Results tagged ‘ Tim Hudson ’

Hudson talking and Heyward is limping

As the Phillies prepare to play in something called the World Series, the Braves are taking advantage of the opportunity to get a leg up on their division rivals by planning for the 2010 season. 

Considering that Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the most recent World Series game that included the Braves, there’s obviously reason to write such ridiculous openings in attempt to create some sense of October optimism in Atlanta.  

OK. Before I ramble on too long and kill the journalistic lessons that I once learned, I’ll let you know about some recent news involving Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren and Paul Cohen have started negotiating the contract extension that could keep Hudson in Atlanta.  The two parties spoke on Friday and they’re expected to resume talking on Monday. 

Like Jimmy Buffett, come Monday, Heyward is hoping that he will be alright.   The highly-regarded outfielder has been dealing with a strained gluteus muscle that has prevented him from playing in the Arizona Fall League since Oct. 17.

The Braves remain hopeful that Heyward is simply dealing with a minor injury that will allow him to resume playing with the Peoria Saguaros within the next couple of days.

There doesn’t seem to be much reason to believe that Heyward is dealing with a significant injury.  But the lost playing time certainly lessens the development that would benefit him if the Braves do decide to have him start the 2010 season as their starting right fielder.

I’ve written that it doesn’t seem logical to believe that Heyward could start next year in the Majors.  But as time passes, there’s growing reason to believe that the Braves are certainly open to this possibility.

A more concerning development from the AFL stems from the early struggles encountered by Freddie Freeman.   Before recording a pair of hits in five at-bats (through eight innings) on Friday, the 20-year-old first baseman had gone 1-for-19 with nine strikeouts.

Now back to Hudson.  My guess is that the two parties could reach an agreement within the next week.  My guess is that the 34-year-old right-hander will agree to a three-year extension worth approximately $27 million and also gain an option for the 2013 season.      

If the deal with Hudson is secured, we’ll likely start hearing more about the possibility of moving either Derek Lowe or Kenshin Kawakami. 

There are two ways to look at Lowe’s situation.  Given that he’s owed $45 million over the next three years, there aren’t going to be a lot of clubs lining up to add him to their rotation.  Still, there seems to be some hope that the Red Sox, Yankees or Mets might be willing to deal for him as long as the Braves eat a portion of his salary. 

On the flip side, can the Braves responsibly deal Lowe with the the knowledge that they would gain a limited return in talent and still have to incur some of his cost? 

Lowe will be the first to tell you that he was disappointed with the fact that he went 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA this past season.   What he won’t discuss are the intangibles that he brought to a club that needed a proven veteran to serve as the leader of its reconstructed rotation.

As September was nearing its end, an American League scout said that he didn’t believe that Javier Vazquez would have been as successful had he started this past season bearing the responsibility of being the staff’s ace?   Another National League scout recently voice this same opinion.

My rebuttal to this argument would be that Vazquez could return next year and once again not have to feel like he had to carry the load for the rotation.  Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are going to be front-line starters for many years to come and could easily prove to be an “ace” as early as the 2010 season.

Plus, I think that Vazquez proved that he does have the makeup to be a leader.  He was as responsible as anybody for the enhanced maturity that Yunel Escobar showed during the final months of this past season.   

Repeating is an accomplishment:  While dodging champagne and  getting interviews after the National League Championship Series concluded Wednesday, I heard many of the Phillies talk about how hard it had been to go through this season as defending world champions.

This got me to thinking whether Braves fans truly appreciate what their clubs accomplished during the 1990s. 

This year’s Phillies stand as the first NL club since the 1996 Braves to return to the World Series.   They now have the chance to be the first NL club since the 1976 Reds to repeat as world champions.  

The Dodgers advanced to the World Series in 1977 and ’78.  But since then, the Phillies and Braves (1991 and ’92; 1995 and ’96) stand as the only NL organizations who have competed in the World Series in consecutive seasons. 

Thank You:   When we returned to the press box earlier this week, it was learned that this forum had been the most-visited among the blogs authored by MLB.com writers throughout the regular season.  

This prompted a witty response from Phillies beat writer, Todd Zolecki, whose Zo Zone finished second. To which I responded, “Don’t you think you guys in Philadelphia have won enough recently?”

