Results tagged ‘ Rafael Soriano ’

Chavez provides depth to Braves pen

With the medical reviews completed on Friday, the Braves were able to officially announce that they have traded Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez. 

My expectation was to return to Atlanta on Thursday night and learn that the deal had been completed.  Instead once I got to baggage claim, I needed to send an updated version of the story while perching my laptop on one of the AJC’s newspaper boxes.  (Just further proof that newspaper industry does indeed still provide benefits). 

Anyhow, Braves general manager Frank Wren seemed encouraged that he was able to gain Chavez’s power arm in exchange for Soriano.  Sure it would have been nice to gain the two draft picks that would have been secured had Soriano declined his arbitration offer. 

But Chavez stands as a tangible return who has the potential to provide an immediate benefit.  Given how quickly Wren was able to make this deal, I don’t think there should be any further debate that he was wise to take the calculated gamble of offering arbitration to Soriano.

“In some regards, this is better than having a draft pick from our point of view,” Wren said.  <p>

With an above-average fastball that helped him find consistent success until he seemingly battled some fatigue toward the end of this year’s rookie season, Chavez provides further bullpen depth, which could prove very beneficial as the Braves attempt to keep their top three relievers Peter Moylan, Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito fresh throughout the season. 

Since the season concluded, I’ve been somewhat shocked when multiple team officials have talked about how excited they are about Boone Logan’s potential.  This isn’t a knock against Logan.  There’s no doubt that his talented left arm could prove to be an asset.

Instead, I just can’t understand why they are so optimistic about a reliever that was provided just three more opportunities to pitch after Aug. 26 this past season.  And one of those appearances occurred in the 15th inning of the Oct. 4 season finale.

As things currently stand it appears the Braves will begin the 2010 season with a bullpen that includes, Wagner, Saito, Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Chavez, Logan and Kris Medlen. 

Chavez is certainly an upgrade over Manny Acosta, who will either provide organizational depth or stand as a potential trade piece.  But if the Braves are going to move one of their Minor League relievers, Luis Valdez certainly would provide the greater return. 

As the Braves continue to indicate Medlen will begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen, I’m left to wonder what happens if one of their starters goes down in May and he’s not stretched out enough to adequately fill that spot in the rotation. 

This question could be answered over the next few days and weeks as teams evaluate those players who are non-tendered before Saturday’s deadline. 

The Braves have made numerous attempts to move Kelly Johnson and there are a number of teams that have shown interest.  But as we move closer to tomorrow’s deadline, there’s more reason to wonder if he’ll be among the many players who will draw greater attention as non-tenders.  

Braves lose Osuna and exit Winter Meetings happy

Before exiting this year’s Winter Meetings this morning, the Braves were reminded that Royals general manager Dayton Moore still has great interest in the players from his former organization.

The Royals selected Braves Minor Leaguer Edgar Osuna with the fifth selection in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft.  While Moore, a former assistant general manager in Atlanta, will now have the choice to place Osuna on his 25-man roster, the Braves walked away from this selection displaying little remorse about the fact that they had just lost this 22-year-old left-hander. 

“We didn’t think he was rated nearly as high as the guys we added to our (40-man) roster,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “We do think he has ability and made progress in the past couple of years.  But we still felt we had other guys we would have protected ahead of him, even guys that we didn’t protect.”

Osuna combined to go 7-10 with a 4.02 ERA in 27 combined appearances with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this past season.  In the 275 1/3 innings he’s completed over the past two seasons, he has recorded 240 strikeouts and issued 66 walks.

The Braves didn’t select or lose any other players in this morning’s Draft. 

Wren won’t be able to comment on Rafael Soriano’s trade to the Rays until the deal is officially completed.  This announcement should come within the next couple of hours after the teams complete their medical evaluations. 

But some talent evaluators seem to be high on the capabilities of Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever the Braves will get in exchange for Soriano.  The hard-throwing right-hander could prove to be a solid addition to the Atlanta bullpen.

As mentioned earlier this morning, Chavez might not be deemed as having anything close to the value that the
Braves would have received via the draft pick compensation they would
have gained had Soriano played nice and rejected their arbitration
offer. 

