Results tagged ‘ Ryan Church ’

Has Church played his final game in Atlanta?

Ryan Church made some key contributions after gaining distinction as the man the Braves acquired from the Mets in exchange for Jeff Francoeur on July 10.  But there’s definitely reason to wonder if the veteran outfielder has played his final game in Atlanta. 

Church returned to Viera, Fla. on Friday to be with his wife, Tina, as she gave birth to their second child, Madison Noel, who entered this world at 6 pounds and 11 ounces.
 
With Church unavailable for Friday night’s game against the Nationals, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to use Omar Infante in right field to spell Matt Diaz, who was scratched from the lineup because of a bruised right thumb.   

Since joining the Braves, Church has hit .260 with two homers and a .749 OPS.   But the soon-to-be 31-year-old outfielder has struggled since his back began to bother him during the latter portion of August.   He hit .207 (6-for-29) while playing in just 13 games (8 starts) since Sept. 1.

As an arbitration-eligible player, Church could see his current $2.8 million salary increased to somewhere around the $3.5 million range next year.  Given his back problems, the Braves may balk at that potential cost and attempt to trade him before having to make a decision about whether or not to tender him a contract. 

Some clubs have already expressed some interest in obtaining Church.  Obviously, the return for the Braves likely wouldn’t be significant. 

The decision regarding Church will be just one of the many facing the Braves this winter.   But it’s quite obvious that they are in a much better position entering this offseason than they were at this time a year ago, when the only definite returnee to their rotation was Jair Jurrjens. 

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.   

Barton clears waivers to make room for Hudson

Tim Hudson has been activated from the 60-day disabled list and the Braves made room for him on their 40-man roster by placing outfielder Brian Barton on waivers.  Barton cleared waivers on Monday and was outrighted to the Triple-A Gwinnett roster. 

Hudson’s start against the Marlins tonight will be his first Major League appearance since July 23, 2008.  The veteran right-hander is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery.

Barton has hit .261 in 108 games for Gwinnett this season.  His three-hit performance against Durham on Monday night aided the club’s postseason push. 

Gwinnett is one game behind Durham in the International League’s South Division and they currently lead the Wild Card race with a 3 1/2-game advantage over Syracuse. 

Monday night’s victory was also aided by the five-hit performance provided by center fielder Gregor Blanco, who could possibly be added to the Atlanta roster later this month. 

But with the defensive range he’s displayed over the past couple of days, Omar Infante has provided the Braves more confidence in his ability to man the center field position until Ryan Church or Nate McLouth prove healthy enough to play on a consistent basis. 

As mentioned last night, infielder Brooks Conrad, right-handed pitcher Luis Valdez and catcher Clint Sammons have been promoted from Gwinnett and will join Atlanta’s expanded roster today. 

Braves once again attempt to break free from Marlins

Covering a Sunday night baseball game in Philadelphia and then experiencing the majority of your sleep on the flight to Ft. Lauderdale isn’t exactly pleasurable.  But arriving in your hotel room and gaining the joy created from the sight of Rich Rodriguez fighting back tears made this a great day to be a West Virginian.

Losing two of three to the Phillies obviously wasn’t the way the Braves wanted to end a week that was also damaged with the two losses they’d suffered against the Padres.  But at the conclusion of this past weekend’s series, I’d have to say I felt as optimistic about their postseason hopes as I had earlier this month, when they took three of four from the Dodgers.   
Mother Nature affected both clubs on Friday night.  But it seems obvious that the Braves were affected more by the fact that they had to remove Tommy Hanson after just two innings.  

During Saturday’s game, the Braves baffled Cliff Lee and captured an unexpected win.  Then while claiming Sunday night’s series finale, the Phillies took advantage of the events that followed Adam LaRoche’s decision to charge on Pedro Feliz’s surprise seventh-inning bunt that went to the third base side of the mound.  

Still Martin Prado got to first base in time and should have sacrificed his body while attempting to secure Chipper Jones’ catchable throw.   His decision not to do so created the error that put the Phillies in position to claim a victory that ended with Greg Norton concluding Brad Lidge’s perfect ninth with a strikeout.  

Norton has managed to produce a .419 on-base percentage since the All-Star break.  But he also has just one hit in his last 19 plate appearances and it’s not like he has the speed to potentially turn a walk into a double.  

