Results tagged ‘ Rafael Soriano ’

Braves still quiet on the trade front

All remains quiet on the Braves trade front and there’s no reason to expect that the Phillies acquisition of Cliff Lee is going to force Frank Wren to feel like he has to make a deal before Friday’s deadline.
 
The Braves have spent the past couple days inquiring about some relievers and primarily found the ones that interest them aren’t available.   This isn’t to say Wren won’t pull the trigger within the next 48 hours.  But at this time, it appears that he’ll stand pat. 

While Lee will certainly upgrade the Phillies rotation, his presence in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly significantly alter the challenge the Braves face in their bid to advance to the postseason.   Entering Wednesday, they were eight games behind the front-running Phillies in the National League East race and understanding the reality that it would be wise to worry more about the 3 1/2 -game deficit they face in the Wild Card race.  

“You hate to see the team that you’re chasing get better,” David Ross said.  “But if you want to make the playoffs and reach the World Series, you’re going to have to beat the Roy Halladays, Cliff Lees and Josh Becketts.  In one sense, I wish the Phillies hadn’t gotten better.  But in another sense, I don’t think that he’s unbeatable.”

Obviously Lee’s presence presents the possibility that the head-to-head matchups against the Phillies will prove to be more challenging.  But the Braves have gone 20-15 against left-handed starters this year and they have won seven of the nine games they’ve played against the Phillies this year.

Braves starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of the nine games played against the Phillies this year.  If they can continue this success during the final nine games played against the defending world champs, Lee won’t have much of an effect on their hopes to at least gain entry to the postseason via the Wild Card.  

When Rafael Soriano entered Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins with the responsibility of protecting a one-run lead, it was easy to draw the same assumption that was present when the Braves used to send John Smoltz to the mound to close games.
 
The Braves had won 29 of the previous 33 games during which Soriano had pitched and he hadn’t allowed a run or hit during two of the four losses suffered during that span.    The only other blown save he’d experienced in 15 previous opportunities  occurred during the May 13 game that the Braves won when Martin Prado doomed the Mets with a 12th-inning homer. 

But while pitching with three days of rest last night, Soriano showed some signs of impending trouble when he issued Cody Ross a four-pitch, leadoff walk.   He hadn’t issued a walk to any of the previous 33 batters that he’d faced and during his previous five appearances, he’d thrown 53 of his 67 pitches for strikes. 

After Soriano recorded just three strikes in this 10-pitch appearance against the Marlins, Braves manager Bobby Cox complained about Jerry Meals’ strike zone.   But really the only thing that mattered at the end of the night was the fact that Soriano grooved a 3-1 fastball that Ross Gload turned into a two-run, walk-off homer. 

With Josh Johnson set to oppose Kenshin Kawakami tonight, this certainly wasn’t an opportune time for Soriano to prove to be mortal.  But at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry about how this one shaky outing will affect the stone-faced closer.  

Tonight’s lineup:
McLouth 8
Prado 4
Jones 5
McCann 2
Anderson 7
Escobar 6
Kotchman 3
Church 9
Kawakami 1

Braves looking for a reliever

As recently as a week ago, I would have thought there was a chance that Javier Vazquez would me making his final start for the Braves tonight.   

But while winning 14 of their past 20 games and six of eight since the All-Star break, the Braves have at least suspended thoughts of selling Vazquez or Rafael Soriano before next week’s trade deadline.  

Barring an utter collapse during the six games that will precede next Friday’s deadline, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever and explore the limited opportunities to add a bat to their lineup.  

There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from gaining more power potential at first base and their outfield trio.   But while compiling the second most runs in the National League this month, they’ve at least learned that they may already have the pieces that are capable of supporting their strong starting rotation.  

If the Braves do something before the deadline, the best bet is that they’ll add a reliever.  But while looking at a group of available options that include Danys Baez, Takashi Saito, Ron Mahay and John Grabow, it’s apparent that there isn’t much available.  

Still while working with the handicap of not being able to add to their payroll, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever, whose presence could at least create a better opportunity for Peter Moylan and some of their other relievers to stay fresh for the stretch run.

Peter Moylan leads the National League with 53 appearances, Eric O’Flaherty ranks third with 50 and Mike Gonzalez has already garnered 49 appearances, which is five shy of his career-high total posted in 2006, when he missed September while nursing the elbow soreness that likely led to the Tommy John surgery that he underwent the following May.