But seriously, thanks for the regular contributions that you all have made throughout the year and let’s keep this site busy throughout the offseason. 

Hudson still hopeful to remain in Atlanta

Count Tim Hudson among those who were baffled by some recent reports that suggested that he’s going to test the free-agent market if the Braves do not wow him with the financial aspect of a contract extension. 

When I boarded my flight from Denver to Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, I saw that Ken Rosenthal’s report on Hudson began with this sentence: Barring a last-minute, knockout offer from the Braves, right-hander Tim
Hudson plans to become a free agent, according to major-league sources.

My immediate reaction was that this is just one of the many agent-influenced articles that we’re going to see over the next couple of weeks and months. 

When I arrived at LAX and saw a text from Hudson that read, “give me a shout when U get a minute”, I knew that he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings that might be surfacing regarding his future.

When Hudson and I talked this morning, he basically reiterated that his primary desire is to work out a contract extension that will allow him to remain with the Braves.  In addition, he once again talked about the willingness to aceept a “hometown discount” as long as his definition is at least close to the one the Braves might possess.

“First and foremost, Atlanta is a place where I’m happy and I believe we have a chance to have a really good team there for a while,” Hudson said.  “I haven’t talked to (Braves general manager Frank Wren) yet.  But when that time comes, hopefully we can get something done.”  

Hudson has a $12 million option for the 2010 season that includes a $1 million buyout.  Based on his conversations with Wren, he hasn’t been given reason to even think about how this option might come into play.
 
“We haven’t even talked about what would happen if they want to pick up the option,”  Hudson said.  “Truthfully I’ve never even thought that the option was an option.  I’d rather have an extension than an option.  Now if their idea of a hometown discount is a lot different than my idea of a hometown discount, then yeah, I’d have to see what’s out there for me from the free agent perspective.”

Hudson hasn’t provided a clear picture of what he might be seeking from a financial standpoint.  But it’s safe to assume that the hometown discount that he’d be willing to accept wouldn’t be anything like a two-year, $10 million offer. 

My guess is that the Braves would likely have to offer a three-year contract extension worth $26-30 million to satisfy Hudson.  Of course, to find the financial flexibility to get this done, they may first have to find somebody willing to trade for  Derek Lowe and the $45 million that he’s owed over the next three years.

Hudson understands that he may be among the many Major Leaguers who file for free agency once the World Series concludes.  But he’s hoping this is just a procedural move that would protect him in the event that a contract extension is not agreed upon.

“If we can’t get a deal done, I think potentially it could be a good offseason for me from the free-agent side,” Hudson said. “But I’m hoping it doesn’t it come to that.”   

Clark’s replacement:  With Roy Clark leaving to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals, the Braves are now mulling their options to fill his role as their scouting director.

If Tony DeMacio is willing to accept the position, they won’t have to look too far to find a prime candidate.  DeMacio has served as a special assistant to the GM for the Braves since December 2006 and is recognized as one of the game’s top scouts.

More importantly, he’s a well-organized and highly-respected individual in the scouting field.

DeMacio, whose first signee was a young kid out of the Boston-area named Tom Glavine, was honored at MLB’s  2008 Winter Meetings as the Scout of the Year, an honor given to those who have spent at least 25 years in the scouting profession.

         

 

Did Barmes make the catch?

At the conclusion of Monday night’s win over the Marlins at Turner Field, the big video board in center field ran a clip that concluded with Chipper Jones saying, “It’s time to believe.”
 
There’s no doubt that it’s time to believe that the Braves could erase the two-game deficit they currently possess against the Rockies and find their way into postseason.  

But I’m not sure that Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes truly believes that he made that miraculous catch that ended Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Cardinals. 

With runners at the corners and one out, Barmes raced into shallow right field and made what appeared to be a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch while tumbling and turning into the Coors Field grass.  He then quickly turned and threw to first base to complete a game-ending double play.

 “By the time I looked back up, the ball was on top of me,” Barmes told MLB.com.  “That was where it kind of got all off-balance, with the roll…As I was going down, it hit my glove then went across my body or something and … I don’t even know, but I came up with it in my bare hand.”