Still with the benefit of having two middle infielders (Omar Infante and Kelly Johnson) on his bench, Braves manager Bobby Cox stuck went with Norton.    In Cox’s defense, Johnson is hitless with three strikeouts in five career at-bats against Lidge and Infante is 1-for-6.

As for Norton, he is 2-for-7 in his career against Lidge and he had drawn walks in each of his three previous plate appearances against the veteran closer this year.

While it was a questionable decision, it wasn’t as if Cox made the worst coaching mistake in sports history.   I mean, it’s not like he squandered  a chance to go to the national championship game by losing a home game to Pitt or anything.   Oh wait, did I mention that Rodriguez was seen fighting back tears this morning?  

For those of you who aren’t college football fans, West Virginia’s loss that night to Pitt  would be the equivalent of the Braves losing four straight to the Nationals to end the season and erase the three-game WC lead they’d possessed entering the series.   

Now back to the Braves postseason outlook.  For you Michigan fans not familiar with baseball, this would be like advancing to one of those bowl games that you used to visit during the pre-Rodriguez days.

Unfortunately time isn’t providing the Braves  the same margin of error that they possessed on Aug. 9, when they exited Los Angeles having used the series win over the Dodgers to move to within 3 games of the National League Wild Card lead.  

At that time, their challenge was to erase that deficit and leap frog four teams in a span of 50 games.  

Heading into tonight’s series opener against the Marlins, the Braves have just 32 games to erase this same 3 -game deficit that they  face in the Wild Card standings.  But  they now have just two teams in front of them and the opportunity this week to put the Marlins in their rear-view mirror.  

This is the third time since July 28 that the Braves and Marlins have started a series against each other with identical records and to further prove how evenly-matched these two clubs appear to be, they’ve split the previous six games played during this span.  

Once this series with the Marlins concludes, the Braves will play 19 of their final 28 games against teams that currently possess a losing record.   The Rockies will play 19 of their final 31 games at Coors Field, where they’ve gone 36-26 this year.
 
The Giants play 16 of their final 31 games at home might be more intriguing.  They’ve gone 44-21 in San Francisco and 28-38 on the road this year.  

CF update:   After examining the results of Nate McLouth’s MRI exam today, doctors once again determined that his left hamstring is simply strained and not torn.   The Braves will further discuss his status as the week progresses and determine whether he’ll continue to rehab with the big league club or in Minor League games.  

With his back feeling better on Tuesday, Ryan Church gained hope that he could return to the lineup on Tuesday.
 
Jordan Schafer underwent a surgical procedure to remove a bone spur from his left wrist on Monday.  The 22-year-old center fielder won’t be able to participate in Winter Ball.  But the Braves are confident that he’ll be ready for the start of Spring Training.  

Braves bats have recently slumbered at Turner Field

Had the Padres bullpen kept things relatively clean following Mat Latos’ exit on Tuesday night, it would have been a little easier for the Braves to simply tip their caps and accept the fact that they were on the wrong end of a one-run shutout loss.  

During Latos’ seven scoreless innings, the Braves recorded two hits and moved just one baserunner (Matt Diaz in the sixth) into scoring position.  During each of the next three innings that followed the 21-year-old hurler’s exit, they put a runner in scoring position with one out and still managed to register just one run.
 
While recording just one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position during those three innings, the Braves prolonged a troubling trend that has factored heavily in the that they’ve produced a pedestrian  7-6 record in their past 13 home games.   During this same span, which dates back to July 31, they’ve won seven of 10 road games.

Within their past 13 games at Turner Field, the Braves have compiled a .224 batting average and hit .223 (23-for-103) with runners in scoring position.  During their past 10 road games, they’ve batted .297 and been successful at a .397 (33-for-87) clip with runners in scoring position.

This glaring discrepancy comes within a small sample size.  But at the same time, it’s not as if the Braves possess the margin of error that will allow them to continue experience these kind of offensive struggles at Turner Field and still catch the Phillies or the Denver-based Rock-offs. 

With a second consecutive extra-inning, walk-off victory last night, the Rockies moved 5 games in front of both the Braves and Marlins, who are once again tied for third place in the National League Wild Card standings. 

Even with all of Colorado’s recent success,  it’s too early for the Braves to panic.  While they’re spending the next two nights facing a couple of Padres starters not named Latos, the Rockies will be facing the greater challenge presented by the Dodgers, who have the luxury of serving as the opposition when Josh Fogg makes his first big league start of the season tonight. 