Because Manny Acosta hasn’t provided full confidence that he can handle some of the late-inning pressure situations, the Braves may need to continue steadily inserting Kris Medlen into their regular bullpen mix.  They also could gain some depth within the next week, when Buddy Carlyle is activated from the disabled list.

Forget what occurred when the Giants scored their four unearned runs while Moylan was on the mound during Thursday’s loss.  If you want to place the blame somewhere, you may want to point it in the direction of Casey Kotchman, whose lackadaisical lob toward first base allowed a sacrifice bunt attempt to equate to an infield single.  

Adam LaRoche made a similar mistake during the 2006 season and was publicly chastised for a couple days.  But that’s neither here nor there.  This was just a longwinded way of pointing out that Moylan has proven to be better since he was given the opportunity to gain some rest during the All-Star break.  

During his four appearances since the break, he’s worked four innings, allowed just two unearned runs, limited opponent to a .200 batting average, recorded five strikeouts and issued no walks.  

While making eight appearances during an 11-day span leading up to the break (July 2-12), Moylan worked 6 2/3 innings, surrendered  11 hits, allowed five earned runs,  issued three walks and registered three strikeouts.

In order to provide Moylan the opportunity to consistently display the promising form he displayed before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves could benefit from at least giving Bobby Cox another arm to call upon during late-inning situations.  

Halladay Watch hits Atlanta area:  The Roy Halladay watch will extend into Gwinnett County tonight, when a Blue Jays scout will watch Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco face the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
 
If the Blue Jays choose not to move Halladay, there’s at least some reason to believe the Braves might be able to get even more for Vazquez from a pitching-hungry club.
 
But as things stand now, it appears Vazquez’s future in Atlanta will be determined during the offseason, when the Braves decide whether they want to keep his $11.5 million cost or exercise  Tim Hudson’s  $12 million option. 
 
There doesn’t seem to be any way that they could keep both of them on next year’s payroll and even less reason to believe the Braves could make room for both by moving Kenshin Kawakami’s contract.

Who is that Wise guy?  If I’ve told this story before, I
apologize.  But with his tremendous catch to preserve Mark Buehrle’s
perfect game on Thursday afternoon, Dewayne Wise produced the reminder
of the first day that I saw him during Spring Training in 2004.  

As we were standing in the middle of the clubhouse just shooting the
breeze with Cox, Wise, a non-roster invitee who had previously been in
the Blue Jays system, approached his new manager to introduce
himself.  

And staying true to his ability to make all of his players feel like
they’re wanted and important, Cox responded with a firm handshake, a
smile and, “Hey I’ve heard a lot about you, it’s great to have you
here.”   

Then as Wise walked away, Cox asked, “Who was that?”

While none of the surrounding reporters knew him at that particular
moment , the entire baseball world certainly now knows about Wise, who
even drew some attention during President Barack Obama’s speech in
Chicago on Thursday.

Wise hit .228 with six homers in 56 games for the Braves in 2004.  His
regular role with Atlanta was diminished when Charles Thomas hit the
scene in late June and proceeded to enjoy his dream season.

Braves may have made all their significant moves

Braves general manager Frank Wren has never been accused of being a procrastinator and with the trade deadline resting a little more than a week away, there’s a chance that he’s already made all of his significant deals.
 
This line of thinking could be altered if the Braves were to struggle during this week’s four-game series against the Giants.  But at the same time, this belief could be strengthened if they were to claim at least three of these four games against the National League Wild Card leaders.
 
Having won 12 of their past 18 games, the Braves entered Monday night’s series opener trailing the Giants by 4 games.   Seeing how the Phillies have become immune to losing since they were swept out of Turner Field earlier this month, the Wild Card race has become much more intriguing from a Braves perspective.
 
There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from another power bat and another veteran reliever.  But as the season’s second half enters its first full week, it’s apparent that the makeup of their roster is much stronger than it was a month ago.

“We like our club the way that we’re situated right now,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We like the balance we have in our lineup.  We’ve liked our pitching really from the beginning.  I think we’re observing and if there are ways to improve, I think we’ll at least look at them.  But right now we like our club.” 

Wren improved two of his three outfield spots with the trades that brought Nate McLouth and Ryan Church to Atlanta.  The left field position has been improved as Garret Anderson has provided the offensive consistency that negates some of the defensive deficiencies that come courtesy of his suspect range.