But at the same time, the 26-year-old reliever provides a tangible  return that Wren wouldn’t have received had he not
provided the arbitration offer that Soriano provided on Monday night.

 

 

 
 

Soriano trade to Rays pending medical clearance

A Major League source has confirmed that once medical clearance is provided, the Braves will be able to officially announce that they have traded Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez. 

Chavez, who struggled down the stretch while making a team-high 73 appearances for the Pirates this past season, might not be deemed as having anything close to the value that the Braves would have received via the draft pick compensation they would have gained had Soriano played nice and rejected their arbitration offer. 

But at the same time, the 26-year-old reliever at least provides a return that Wren wouldn’t have received had he not provided the arbitration offer that Soriano provided on Monday night.

While spending his first full season in the Majors this year, Chavez  Chavez posted a 4.01 ERA, recorded 47 strikeouts, issued 22 walks and allowed opponents to compile a .262 batting average.  

Most of Chavez’s damage was incurred when he posted a 5.10 ERA and allowed opponents a .333 on-base percentage in his final 30 appearances.

The Pirates traded Chavez to the Rays in exchange for Akinori Iwamura on Nov. 3.

Time to get ready for this morning’s Rule 5 Draft.   The Braves 40-man roster is currently full, so they won’t be able to make any selections.  As mentioned yesterday, there has at least been mention that they could lose Erik Cordier via this process.  Edgar Osuna seems to be their only other prospect who could be lost. 

But my guess is that neither of these players are selected this morning.  

UPDATE:

As I was saying, I expected Osuna will go high in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft and while once again showing their love for Braves players, the Royal obliged by taking this 22-year-old soft-tossing left-hander, who combined to go 7-10 with a 4.02 ERA in 27 combined appearances with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this past season.

“We didn’t think he was rated nearly as high as the guys we added to our (40-man) roster,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “We do think he has ability and made progress in the past couple of years.  But we still felt we had other guys we would have protected ahead of him, even guys that we didn’t protect.”

Wren couldn’t comment on the Soriano trade.  An official announcement will likely come this afternoon.  
   

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?”  

Day 2 recap from Winter Meetings

It’s safe to say that Day 2 of this year’s Winter Meetings have so far proven to be a little more pleasant given the fact that the there was no longer reason to worry about the uncertainty that Rafael Soriano presented. 

Shortly after learning of Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration late Monday night, Wren received a phone call from agent Peter Greenberg, who provided clearance to make a trade once it was confirmed that his client would no longer be slotted to serve as one of the primary late-inning relievers in Atlanta. 

Wren talked to a number of clubs on Tuesday who have shown interest in Soriano.  The Astros and Red Sox are believed to be among the clubs that will show the most interest in the veteran right-handed reliever. 

When asked Tuesday evening, Wren said that he didn’t think it would be long before a trade was completed.  Heck, the night is young, maybe it will still happen tonight.

There is definitely mutual interest between the Braves and free-agent outfielder Xavier Nady.  But Wren and his staff are still attempting to answer any health-related questions regarding Nady, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. 

As time passes, the more it becomes clear that John Lackey may have to sign before the Braves gain a clear picture about whether they’ll be able to satisfy their desire to move Derek Lowe. 

Stay tuned. There’s still a chance there could be some action tonight. 

Will Soriano accept arbitration?

Welcome to Indianapolis where over the past 24 hours, I’ve gained the sense that Rafael Soriano has actually become more popular than Peyton Manning.

As I walked through the hotel lobby last night, friends and colleagues chose to replace “hello” with “what is going to happen if Soriano accepts arbitration?”

Over the past 48 hours, I haven’t changed my belief that Soriano will ultimately decline this non-guaranteed, one-year contract that could place him in a role where he’s eating up the innings ahead of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. 

But the market might be indicating that Soriano needs to at least continue weighing this alternative until tonight’s 11:59 p.m. ET deadline arrives. 

Some have asked wouldn’t Bobby Cox love the chance to have a three-headed monster in his bullpen?  The simple answer is yes, but not at the expense of entering a second consecutive season with the team’s offensive needs not addressed in the originally projected manner. 