If Fogg channels 2007 and once again becomes the “Dragon-Slayer”  that he was down the stretch that year, then Denver can prepare for another Rocktober and Atlanta can only hope the Dodgers continue to slide or that the Phillies send Brad Lidge to the mound to protect ninth-inning leads on a nightly basis.

Obviously before the Braves can make a serious push toward the postseason, they’ll need to get healthy.  With Ryan Church likely returning tonight and Nate McLouth confident that he’ll be ready when he’s eligible to come off the DL on Monday, they’re at least moving in the right direction.
 
While Martin Prado went hitless in six at-bats last night, it was at least encouraging to hear that he was able to complete a 12-inning game without dealing with any of the headaches or dizziness that had bothered him over the previous 10 days. 

The Braves also welcomed Garret Anderson back to the lineup on Tuesday night and watched him gut through a 1-for-5 performance.    Obviously outfield range isn’t one of Anderson’s assets.  But last night, it was apparent that he was still dealing with some of the lower back discomfort that has kept Church sidelined the past three games.
 
A healthy Anderson wasn’t going to get the game-winner that David Eckstein placed in the  left-center field gap.  But had Church or McLouth been in center, instead of Omar Infante, I think there’s a chance we might have at least seen a 13th inning.
 
Speaking of health, Chipper Jones certainly has said that he’s feeling some of the aches and pains that develop toward the end of a season for a 37-year-old man.  But it’s not as if his offensive struggles simply started over the course of the past nine games, during which he’s recorded one hit in 28 at-bats. 

This nine-game stretch doesn’t seem as concerning when he you account for the fact that he’s walked seven times in his past 18 plate appearances –  largely a product of the fact that the Marlins made it their mission not to let him hurt him this past weekend. 

Plus in the six games that preceded this nine-game slide, Chipper recorded 13 hits, including a pair of homers, in 23 at-bats. 

Concerns about Jones should focus on the fact that he’s hit just .241 with a .384 slugging percentage during his past 62 games.  Within this stretch, which dates back to June 10, he has seen his batting average drop from .335 to .281 and his slugging percentage drop from .565 to .462. 

Making this stretch even more maddening for Jones is the fact that he’s struggled from both sides of the plate and whether at home or on the road. 

Here are some of Jones’ splits during this 62-game stretch:
Vs. LHP   .235 (18-for-91) batting average, .330 on-base percentage, .395 slugging percentage
Vs. RHP  .244 (33-for-135) BA, .384 OBP, .378 SLG
Home:   .239 (28-for-117) BA, .343 OBP, .385 SLG
Road:    .242 (24-for-99) BA, .389 OBP, .384 SLG

Now that the Braves are returning to health, Jones might be given more opportunities to benefit from the rest provided by a day off.   But at the same time, this wouldn’t guarantee an immediate revival.  After straining his left oblique muscle on Aug. 7, he missed three games and didn’t return to the lineup until Aug. 11.
 
If Jones feels that he needs a day off, Braves manager Bobby Cox will likely be more apt to give him one during one of these final two games against the Padres. 

With the Braves heading to Philadelphia this weekend knowing just how significant it would be to exit with a three-game sweep, they’ll need Jones in the lineup  for each of those three games against the Phillies. 

 

Church joins the list of injured Braves

Ryan Church has spent the past week serving as a capable replacement for Nate McLouth in center field.  But  the versatile outfielder found himself as a member of the growing list of  injured Braves players, who were unavailable for Saturday night’s game again the Marlins. 

Church played through the lower back discomfort caused by an aggravated his sacroiliac  joint during Friday night’s series opener against the Marlins.  But when he returned to Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, he found himself battling spasms and a discomfort level that could keep him sidelined until at least Tuesday.

“It was coming on during one of the games in New York and I was just trying to grind through it,” Church said.  “But it’s starting to (spasm) now.”

An aggravated sacroiliac joint has also prevented Garret Anderson from manning the left field position during the first two games of this weekend’s series.  Anderson will begin swinging a bat again on Sunday and might alsobe available for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Padres.
 
“It’s one of those things that’s just a day-to-day type of thing,” said Church, who like Anderson has dealt with this ailment in the past. 

With Church, Anderson and McLouth unavailable, the Braves starting outfield on Saturday consisted of Reid Gorecki in center, Omar Infante in left and Matt Diaz in right.   Infante, who hadn’t previously started in the outfield this year, was replaced at second base with Kelly Johnson.
 