This month, the Braves lead the National League with a .292 batting average and rank second in both on-base percentage (.366) and runs (84). 

Yes, the Braves are just five of 16 NL teams to have played 16 games so far. But the 5.25 runs they’ve score per game this month, look a whole lot better than the 3.57 runs per game that they scored in June.   In April they scored an average of 4.04 runs per game and in May they improved that mark to 4.66. 

“Up and down our lineup, I think we’re getting more quality at-bats, which we think will translate into more runs and more wins,” Wren said. “(Offense)  has been the area that has held us back.”

If the Braves truly believe they are in the thick of the postseason race, they’ll likely look to keep Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.  As Type A free agents, Soriano and Gonzalez will only be moved for a significant return. 

Of course if they were to fall out of the race, the Braves could utilize each of these hurlers to help them begin building for the 2010 season and beyond. 

While Vazquez could be moved to provide the financial flexibility to gain another bat for the season’s final two months, the Braves are providing more indication that they’d like to keep the impressive right-hander around throughout the remainder of this season and possibly beyond. 

But  it doesn’t appear that they will have the financial resources that would allow them to keep both Vazquez and Tim Hudson around for the 2010 season.  Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Hudson won’t rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25.  

If the Braves continue to win, the most likely candidate that they’d move before the trade deadline would be Kelly Johnson.  But as they found while attempting to deal Jeff Francoeur, there aren’t a lot of clubs lining up to acquire Johnson’s services.  

Johnson’s Minor League rehab assignment expires on Saturday.  So sometime within the next week, the Braves will have to trade him, place him back on the big league roster, or activate him from the disabled list with the intention of optioning him back to Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster. 

With Martin Prado manning the everyday role at second base and Omar Infante just a couple weeks away from being activated from the disabled list, there is limited need for Johnson in Atlanta.
  
Since becoming an everyday member of the lineup on June 30, Prado has hit .400 with two homers, a .458 on-base percentage and a .759 slugging percentage.  The Braves have won 11 of the 17 games played during that span.

“There’s a certain chemistry and feeling that every team has and when you feel like you’ve reached that right balance, you are a little hesitant to make a change,” Wren said.  “I know the guys on this club feel good about this team right now and that’s a positive.  That doesn’t stop you from inquiring and seeing if there are other things that you can do.  But we’ve done quite a bit already.”  

Soriano deserves an All-Star selection

Well I’ve made it through the first leg of my journey and I’m happy to tell you that there is actually a portion of the early-morning hours when you can walk through Atlanta’s airport without feeling like you are a Detroit Lions running back.

As I sit here and wait for my connection to St. Louis to begin my All-Star Week duties with this afternoon’s Futures Game, I’m still thinking about how impressive it was to watch Rafael Soriano simply dominate the ninth inning during last night’s win over the Rockies.

Soriano allowed a bloop leadoff single and then ended the game with three consecutive strikeouts within a span of 10 consecutive fastballs.   He touched 96 miles per hour with one of those pitches, which happened to be just one of the two that were fouled during that span.
 
Without even factoring Mike Gonzalez’s health into the equation, the Braves have found their sole closer.  There’s no longer reason to even toy with the idea of mixing and matching Gonzalez and Soriano. 

With the big right-hander, the Braves have found a stopper who has the potential to be just as dominant as John Smoltz was during his days as the closer.

Among National League relievers, Soriano ranks second in four different categories:  opponent’s on-base percentage (.238), opponent’s OPS  (.450) strikeouts-per-nine innings (12.23) and WHIP (0.89).  He also ranks third in batting average allowed (.158) and fourth in ERA (1.48). 

Still when it came time for the All-Star selections last week, Soriano wasn’t included.  My assumption is that this was basically a product of the fact that he spent a portion of this season having to share the save opportunities with Gonzalez.

But with Jonathan Broxton out of the picture for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, I’m certainly expecting to hear some time today that Soriano will be joining Brian McCann in St. Louis this week. 

As we talked to Bobby Cox after last night’s game, he certainly seemed optimistic and hopeful that Charlie Manuel was going to call him today and say that he wants Soriano on his NL roster.

It’s going to be fun to watch Jason Heyward play with many of the game’s other top prospects during this afternoon’s game at Busch Stadium.  In case you missed it, earlier this week Baseball America ranked Heyward first among their top 25 midseason prospects.    His good friend Freddie Freeman was ranked as the 11th.