If Soriano does accept this one-year offer that would be worth $6.5 to $7 million, the Braves would have to alter their focus in regards to the players they are seeking to play first base and the outfield.

The Braves don’t think Soriano would be awarded more than $6.5 million, which would provide him just a slight raise.  He made $6.1 million this past season while racking up credentials that seemingly were going to make him a hot commodity on the free-agent market.

With Jason Heyward waiting in the wings as an economical option to fill the final outfield spot, this might not prove to be a debiliating decision.  But it’s obvious the Braves would at least like to enter Spring Training with the intent to allow Heyward to make them decide whether he’s Major League ready. 

By accepting this arbitration offer, Soriano would gain a non-guaranteed contract that sets up the possibility that he could be released during Spring Training.  But there would have to be just cause to make this move.

It seems more likely that the Braves would look to trade Soriano if he were to accept this offer. 

This potential development provides an opportunity for debate throughout this first day of the Winter Meetings.  If necessary, by the end of the night we’ll be able to discuss how the Braves definitely plan to deal with the consequences. 

Stay tuned today and throughout the week for regular updates.  You can also follow me on Twitter @mllbbowman. 

Wren heading to Indy with a shorter shopping list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Wren doesn’t believe this is necessarily true.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expect Gonzalez and Soriano to be offered arbitration

Now that Charlie Weis’ tenure has expired, is it only a matter of time before we learn that Notre Dame is also interested in Mike Gonzalez?

There have been a number of clubs that have expressed interest in Gonzalez and with this being their first year of being associated, you can seemingly guarantee that Scott Boras is going to transform this interest into an attractive multi-year deal for the left-handed reliever. 

While the Braves would welcome the possibility if they’re still in search of a closer, there’s little reason to believe that Gonzalez will accept the arbitration offer that they will provide tomorrow.  By doing so, he’d simply set himself up for a one-year contract that would likely be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6 million.

Needless to say, the Braves certainly wouldn’t be financially-devestated if Gonzalez were to aceept this offer.  In fact, they would seemingly gladly welcome him back for one more year at this price.  

With Gonzalez it has always been a no-brainer that the Braves would offer him arbitration before Tuesday’s deadline.  But only recently has there been more reason to believe that they will make this same offer to Rafael Soriano. 

Despite the fact that his name hasn’t been nearly as popular in this year’s rumor mill, Soriano also seems well positioned to receive a multi-year contract from somebody other than the Braves.

But if he doesn’t, would it be horrible for the Braves to provide him a one-year deal worth something in the neighborhood of $7-8 million. The guy was rock solid this year  — converting  27 of 31 save opportunities.  In his career-high 77 apperances, he posted a  2.97 ERA, a  1.06 WHIP, a .194 opponents’ batting average and 12.13 strikeouts per nine innings (NL’s second-best mark).

Given that there is at least a slight chance that both could accept, the Braves might run a small risk when they offer arbitration to both Gonzalez and Soriano.  But I think it’s pretty safe to assume that both will attract multi-year offers that will erase this twinge of worry. 

By offering arbitration to Gonzalez and Soriano, the Braves will set themselves up for the draft-pick compensation they would receive when another club signs either of these Type A free agents.  

As for the club’s Type B free agents, the Braves will likely offer arbitration to Adam LaRoche. But needless to say, this has never been consisdered an option for Garret Anderson. 

If the demand for LaRoche proves to be light and the Braves find themselves in position to sign LaRoche, they likely wouldn’t provide him anything more than a one-year deal.  The cost (approximately $7.5 million) they may incur via arbitration might be a little steeper than they’d like.

But like with Gonzalez and Soriano, LaRoche’s decision to accept this offer wouldn’t financially cripple the offseason plans.

<b> Pete and Skip HOF: </b> When the top 10 finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award have been announced over the course of the past decade, it has always bothered me that Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray are absent from the list. 

I’ll get into this more in tomorrow’s blog. But if you feel that these guys or the great Ernie Johnson belong in Cooperstown, then let your voices be heard via this year’s online voting, which begins on Tuesday and runs through the end of December.

