another bunt single in the first inning of Saturday’s game and then found nothing but more frustration in his next two at-bats.

“I thought he saw the ball much better today,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said on Saturday.  “He aired out the swing much better, instead of trying to read every pitch.”  <p>

I still think it’s far too early to put too much stock in the statistics that have been compiled so far during the Grapefruit League.  But given that he’s the projected leadoff hitter, McLouth’s strikeout totals become more concerning when you view them as a continuation of the trend that started last year.

McLouth struck out 93 times in 597 at-bats with the Pirates in 2008.  His strikeout total rose to 99 while compiling  90 fewer at-bats with the Braves and Pirates last year.

On the bright side:
  After completing his bullpen session without having any trouble with the blister on his right big toe, Derek Lowe said something like, “Everything went great.  I got everybody out. I felt sexy. My hair was parted and I can’t wait until my Michigan Wolverines get another football coach.”

OK, Lowe said all of that minus my inclusion of the Rich Rodriguez reference.  In summation, he appears ready to make his scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals in Viera.  In case you forgot, he exited Wednesday’s outing against the Mets after one inning because this blister had formed around his right big toe. 

Cox visited the back fields this morning to watch Takashi Saito throw live batting practice and came back happy to report that the Japanese right-hander had shown better command than he had while allowing five earned runs in his first two games of the season. 

“He was in the strike zone down the whole session,” Cox said. “He really looked good.” 

Fantasy Advice:
  Those of you who are preparing for your fantasy draft may want to take a look at Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, who proved effectively wild while pitching around four walks and limiting the Braves to two hits in four scoreless innings today. 

“That Romero kid is real good,” Cox said. “When he’s right, that slider is a (Steve Carlton) slider.”

Braves team of the decade: If you guys haven’t seen it, check out this story that was written after I sat down with Pete Van Wieren, Mark Lemke and Braves media relations director Brad Hainje to select the first Braves all-decade team of this century.   

   

Cox clears Heyward and praises Kimbrel

Chipper Jones will be getting the night off and Melky Cabrera won’t be present to talk to Yankees reporters about how he’s doing now that he’s no longer wearing pinstripes.  But Jason Heyward will be in Tampa tomorrow night to do more than simply watch Jair Jurrjens make his Grapefruit League season debut against the defending world champs.

While Jones and Cabrera aren’t scheduled to travel to Tampa, Bobby Cox confirmed that Heyward will be back in the lineup against the Yankees.  The 20-year-old outfielder missed Wednesday’s game because the Braves wanted to give him a chance to rest the sore upper back that he encountered after running into the right field wall during Tuesday night’s game.

“He’ll be in there for sure, no problem at all,” Cox said.

Unfortunately the Braves can’t express the same level of confidence when asked about the odds of Derek Lowe making his next scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals.  But they are still optimistic that the blister on his right big toe won’t prove troublesome enough to prevent him from making his Opening Day start against the Cubs on April 5.

“Thank God, it’s not his arm,” Cox said.  “You can miss one down here and still be fine.  “I just hope that he can start next time.  I’m sure he can. I think they can tape it up somehow or put Super Glue on it.  I’m just joking.  But I’m sure they can put something down there to toughen it up.  It’s about the nastiest blister I’ve ever seen. ”  <p> 

When Lowe removed his sock to show the blister to reporters, he managed to reveal something that was actually uglier than the one-inning stint that he had just completed against the Mets. 

Lowe felt the blister in the process of opening the game with a strikeout and then over the course of the next six batters he faced, he surrendered four singles, watched Chris Carter continue his recent home run tear and dodged one line drive that seemed destined to drill his forehead.

“Instead of worry about pitching, I was worrying about how to not drag my back toe,” Lowe said.  ” Then I almost took one off the melon there.  That would have been real fun. So it was a wasted day.”  <p>

Because he only threw 27 pitches against the Mets, Lowe will have to make up for this “wasted day”.  But even if he is unable to make his start against the Nats on Monday, he’ll still have an opportunity to make three additional starts, including one that would be scheduled to last five innings. 

Still this isn’t exactly what the Braves envisioned when Cox went against tradition and made the early announcement that Lowe will serve as his Opening Day starter.  The only other time I remember the veteran manager making this announcement this early was before the start of the 2004 season, when he bestowed the honor upon Russ Ortiz, who responded with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.510 WHIP.  

Ortiz’s selection was either based on the 20-win season he had notched the year before or more likely the fact that for the first time since the first George Bush was president he was unable to provide this honor to somebody named Glavine, Smoltz or Maddux.

Nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Cox will stay on the safe side of superstition and never again make an early announcement about his Opening Day starter.

Exiting sarcasm mode, Cox had nothing but good things to say about the way Craig Kimbrel looked while recording a pair of strikeouts and issuing a contested walk in a scoreless 10th inning against the Mets.

Cox said that plate umpire Jeff Kellogg admitted he missed a third-strike call that would have prevented Kimbrel from issuing his leadoff walk to Ike Davis.  But young fireballer, who has been called “the right-handed Billy Wagner”, seemed unfazed as he responded with consecutive strikeouts and then ended the inning with a harmless pop fly.

Kimbrel’s ability to make his fastball look like it’s rising has Cox raving about his ability to serve as a top-notch closer in the future.

“A scientist will tell you that it’s an illusion, but it does come up a little bit,” Cox said of this fastball that has been clocked in the upper 90s. “It looks like it’s going to be low and it’s not.”

Saito and McLouth prolong struggles:  Closer Billy Wagner bounced back from his shaky debut with an easy scoreless inning against the Phillies on Tuesday night.  His setup man Takashi Saito’s attempt to experience a similar rebound prove unsuccessful as he was charged with three earned runs during his one-inning appearance against the Mets. 

“He was up with everything,” said Cox of his 40-year-old reliever who issued a leadoff walk and later surrendered a two-run double to Carter and an RBI triple to Adams. 

Saito didn’t have the opportunity to blame this outing on the discomfort of his contracts.  The lenses he was wearing were different than the ones he was wearing on Friday, when he allowed the Pirates two runs in one inning. 

Former Pirate Nate McLouth had another rough afternoon and now has just one hit through his first 16 at-bats of the year.  It’s still way to early to be alarmed about results down here. But with that being said, you certainly have to hope that the six strikeouts he’s incurred so far don’t signal a trend.  
 

  

  

   

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.   

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.   

 

Odds and ends from a rainy Saturday

Rain prevented the Braves from doing the fielding and baserunning drills today.  But Mother Nature wasn’t able to prevent Jair Jurrjens from taking another step in the right direction with the 20-minute long toss session he completed in the soggy outfield grass. 

Jurrjens said he felt good after throwing from a distance of 120 feet, but more importantly he truly looked like he was comfortable with his throwing motion by the time this session was completed. 

After throwing for five or 10 minutes, Jurrjens walked back toward Braves catcher Brian McCann, who was located along the left field foul line.  While standing next to the team’s trainer Jeff Porter, Jurrjens stretched his arm and spun it around in a helicopter motion multiple times. 

When he resumed throwing a few minutes later, Jurrjens’ throwing motion was looser and he seemed to have a little more life on his throws. 

Dating back to Feb. 17, when he learned his right shoulder discomfort was a product of inflammation, Jurrjens has said he would have to do more stretching than usual to get his shoulder to cooperate. 

Now it appears Jurrjens will get his next test on Monday, when he will likely begin throwing on a downward plane again off the mound.  If all goes well, he will likely need to complete three or four side sessions before being cleared to make his first Grapefruit League start. 

This puts him on schedule to make this start during March’s second week and be in position complete at least one five-inning appearance before the regular season begins.

In other words, there’s still a good chance Jurrjens will take his first turn through the rotation during the regular season’s first week.  But for now, the Braves can only show patience as their prized 23-year-old hurler does everything he can to make sure the shoulder doesn’t prove to be a lingering problem throughout the season.

Quick hits:  Bobby Cox said that he’s currently leaning toward starting the year with Nate McLouth as his leadoff hitter.  This shouldn’t be too surprising.  Yunel Escobar seems to be only other legit option and he’s too valuable in a run-producing role.    

Tom Glavine is expected to arrive in camp around March 17 or 18.  When asked what Glavine would do, Cox said the 300-game winner would take in the Spring Training environment and spend some time helping with some of the young pitchers. 

“Tommy can do whatever he wants,” Cox said and I don’t think he was necessarily kidding.  Glavine will have the opportunity to see how Jason Heyward is progressing and take a look at some of the organization’s top Minor League pitchers. 

When the club’s top young pitchers are discussed, Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino, the prized return from the Yankees in the Javy Vazquez trade, immediately come to mind.  But Frank Wren provided the reminder that right-hander Randall Delgado should also be placed in this advanced category. 

Wren indicated that a couple of these top pitching prospects could begin the season with Class A Rome.  But he added that they all will likely spend some time together this year in Class A -Advanced Myrtle Beach’s rotation.

Cox said that he will announce the Grapefruit League rotation on Monday.  The team’s first game will be played on Tuesday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.   

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