Since the Braves promoted them to Double-A Mississippi last week, Heyward and Freeman have continued to pave their way toward Atlanta. 

In his first eight games with Mississippi, Heyward has hit .346 with three doubles, two triples and seven RBIs.  The 19-year-old outfielder hit .296 with 10 homers and a .519 slugging percentage while playing his first 49 games this year with Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach.

In his first nine games with Mississippi, Freeman has hit .294 with three doubles and four RBIs.   During his 70 games with Myrtle Beach, the 19-year-old first baseman hit .302 with six homers and a .447 OPS.

While Freeman won’t be with Heyward today in St. Louis, there will soon come a day when he’s teaming with him in Atlanta. 

I don’t see any way that Heyward makes his way to Atlanta before this season is complete.  But I’m certainly expecting him to force the Braves to make a tough decision when Spring Training concludes next year.

Once I get to St. Louis and catch up with Heyward this afternoon, I’ll provide some updates about what he’s thinking about his immediate future.  But I can already tell you that the highly confident and intellectual teenager is going to say that he’s ready right now to test himself against the Major Leaguers.

I’ve got to get to my gate right now and unfortunately, it looks like the Lions offensive linemen have started their crowd control shift here at Hartsfield this morning. 

Will Wren be a buyer or seller?

With the three-game losing streak they carried into Tuesday, the Braves found themselves in the same position they were when they began their five-game winning streak on June 28.  Still the five-game division deficit they now face seems much more daunting than it did just a week ago, when the fumbling Phillies were coming to Turner Field.
 
While the first-place Phillies have won four straight since being swept out of Atlanta last week, the Braves have destroyed all of the positive energy they’d created before saying goodbye to their season-best five-game winning streak during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Washington D.C. 

Since being six outs away from recording a sixth straight win, the Braves have completed 20 consecutive innings without a lead and provided even more reason to believe that even with their strong starting rotation, they are destined for prolonged mediocrity.
 
Braves general manager Frank Wren finds himself essentially in the same position he was on this date last year, when his club was six games back.  At the time, he said he was going to continue monitoring the pulse of the club before determining whether he was going to move Mark Teixeira.
 
Wren remained patient until the Braves blew five-run leads on consecutive days in Philadelphia (July 26 and 27) and then opted to deal Teixeira with the handicap of having to find a trade partner that could provide a first baseman in return.

With Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Wren possesses three pitchers, who could each individually provide a greater return than Teixeira, who was traded to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

Affordable relievers who have the ability to close and durable starters prove to be in more demand than first basemen, who could prove to be just a two-month rental.

 But while still waiting for his team to experience its first string of prolonged success,  Wren really doesn’t know whether he’ll be a buyer or a top seller when this year’s trade deadline arrives. 

Without the ability to add to his payroll, his position as a buyer in search of another bat will certainly be financially hindered.
  
But with these three pitchers, he could prove to be an attractive seller with the ability to start building for the future. 

Until they definitely fall out of the postseason picture, the Braves won’t even attempt to trade Vazquez.   Thoughts of moving him to gain funds to add a bat are erased by the reality that the Braves need him in a rotation that won’t include Tim Hudson until at least the final week of August.
 
And if Wren isn’t blown away with any offers for Vazquez, there isn’t any definite need to trade the 32-year-old right-hander, who is set to make $11.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.
 
Hudson, who is one year older and coming back from Tommy John surgery, has a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Of course any concerns about his health could be trumped by the concerns created by the fact that Vazquez has proven to be one of those inconsistent pitchers, who encounters success on an every-other-year basis.

With both Gonzalez and Soriano being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to ask for significant returns if they reach a point where they decide to trade either or both of these closers. 
 
Instead of simply settling for the best available return like they did with Teixeira, they’ll be content to allow both Gonzalez and Soriano enter the free agent market, with the understanding that they’ll either bring one back or at least be compensated with the draft picks their departures would provide.  

There was very little chance that Teixeira was going to accept the arbitration offer that the Braves would have provided had they kept him through the remainder of the 2008 season, with the desire to at least receive draft pick compensation. 

Of course had Teixeira accepted an arb offer, the financial ramifications would have been much greater than those provided by the small risk the Braves would  take if they reach a point in December, where they have to offer arbitration to either Soriano or Gonzalez.  

Wren has already assumed the role of buyer once this year with his June 3 acquisition of Nate McLouth, who is a hitter that many offensively-needy teams would currently covet.
  