But did he come up with the ball in his hand before it hit the ground? 

Before screaming about the need for Major League Baseball to broaden its instant replay system, I’ve got to tell you that I’ve looked at this video clip countless times this morning and I still haven’t seen the ball hit the ground.

But in the fan photo section that The Denver Post runs, Craig Welling has posted at least one shot that appears to show the ball on the ground.  Click here to see all of the pictures that Welling has taken of this moment and posted on his photoblog.

Here is the most revealing shot he took. This is the only view that I’ve found that shows that the ball seemingly did hit the grass.

Barmes catch.jpg   

Former MLB.com colleague Troy Renck addressed this question for The Denver Post and received an interesting answer from the always light-hearted and media-friendly Ryan Spilborghs, who was racing in from right field as Barmes performed his acrobatics.
 
“Only me and Barmes know the truth,” Spilborghs told Renck. “It’s the same as (Matt) Holliday touching home plate. It’s better that it’s (mysterious).”

When the Rockies won their one-game playoff against the Padres in 2007, they did so with Matt Holliday seemingly sliding across the plate with the winning run.  But replays never confirmed that he actually touched the plate.  

If the Rockies hold off the Braves and gain the National League Wild Card entry, this Barmes play will be one that’s celebrated in Denver and heavily debated in Atlanta.

But just like the Braves can’t lament the fact that they lost a four-run, seventh-inning lead during their July 12 loss at Coors Field, they can’t lose focus now by worrying about whether or not Barmes truly made this catch.

With the Marlins sending Josh Johnson to the mound to oppose Tim Hudson tonight, the Braves are preparing to face what appears to be the greatest challenge that they’ll encounter over the course of the final six games.

Johnson went 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in his first eight career appearances against the Braves.  But the big right-hander has gone 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in his past three outings against them.

One thing going for the Braves is the fact that Johnson may still be feeling the effects of the flu symptoms that caused him to miss Sunday’s scheduled start.  He’s completed just five innings in three of his four starts this month and has thrown more than 92 pitches in just two of his past seven outings. 

The Braves also can only hope that Jason Marquis continues his recent struggles when he takes the mound for the Rockies in their series opener against the Brewers tonight.  

The Rockies have won just one of Marquis’ past six starts and during this span, the former Braves hurler has gone 1-4 with a 6.49 ERA.  He has been charged with five earned runs in four of this six outings.

Small crowd:
  Given the excitement the Braves have created while winning 15 of their past 17 games, it was disappointing to see the sparse, yet very enthusiastic crowd that attended Monday night’s game. 

But this just doesn’t seem to be the time to once again bash the fans of Atlanta.  Obviously this city was hit hard last week by floods and there are many individuals who are still attempting to recover. 

The Braves have donated $25,000 to local aid organizations and before each remaining game this week they will collect flood relief donations in the Monument Grove area.  They are asking fans to contribute monetary donations, gift cards, hygiene items, school supplies, non-perishable food items and baby items.

In exchange for monetary donations or books to help assist Clarksdale Elementary to rebuild its library that was destroyed last week, Hudson will sign autographs at Turner Field  from 5:45-6:45 p.m. ET on Friday.  

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.   

Hudson set to go on Thursday

Tim Hudson tested his groin with a side session and some defensive drills on Monday night and came away confident that he’ll be able to make his scheduled rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night.

“It felt pretty good,” Hudson said. “I’m confident I can get my five innings in on Thursday with no problem.”  <p> 

Hudson is scheduled to pitch five innings during his next two rehab starts and then will likely make two more six-inning appearances before returning to the Majors after the rosters are expanded in September.

While there’s a chance the Braves would choose to use Hudson as a reliever, they’ll continue to stretch him out with the mindset that he’ll fit somewhere in a rotation that currently is filled with five healthy and effective pitchers.

Monday marked the first time that Hudson had thrown off a mound since straining his groin before his scheduled rehab start on July 31. 