<b> Chip Caray update: </b> Just got off the phone with Chip Caray and he seems comfortable with the fact that he and TBS have parted ways.  I’m about to write something more on this for the site.  But to give you my thoughts, this paves the way for Chip to pursue his desire to work on a daily basis and possibly be around the Braves on a much more regular basis.     

<b> Got to love Google’s wisdom:  </b> When you initially see Bean Stringfellow’s name in print, there’s obviously reason to think “well that’s an odd name.”  But some of you ardent Braves fans might actually have known about Thornton “Bean” Stringfellow long before he became recognized as Billy Wagner’s agent. 

The Braves drafted Stringfellow in the 24th round of the 1985 Draft, eight spots ahead of some kid out San Diego State named Mark Grace.  The left-handed hurler spent four seasons in the Braves system and pitched with both Tom Glavine and John Smoltz during his two-year stint with Triple-A Richmond. 

Teams interested in Braves pitching surplus

The Rockies and D-backs both sent scouts to watch Tim Hudson make his return last night.  Like Hudson, these clubs are wondering whether the Braves will bring the veteran right-hander back to Atlanta next year.  

Even as recently as the All-Star break, it appeared the Braves weren’t going to be willing to bring both Hudson and Javier Vazquez back next year.  

But while there’s still a chance that one of them will be gone before the start of the 2010 season, there’s also a growing sense that  both could return to provide Atlanta with a rotation that would be deeper than any of the great ones it possessed during the 1990s.  

Hudson’s contract includes a $12 million club option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Vazquez’s cost of $11.5 million next year would be a definite bargain if he were capable of repeating the successful season he’s created this season.   

If the Braves were to enter the 2010 season in possession of each of their current six starters  –  Derek Lowe ($15 mil), Hudson ($12 mil), Vazquez ($11.5 mil), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.7 mil), Jair Jurrjens (approx. $500K) and Tommy Hanson (approx . $450K),  they would do so at a combined cost in the neighborhood of $46 million, which would eat up nearly half of their expected payroll.  

With Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano eligible for free agency, there’s a chance the Braves could choose not to bring either of these closers back and opt to have Peter Moylan fill that role at the approximated $1 million cost he may gain through his first arbitration-eligible season.

With Chipper Jones ($13 mil), Brian McCann ($5.5 mil), Nate McLouth ($4.5 mil), Matt Diaz (approx $2 mil),  David Ross ($1.6 mil), Omar Infante ($2.25 mil)  Yunel Escobar (approx. $500K), Martin Prado (approx $500 K), the Braves have approximately $30 million tied up in their position players and that’s without including the cost for a first baseman or outfielder.  

If you assume that the Braves bring Ryan Church back at around $3.5 million next year, then you could put their projected known costs at around $80 million.    

Then if Adam LaRoche was willing to stick in Atlanta for another year or two with an average annual salary of about  $6 million, the Braves would still be in position to account for non-arbitration guys (Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, etc.) and still satisfy their budget.

There’s no guarantee that the Braves will be willing to offer LaRoche this much during an offseason where a number of 1B/OF types will be available.   But I just wanted to throw that high-side figure out there to show that he could fit into a mix that would also include each of these starting pitchers.
 
While trying to show the Braves could have the financial means to keep each of these six starters,  I’ve included a lot of loose variables.

But at the end of the day, does it make sense to keep all of these arms?  Would it be more prudent to move Vazquez to gain prospects and have the opportunity to at least make a run at keeping either Gonzalez or Soriano, who will be Type A free agents?  

While there’s reason to wonder if Vazquez has found his comfort zone in Atlanta, history also shows that he’s had trouble putting together two consecutive strong seasons.  So should the Braves at least attempt to gain the solid return they could gain by dealing him?  

If the Braves simply chose to pay Hudson’s $1 million buyout, the only thing they’d be gaining is financial relief.  He currently doesn’t qualify as a Type B free agent.
 
Or maybe it makes sense to gain some financial relief by attempting to trade Kawakami, who wouldn’t provide the same kind of return as Vazquez.
 
The Braves may not have as many needs to fill as they did during last year’s offseason.  But as the D-backs and Rockies have proven, there are already a number of teams wanting to know how they’ll deal with their surplus of starters. 
 