Still while McLouth has proven to be a definite upgrade, the Braves won just 13 of the 30 games they’ve played since he joined their lineup.   Of course four of those wins were notched last week, when McLouth was sidelined with a sore left hamstring.

There’s no doubt that McLouth is going to make an impact in Atlanta beyond this year.  He’s a legit five-tool player, whose presence in Atlanta would already been much more celebrated had he not arrived just in time to see both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann start to endure simultaneous struggles. 

Over his past 21 games, McCann has hit .250 with two homers and seven RBIs.  The always-dependable All-Star catcher also has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

As for Jones, over the course of his past 25 games, he has hit .213 with one homer and nine RBIs. 

While winning just 10 of their past 25 games, the Braves have received a total of 19 RBIs from McCann and Jones.
  
There’s no doubt that McCann and Jones will turn things around.  But will they do so before Wren is forced to make the decision to enter the trade market as a seller? 

Where will this three-game winning streak lead?

Welcome back to Braves Mountain.  We once again ask you to keep your hands and feet inside the car as we continue this ride includes both quick ascents and frustrating descents.   And we are happy to announce that the early portion of this week’s journey has provided more reason to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel will still be lit after the All-Star break.
 
With last night’s win over the Phillies, the Braves once again matched a season-best three-game winning streak and if this year’s trend continues, you may want to put your hands in the air and at least attempt to enjoy the rush created by the descent that could follow. 

“We’ve proven both ways that momentum doesn’t help us or hurt us,” Matt Diaz said after highlighting his three-hit performance with a homer and two RBIs last night. 

After sweeping the Nationals (April 10-12) to move to 5-1 on the season, the Braves immediately followed with a five-game losing streak and an eight-game stretch that included just one win. 

When the Braves gained another three-game losing streak April 22-25, they soured those positive vibes by enduring a nine-game stretch that included just two wins. 

How about that inspiring three-game sweep of the then-American League East leading Blue Jays in May?  Well as you likely painfully remember, that was followed by an 11-game stretch that included just three wins. 

But providing reason at least some reason for optimism is the 7-4 stretch that followed the three-game winning streak achieved (May 9-11) against the Mets and Phillies. 

“We’ve gotten excited before and then went on a losing streak,” Brian McCann said. “So we’ve just got to keep playing and see what happens.  We can’t worry about what we have or haven’t done.” 

While taking the first two games of this week’s three-game series against the front -running Phillies, the Braves are now just three games out of first place for the first time since May 27.  Considering that they’ve gone 14-17 since that date, they have to be greatly appreciative of the generosity provided by the Phillies and Mets.
  
Dating back to May 28, the Mets have gone 12-19 and the Phillies have gone 14-16. 

Regardless of what happens against the Phillies tonight, Braves fans should guard against saying anything like, “this is a great time to be playing the Nationals.”  This was a popular cry after the Braves lost of five of six to the Marlins and Pirates in April. 

Then we all watched as the Braves managed to lose two of three games in Washington D.C.  But this wasn’t anything new.  They’ve lost nine of the first 12 games they’ve played at Nationals Park and seven of the 12 games they’ve played against the Nationals since last year’s All-Star break.

Remember when the Braves lost 14 of the first 16 games they played against the Phillies last year?  Well, while winning six of the first eight games played against the defending world champions this year, they’ve moved to 10-16 against them since the start of the 2008 season.   During this same span, they’ve gone 10-14 against the Nationals.
 
All-Star stuff:  With All-Star voting set to close tonight at 11:59 p.m. ET, it would be nice to see Braves fans show some final-hour support by voting  for Brian McCann, who has seen Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina take a more commanding lead when results have been updated both of the past two weeks.

McCann leads all NL catchers in batting average (.310) and OPS (.906) and despite battling left-eye vision problems throughout the season’s first five weeks, he ranks second and both homers (8) and RBIs (33).  With 44 more at-bats, Molina has totaled five homers, tallied 24 RBIs and compiled a .728 OPS. 

While the St. Louis fans have taken advantage of the opportunity to see Molina behind the plate for the start of the July 14 All-Star Game at their own Busch Stadium, McCann seems to still be a lock to gain his fourth consecutive All-Star selection in what is his fourth full Major League season. 