While Martin Prado returned to Turner Field on Saturday and said he was feeling better, it still appears that it will be at least Tuesday before he’s cleared to resume his duties as the starting second baseman.  Prado, who was diagnosed with exertional headaches, is scheduled to visit Dr. Richard Berstein on Monday.
 
The Braves were also without Brian McCann during Saturday night’s game.  Braves manager Bobby Cox gave McCann the opportunity to choose whether he wanted to have his day off on Saturday or Sunday. 

Considering that the Marlins are starting Ricky Nolasco on Sunday, McCann may have made the right choice.  The All-Star catcher has seven hits, including two doubles and two homers, in 22 career at-bats against Nolasco.   But he’s just 1-for-8 in his career against Chris Volstad, who started Saturday’s game for the Marlins. 

McLouth would like to start running to test his strained left hamstring.  But the Braves have decided it would be best for him to wait a few more days.  The 28-year-old center fielder is eligible to come off the disabled list on Aug. 31.  

Braves set for another pivotal weekend

During the second week of this season, while the Marlins were in the midst of winning 12 of their first 13 games, I approached Fredi Gonzalez with one of those casual, “How you feelin’?” and he quickly responded with  “How should I be feeling?”  

Gonzalez was feeling good about his club in April and as we approach the first week of September, he has every reason to feel even better about his club, which had registered double-digit hit totals in 15 straight games before recording just four hits during Thursday night’s loss to the Astros.

Having lost their final two games in Houston, the Marlins come to Atlanta this weekend deadlocked with the Braves in third place in the National League Wild Card standings.  These two teams also sported identical records when the Braves traveled to South Florida during the final week of July and lost two of three.

Simply looking at the fact that there’s an opportunity to push ahead of the Marlins provides reason to say  that this will be the fourth consecutive weekend that the Braves will be playing a “big, clutch, crucial pivotal (or whatever adjective you’d like to insert) series.  

But while spending the past three weekend’s testing themselves against the National League’s elite (Phillies and Dodgers), the Braves didn’t have the opportunity that is present this weekend.

If the Braves are able to complete a sweep while having the luxury of not having to face Josh Johnson this weekend, they’ll have a chance to gain ground on both the Giants and the Rockies, who will begin a four-game series against each other tonight at Coors Field.

Entering this weekend, the Braves and Marlins trail the front-running Rockies by four games and they are two games behind the Giants in the NL Wild Card chase.   

What we have here is the equivalent of a Saturday on the PGA Tour.   What occurs during this “moving weekend” could have a significant bearing on who emerges as this year’s WC winner.  

If the Braves or the Marlins were to complete a sweep this weekend in Atlanta, they’d severely damage the postseason hopes of the other team and gain the possibility to move within 1 games of the top spot –  only possible if the Giants were to take three of four from the Rockies.

Looking at a more likely development, if the Braves or Marlins were to take two of three this weekend and the two NL West teams were to split their four-game series, one of the two NL East teams would simply move to within 3 games of the top spot.

So while there’s a chance that significant ground won’t be gained, this still shapes up as intriguing weekend and one during which the Braves and Marlins will want to pull for the Giants to simply reduce the distance between their position and the top spot.

Church’s contributions:
  After last night’s win over the Mets, Braves manager Bobby Cox wondered what he would have done had he not had Ryan Church to play center field while Nate McLouth continues to deal with his strained left hamstring.

Gregor Blanco certainly wasn’t the answer and there’s no reason to even wonder whether Reid Gorecki or Brian Barton could provide what Church has from both an offensive and defensive perspective.

And there’s no doubt that Church has much greater range than Jeff Francoeur, who likely would have only been considered a late-inning emergency option in center field.

In the 28 games he’s played for the Braves, Church has hit .273 with a .373 on-base percentage, a .443 slugging percentage, two homers and 16 RBIs.

In the 36 games, he’s played for the Mets, Francoeur has hit .297 with a .329 on-base percentage, .471 slugging percentage, five homers and 22 RBIs.  

When you factor the value Church has provided with his defensive versatility, it’s once again evident that the Braves were very fortunate to be able to acquire him in exchange for Francoeur.  In fact, I’d have to say this one has worked out even better than Frank Wren could have imagined.

While thinking along these lines, there’s no doubt that Adam LaRoche has proven to be even better than Wren pictured when he acquired him before the Trade Deadline.   In his first 17 games with the Braves, LaRoche has hit .404 with six homers, a .507 on-base percentage, a .754 slugging percentage and 12 RBIs.