Church returns, Chipper sits:    Ryan Church’s ability to return to Wednesday night’s lineup provided Chipper Jones to get a night off.  Jones’ back was a little sore on Tuesday night.  But he will likely return for Thursday night’s series finale.
 
Short bullpen:  Soriano threw 66 pitches while making appearances each of the past three days.  So the Braves will likely utilize  Gonzalez or Moylan as their closer tonight.   Gonzalez and Moylan have pitched both of the past two nights.
 
While Gonzalez threw 31 pitches through this span, Moylan totaled just 10.   

Soriano battling some right shoulder discomfort

Mike Gonzalez was ready and somewhat expecting to pitch the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Phillies.  He knew the situation would allow him to begin the inning against two left-handed batters and was also cognizant of the fact that Rafael Soriano had been battling some discomfort behind his right shoulder.
 
But after Gonzalez prolonged his recent success with an impressive eighth-inning escape act, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to stick by the book and insert his closer into the ninth inning of a tie game at home.
 
Four pitches later, Ryan Howard prolonged Soriano’s recent struggles against left-handed hitters with a game-winning leadoff homer. 

When Soriano arrived at Turner Field on Saturday, he admitted that he’s been feeling some muscular discomfort behind his right shoulder.  But the once-dominant closer wasn’t willing to use this ailment as an excuse to explain the fact that he’s now allowed three game-winning homers over the course of his past eight starts. 

“He’s just tired,” Gonzalez said.  “He’s been used a lot.  I know how Soriano works and I think these couple of days are going to be great for him.”

The Braves wouldn’t say that Soriano wasn’t available for Saturday afternoon’s game.   As for the right-handed reliever, when asked about his availability, he said that he thought he could pitch again as soon as Sunday.  
Soriano was pitching on Friday night with five days rest.   After he felt some fatigue after pitching for a fourth straight day last Saturday night in Los Angeles, he asked the Braves not to make him available during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games against the Nationals. 

“He’s throwing 95 (mph) with every pitch,” said Cox in reference to Soriano, who did hit at least 94 with each of the five four-seam fastballs he threw during Friday’s ninth inning.
 
While he may have possessed his ability to maximize the velocity of his fastball, Soriano is still looking to regain the success he’d possessed while limiting left-handed hitters to a .179 batting average and zero homers before the All-Star break. 

Since the break left-handed hitters have hit .435 (10-for-23) against Soriano and accounted for each of the game-winning homers that he’s surrendered.   As for right-handed hitters, they have gone hitless in the 18 at-bats they’ve recorded against the stone-faced right-hander since the break.
 
“When he’s on, nobody hits against him,” Gonzalez said. 

With the Phillies sending two left-handed hitters (Howard and Ibanez) to the plate to begin the ninth inning, Gonzalez admits he was among those who wondered if he’d be given a chance to make his third multi-inning appearance of the season.  He hasn’t allowed a run during the previous two he’s completed this year. 

“I was definitely ready to go and in that situation, I kind of thought that also,” Gonzalez said after being told many fans questioned why he wasn’t used. “But then again, it was the ninth inning and you know you’ve got to put your closer in there. 

“I would have totally understood (going two innings) it if would have given Soriano another day.  Another day is huge.  I would have sacrificed two innings yesterday and then come back today to see how I felt.” 

Howard, who has hit .193 and accounted for just three of his 28 homers  against left-handed pitchers this year, took advantage of Cox’s decision to go with Soriano.  The Phillies first baseman is now hitting .311 against right-handed pitchers.  

Since July 1, Howard has hit .150  (6-for-40) with zero homers against left-handed pitchers and .337 with eight homers against right-handed pitchers.

Meanwhile Gonzalez has limited left-handed hitters to a .159 (7-for-44) batting average and just two extra-base hits (two doubles) since June 1. 

Soriano rebounded from Howard’s homer by striking out the next three batters he faced, including Ibanez, a left-handed threat, who is hitting .289 with 17 homers against right-handed pitchers this year.  But by then, the damage had already been done.

“(Soriano) didn’t have any trouble against Ibanez and he’s a much better hitter than most lefties,” Cox said. 

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