Whether he’ll be joined by Javier Vazquez, Jurrjens and/or Rafael Soriano remains to be seen.  But all deserving pitchers were given more reason for hope on Wednesday, when Major League Baseball announced that the rosters would be expanded to 33 players to accommodate a manager’s selection for one extra pitcher.

Player balloting will determine eight reserve position player and eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers) for both rosters.  Eight more selections, including the extra pitcher, will be made by the managers, with input provided from league officials.

Soriano has actually produced the best credentials among Braves pitchers to pitch in this year’s Midsummer Classic.  
Along with being perfect in his six save opportunities, Soriano ranks third among NL relievers with a 1.23 ERA, third in OPS (.457) surrendered, fifth in both batting average allowed (.160) and slugging percentage allowed (.216),  and sixth with a 0.90 WHIP.  

Having watched Jurrjens limit his Phillies to a two-out, seventh-inning single on Wednesday night, NL manager Charlie Manuel might be further persuaded to include the 23-year-old right-hander, who ranks fifth in the NL with a 2.73 ERA. 
 
Jurrjens’ 6-6 record is a product of the same inconsistent support that has saddled the 5-7 Vazquez, who will get his own opportunity to audition in front of Manuel while attempting to retake the NL strikeouts lead during tonight’s series finale against the Phillies.
 
Along with currently being just seven strikeouts shy of the NL-leading mark posted by Tim Lincecum, Vazquez also ranks second in the NL with a 1.06 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched).  His 3.03 ERA ranks eighth and with 11 quality starts, he’s and Jurrjens both rank eighth among the Senior Circuit hurlers.

Along with his losing record, Vazquez’s candidacy could be further burdened by the fact that he’s scheduled to start just two days before the All-Star Game.  Jurrjens is slated to go one day earlier. 

Bullpen taking shape

Jordan Schafer’s early success has been refreshing and Jeff Francoeur’s improved approach has been encouraging.  But if you’re attempting to identify the two most important developments the Braves experienced during the regular season’s first week, you have to focus your attention on Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan.

The most glaring concern for the Braves six games into the season has obviously been the bullpen which has accounted for  15 of the 25 earned runs the club has surrendered.  But as we were still wondering how this relief corps had allowed eight of those runs in one inning, Soriano and Moylan started to turned doubt into optimism. 

Soriano’s velocity hovered around 90 mph while he made just four appearances during the exhibiton season.  Yet four appearances into the regular season, we’ve seen him complete four scoreless innings, surrender one hit and issue two walks. 

Jeff Bennett is the only other Braves reliever who hasn’t been charged with an earned run.  But in the 3 2/3 innings that he’s completed, Bennett has surrendered six hits, hit a batter and issued a walk. Don’t even try to figure out how he’s maintained a 0.00 ERA while opponents have compiled a .471 on-base percentage. 

Nor do we need to determine why Moylan wasn’t able to retire any of the first five batters he faced this year.  Overexcited about returning  to the mound from Tommy John surgery, he was rushing his delivery and deny himself the opportunity to create sink with his fastball.

While slightly shortening the stride of his delivery Saturday night, Moylan struck out the only three batters that he faced.  Along with being perfect, the inning also proved to be the most important the Braves have experienced this year.

There isn’t a late-inning situation that Moylan can’t handle.  The side-winding Aussie can retire an opponent’s top left-handed or right-handed hitter.  He can induce the groundball when neccessary and when provided the opportunity, I truly believe he will prove to be a dominant closer. 

In essence, Moylan is the most valuable piece to this year’s bullpen and that’s why you have to give Cox so much credit for sending him back out there to protect a one-run lead Saturday night.  By doing so, he allowed the right-handed reliever to regain the confidence he’d shown while proving to be the club’s most impressive pitcher during Spring Training.

After Moylan exited Saturday’s game, Soriano worked a scoreless eighth and Gonzalez produced a perfect ninth, during which he threw nine of his 13 pitches for strikes.

This is the way Cox envisions ending a number of games this year.  At the beginning of Spring Training, he said his bullpen’s success hinged on the health of Moylan, Gonzalez and Soriano, who have all undergone season-ending elbow surgeries over the course of the past two years.

Soriano pitched all three games this past weekend and his most
impressive effort came Sunday, when he threw 10 of his 14 pitches for
strikes and notched two strikeouts in a perfect ninth inning

With this being the final year of a contract that calls for him to earn $6.1 million this year, there probably wasn’t reason to wonder if Soriano would be healthy when the regular season began.