There’s no reason to once again compare these numbers to the ones that Casey Kotchman produced in Atlanta.  Instead it’s sufficient to explain LaRoche’s value by pointing out that he leads all NL first basemen in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage this month.  

Because he’d hit just .223 with a .390 slugging percentage against left-handers before he returned to Atlanta, LaRoche has found himself out of the lineup against some southpaws.  But with Martin Prado ailing, he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to prove that he can hit lefties. 

With the Braves, LaRoche has hit .360 (9-for-25) with a .520 slugging percentage against left-handers. 

The fact that the Marlins are scheduled to start three right-handers this weekend should be viewed as a positive for the Braves, who have hit .287 with a .449 slugging percentage against right-handers this month and .248 with a .408 slugging percentage against left-handers. 

During tonight’s series opener, Javier Vazquez will be pitted against Anibal Sanchez, who will be making his first start since being sidelined with a right shoulder sprain on June 2.   Sanchez is 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in the four starts he’s made against the Braves since the start of the 2008 season. 

Making matters worse for Sanchez is the fact that he’ll be facing a Braves team that now includes Church.  In 16 career at-bats against the Marlins right-hander, Church has hit .500 with three doubles and a homer.
 
Time to head to the park.  I’ll be sure to provide injury updates regarding Prado, McLouth and Garret Anderson, who left last night’s game with some lower-back discomfort.  

 
 

Gorecki enjoys an unforgettable Monday

What was supposed to be a day off after what had been a long grind in the Minors turned into a day that Reid Gorecki will never forget.  

After catching the ceremonial first pitch for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves on Monday afternoon, Gorecki found himself summoned into manager Dave Brundage’s office, where he was told that he had less than two hours to pack his bags and arrive at Turner Field to enjoy his first day as a Major Leaguer.    

“This is a dream come true right here,” said Gorecki,  a Long Island native who will have the opportunity to reunite with friends and family members while the Braves spend the next three days playing against the Mets at Citi Field.
 
When the Braves decided they needed to place Nate McLouth on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring, they immediately placed a call to Gwinnett.  Gorecki received word around 1:40 p.m. ET and then made the short trip down I-85 quick enough to arrive at Turner Field at approximately 3 p.m., one hour before Tommy Hanson threw his first pitch against the D-backs.  

“I was trying to stay as close to the speed limit as possible, but excitement took over a little bit,” said Gorecki, who had packed his suitcase on Monday morning with the thought that he’d be spending the next couple of days in Norfolk, Va.  

After arriving at The Ted and getting a quick introduction to the Major League setting, Gorecki was once again selected to catch the ceremonial first pitch.  

Two ceremonial first pitches within a span of approximately two hours at two different stadiums on the same day of a Major League debut .   That’s a first that the Elias Sports Bureau likely could never verify. 

Gorecki’s day became even more meaningful when the Braves inserted him into Thursday’s game in the top of the  eighth inning.  While he didn’t record a plate appearance, he did record an out with a ninth-inning catch.  

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Gorecki said.  ” I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.  It felt good just to get out there, even just to catch a pop-up.   That’s all I needed to get my feet wet…I hope.” 

Gorecki, who hit .286 with nine homers and 14 stolen bases in 106 games with Gwinnett this year, will serve as Ryan Church’s backup while McLouth is on the disabled list.   The 28-year-old right-handed hitter could find himself in the starting lineup if an opposing team is starting a tough left-handed pitcher. 

“I’m just going to wait for my opportunity,” Gorecki said.  “If something comes my way, I’m going to try to make the most of it.”  

Minor has signed

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has learned the Mike Minor has officially signed with the Braves and will now receive his  $2.42 million signing bonus. 

When the Braves make this official, we’ll learn more about the immediate plans for the 21-year-old left-hander, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in this year’s First-Year Player Draft

Today’s Odds and Ends
:

Tim Hudson was thinking about throwing a bullpen session today.  But pitching coach Roger McDowell said that the right-hander has decided to push this session back a few more days because he’s still feeling some discomfort around the left groin muscle that he strained last Friday. 

Ryan Church said that he didn’t have any problems with his right elbow while recording two hits during Wednesday’s win over the Padres.  Church had missed the previous six games while allowing his hyper-extended elbow to heal.  During that span, he received a total of three cortisone shots. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem anymore,” Church said.