Because he’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, there was reason to wonder about Moylan’s arm.  But proving to be somewhat of a medical marvel, he hasn’t provided any indication that he’s felt any sort of discomfort while throwing over the course of the past two months. 

Gonzalez still hasn’t regained the velocity he possessed before undergoing TJ surgery in May of 2007.  But if he continues to spot his curveball consistently, he can still be effective with a 92-93 mph fastball. 

With Kris Medlen waiting in the wings, the Braves have the ability to fortify the front end of the their bullpen when necessary.  But based on what we witnessed this past weekend, the back end is shaping up nicely.

Glavine update: Tom Glavine is expected to return to Turner Field this afternoon after meeting with Dr. James Andrews.  There’s obviously a chance he could tell us he’s experienced a tear and needs to retire.  Then again, he could just tell us that his shoulder discomfort is a product of broken scar tissue. 

Whatever the case, I’d have to think it will be at least another month before he’d be cleared to pitch in a game with the big league club. 

 

  

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 

Soriano willingly speaks

Santonio Holmes meet#CF3FA7.jpgWhen Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes toe-tapped his way toward Super Bowl MVP honors and then proclaimed he was going to Disney World, he wasn’t lying.  In fact, he and his magical right foot are still here.

Holmes has been training here at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex and he took time on Friday morning to come over to the baseball stadium and enjoy a photo opportunity with a former childhood favorite Chipper Jones, who happens to be a big Steelers fan. 

With Jones wearing Holmes’  Steelers jersey and Holmes sporting Jones’  Braves jersey, the two athletes, who both wear No. 10, posed for a few pictures with Mickey Mouse. 

Jones walked away with a signed football and Holmes gained a baseball signed by Jones. 

Growing up in Florida, Holmes adopted the Braves as his favorite team and chose Jones as his favorite player, primarily because of the fact that he was a switch hitter.

“One of the main reasons I liked him was the ability to switch sides,” Holmes said. “That’s amazing for somebody to be able to do that and have the great hand-eye coordination with his swing lefty and righty and have the ability to hit home runs.  That’s amazing.” 

Yeah, but could Jones go into the corner of the endzone and possess the grace of a ballerina dancer while hauling in the game-winning catch with 35 seconds left in the Super Bowl? 

Speaking of amazing, something must have happened to Rafael Soriano overnight.  After completing a phone conversation on Friday morning, he actually called me and Dave O’Brien over to his locker to discuss the discomfort that he’s been feeling in his left side. 

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were hovering over him in an otherwise empty locker room.  But the conversation was actually cordial and it seems like he believes he might start throwing again within the next few days.   I’ll believe it when I see it.  But it appears he might indeed be in the bullpen to begin the season. 

Who is standing in center field on Opening Night in Philadelphia remains a mystery.  Jordan Schafer has done everything he can to prove that he’s ready to compete at the Major League level.  The five-tool outfielder is a difference maker who will be a fan favorite in Atlanta for many years to come. 

But there’s still reason to believe the Braves might choose to send him to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season.  I started to buy into this possibility after a scout reminded me Thursday night that it’s much easier to bring a player up than it is to send him down. 

If Schafer were to begin the season and struggle to the point that the Braves felt the need to send him back to the Minors, there’s a chance the decision could produce psychological damage that would be felt beyond this year. 

While understanding this theory, I don’t think it applies to the ever-confident Schafer.  First of all, I don’t think he’d encounter enormous struggles at the Major League level and if he did, I don’t think it would damage him.

It was obviously a shame that he was forced to pay for his youthful transgressions with the humiliating 50-game suspension that he was handed last year.  But the episode improved his mental strength and allowed him to mature more over the course of a year than I could have ever imagined. 

Gregor Blanco is starting today’s game against the Tigers in center and I’m now at least buying into the possibility that he might be manning that position at the beginning of the season. 

The Braves are exploring the option of trading Josh Anderson, who is out of options, and if they’re able to strike a deal with a team that’s looking for a speedy outfielder, Blanco might be the most sensical option from a business standpoint.

The White Sox are among the teams looking for an outfielder like Anderson.  But manager Ozzie Guillen has said he doesn’t expect the team to looking outside the organization for a center fielder.  We’ll see if this proves to be true.
 