Omar Infante went 1-for-3 during his first two Minor League rehab games with Class A Rome this week.  While that is encouraging, Braves manager Bobby Cox indicated that Infante needs at least one more week and possibly longer to get reacclimated to the speed of the game.  The veteran utility player has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand.

Buddy Carlyle will be activated from the disabled list on Friday and optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to get some more innings over the next week or so.  The Braves haven’t set a timetable for the right-handed reliever’s  return to the Atlanta bullpen.

Singles jackpot: When the Braves recorded 14 singles in Wednesday’s win, it marked the first time since Aug. 19, 1993 that they had at least 14 hits in a game without an extra-base hit.   The Braves lost that game against the Dodgers.

The most recent 14-hit performance without a extra-base hit in a win had occurred on June 23, 1986, a game also played against the Dodgers.

Tonight’s Lineup:
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Garret Anderson 7
Matt Diaz 9
Adam LaRoche 3
Derek Lowe 1 

Optimism abounds in the Braves clubhouse

After losing the first three games of a four-game series at Turner Field last week, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that the Braves were the best team that he’d seen throughout the year.   Given that he’s already seen the  Dodgers nine times, that was certainly an encouraging compliment.  

Then while talking on Monday afternoon about the fact that he doesn’t see a glaring need to make a move before Friday’s Trade Deadline, Braves general manager Frank Wren said that he felt his club was playing better than it has in the past three or four years.  

These comments certainly weren’t expected to be heard on July 5, when the Braves lost a second straight game against the Nationals.  But while winning 12 of the 18 games that have followed, they have made believers out of a number of people, including Chipper Jones.  

“It doesn’t matter which pitcher we use, we are capable of beating any team that is going to make the playoffs this year,” Jones said before the Braves opened a three-game series against the Marlins on Tuesday night at Land Shark Stadium.  

While Jones wasn’t specifically asked if this comment pertained to Wednesday’s pitching matchup which pits Josh Johnson against Kenshin Kawakami,  it’s easy to deduce that there’s a sense of confidence that wasn’t present in the Braves clubhouse during the first three months of this season or last year, when Kawakami would have spent the final two months as the number one or two starter.  

Like every other Major League club, the Braves certainly have flaws.  But with a starting rotation that has produced a Major League-best 3.62 ERA, they possess the one area of strength that the Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees  and some of the game’s other top powers are still looking to improve.  

While we don’t know exactly what to expect when Tim Hudson returns, the Braves feel like his return in August will give them the same kind of benefit they would receive from making a blockbuster trade before this week’s  deadline.

Making his third Minor League rehab start on Monday night, Hudson allowed four hits over four scoreless innings against Triple-A Lehigh Valley.   After the 41-pitch effort, the veteran right-hander once again said that he was encouraged about the progress of his arm strength.   
Hudson, who is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, is essentially in Spring Training mode and thus will need to make at least six starts before being deemed ready to be placed in the Atlanta rotation.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox confirmed that Hudson will need at least three more starts and possibly a fourth.   If he is deemed ready after three starts, the 34-year-old right-hander could be ready by Aug. 16, which is nine days earlier than he was projecting before he began this rehab process.  

“We’re just looking at his next start to see how he progresses and then we’ll see where he is after that,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said.  “Looking down the line, based on what we’ve been through with other guys, we’re not putting the cart before the horse.  We’ll just see how he is after his next start.”  

Once Hudson returns, the most likely move would be to place Kawakami in the bullpen.  But for now, the Braves are simply addressing this question with the familiar adage, “these things always work themselves out.”
 
Other injury related notes:

Omar Infante has still been feeling some expected discomfort while taking batting practice the past few days.  But Infante, who has been out since May with a broken left hand, has shown enough progress to allow the Braves to believe he could begin a Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.  

When Eric O’Flaherty issued three walks during Saturday’s loss to the Brewers, he was fighting some of the discomfort created by the unfamiliarity of pitching with a taped ankle.  The left-handed reliever turned his ankle when he stepped on a ball during batting practice on Friday night.   The ailment isn’t believed to be serious and he was available to pitch on Tuesday night.

Ryan Church hyper-extended his right elbow when he attempted to avoid a collision with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard earlier this month.  He aggravated the ailment earlier in Milwaukee earlier this weekend, when he swung and missed a pitch.
 
When Cox asked his right fielder if he was healthy enough to play on Tuesday night, Church responded, “Yeah, I just have to make sure that I don’t swing and miss.”   

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