Blanco spent the entire 2008 season in the Majors and people are still buzzing about the way he played during the World Baseball Classic.  If the Braves were to send him to the Minors to begin the season, his trade value would plummet and more importantly, he’s somebody who certainly could be psychologically damaged by such a move. 

OK. Tom Glavine is about to take the mound for his second Grapefruit League start. 

You can view today’s game on MLB.TV or SportSouth, for those of you who still watch baseball on television.

A couple more notes:

Bobby Cox says that Garret Anderson probably won’t return to the lineup until Sunday.  Earlier this week, the Braves said he’d come back on Saturday. 

Because he was feeling ill again on Friday, the Braves sent Casey Kotchman to be examined by a doctor.  Kotchman has battled the flu most of the past week.  He said he felt good on Wednesday and then started feeling sick again on Thursday.

Today’s Lineup:

Gregor Blanco CF
Kelly Johnson 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Jeff Francoeur RF
Omar Infante SS
Martin Prado 1B
Josh Anderson LF
Tom Glavine P

Did you really want Peavy?

Instead of bashing Jake Peavy when he comes to Turner Field this year, Braves fans might want to thank him for the fact that he had no desire to pitch in Atlanta. 

While watching Puerto Rico’s 11-1 win over the U.S. Dolphin Stadium last night, I started to draw comparisons between Peavy and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington.  But I eventually concluded that  Pennington hadn’t got hit nearly as hard by Ray Lewis and the rest of the Ravens defense during this year’s playoffs. 

Had the Braves acquired Peavy via trade, they would have paid him at least $63 million over the next four seasons.   When you’re dishing out that kind of coin, you’d at least like to have some confidence that he’ll be answer the bell when you need him in big games.

While the sample size is small it’s still somewhat alarming to know that Peavy is 0-3 with a 9.53 ERA (22 2/3 innings, 24 earned runs)  in the six combined career starts he’s made during the postseason and the World Baseball Classic.

Instead of Peavy, the Braves ended up with Derek Lowe, who is 6-5 with a 3.33 ERA in 21 career postseason appearances (10 starts).   Over the course of eight days in 2004, Lowe won a Game 7 start at Yankee Stadium and tossed seven scorless innings to allow the Red Sox to clinch their first World Series in 86 years. 

When Lowe takes the mound at Disney this afternoon, he’s not going to be feeding off his “big-game” adrenaline.  But the Astros, who are 1-13-1, might look at this afternoon’s game a little different.  Frustrated by his team’s struggles, manager Cecil Cooper required every position player make the short trip across Osceola Parkway. 

After Lowe exits today’s game, Peter Moylan will continue his Sunday afternoon tradition of making a Grapefruit League appearance.   His only two previous appearances this year have occurred on Sundays. 

Before this development, the only thing linking the tatooed Australian to the NFL was the fact that his arms are as decorative as Kyle Turley’s.  

You probably best remember Turley as the Saints offensive lineup who imitated Moylan’s sidearm delivery while tossing a Jets helmet across the field during a nationally-televised game.

While pitching against the Phillies last week, Moylan looked tremendous and gave more reason to believe he might indeed be ready by Opening Day.  But the Braves will remain cautious with the right-handed reliever, who is just a little more than 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery. 

Rafael Soriano is also scheduled to make his second Grapefruit League appearance this afternoon. 

Other than finding out where Dayton will be bracketed in the NCAA tournament, I’d have to say the appearances made by Moylan and Soriano will be the most important developments of the day.

The Braves are expected to announce their next round of cuts later today or on Monday.  James Parr, who impressed with four strikeouts in 2 1/3 scoreless innings against the Marlins on Friday, has already been informed that he’s heading to Minor League camp.

“I did everything that I could do,” said a distraught Parr, who allowed one run in 7 1/3 Grapefruit League innings. 

With a little more than two weeks left before the start of the regular season, the Braves may attempt to take advantage of their pitching depth via trade.  While he might not net a return greater than a mid-level Minor League prospect, Buddy Carlyle has been receiving some attention from clubs looking to improve their bullpen. 

Anderson update:  Garret Anderson hasn’t started running yet.  But the veteran outfielder, who has been sidelined since March 6, continues to be encouraged about the improvement of his strained right calf.   It’s starting to look like he could be available for the final two weeks of the exhibition season.

Today’s lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Matt Diaz LF
Jeff Francoeur RF
Freddie Freeman 1B
Martin Pradro 3B
David Ross C
Derek Lowe P   

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