“Arm-wise and throwing- wise I think I’m pretty close,” Hudson said. “I just need to get used to getting used to pitching at game speed again.”  <p>

Going to continue doubting Kawakami

When I got downstairs after last night’s game, one of the female Japanese reporters looked at me with one of those sarcastic smiles.  Confident that I didn’t have a “kick me” poster sitting on my back, I simply responded with a “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Seeing no reason to end a good thing, I don’t see any reason for me to allow one of the guttiest and impressive pitching performances provided by a Braves pitcher this year to stop me from casting doubt in Kenshin Kawakami’s direction. 

I mean it’s not like that Dodgers lineup that he dominated for seven innings on Saturday night even leads the Los Angeles area in batting average.  Last time I checked they rank second in the Majors in that category behind the mighty Angels. 

Nor is it like he’s even been able to match the 3.38 ERA that the heralded Jair Jurrjens has posted since the start of May.  But I guess I will at least concede that the 3.46 ERA that Kawakami has posted during this span is at least better than the 4.42 ERA that Derek Lowe has compiled.

And seriously isn’t it still easier to put more faith in the surgically-repaired right elbow of Tim Hudson than it is that fatigued one that allowed Kawakami to end his 125-pitch effort with consecutive strikeouts with the bases loaded last night? 

While I’ll attempt to continue to help Kawakami by continuing to doubt him, I’m going to have to end this sarcastic rant to provide you some news. 

Hudson will throw a bullpen session on Monday and if all goes well, he’ll resume his Minor League rehab assignment by starting for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night.

As things currently stand, I would have to think Hudson likely won’t return to the Major League roster until it expands in September.  At that time, the Braves will have to decide whether there’s a logical place for him in there rotation. 

Before Saturday night, the logical assumption was that Hudson would simply replace Kawakami.  But as long as the Japanese hurler is able to overcome his troublesome right shoulder every five days, can you really take him out of the rotation and replace him with somebody who hasn’t faced Major Leaguers for more than a year.

The Braves will say, “these things always work themselves out” and they often do. But for now, you have to at least wonder if the best course of action is to get Hudson stretched out to serve as a starter and then allow him to fortify the bullpen if there isn’t a logical spot to place him in the rotation. 

McLouth sits during finale:  While chasing down a seemingly uncatchable ball in right-centerfield during Saturday’s 10th inning, Nate McLouth tweaked his right hamstring.  Thus Ryan Church made his second straight start in center field during Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium.

McLouth and Chipper Jones (strained left oblique) will both be evaluated when the Braves resume play at Turner Field on Tuesday. 

Infante could return Tuesday:  Braves manager Bobby Cox indicated that Omar Infante could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday.  Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand, has spent the past week playing for Class A Rome.

Happy Birthday Heyward
: Early indications show that Jason Heyward isn’t nearly as good as he was when he was a teenager.   As I write this sentence, he’s gone hitless in his first four at-bats for Double-A Mississippi.  This obviously isn’t the way the top prospect envisioned celebrating his 20th birthday.

In the 30 games he’d played for Mississippi entering Sunday, Heyward had hit .422 with five homers, a .504 on-base percentage and a .725 slugging percentage.

When told of these numbers, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said, “Is that all?”

Braves general manager Frank Wren spent the past few days watching Heyward and likely gaining a better sense about when it might be best to promote highly-regarded prospect to Gwinnett.  

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 

Traveling to the park in style

buck commander.jpg

If you saw the Buck Commander bus heading toward Turner Field early Saturday afternoon,  there’s a chance you saw all of the bearded men pictured on the side and simply assumed that you’d just seen ZZ Top’s new tour bus.  
 
But I’m going to have to guess that there weren’t too many of you, who realized that Chipper Jones was on board and simply allowing his good friend and business partner Willie Robertson to give him a lift to the park
.  
Robertson, who was in Atlanta this weekend for a hunting-related convention, is the founder and president of the Buck Commander company that is financially supported by a handful of Major Leaguers, including Jones and Adam LaRoche.
 
After making his debut with the Braves during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Dodgers, LaRoche jokingly said that he was going to spend the next two months living in the bus and keep it parked in Jones’ driveway.
 
When told of LaRoche’s plan, Jones provided his best Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson impersonation by simply raising his eyebrow.
 
Still LaRoche was given the opportunity to drive the bus back to Jones’ residence on Saturday night and in the process, he thinks there’s a chance that he might have caused Jones’ wife, Sharon, some aggravation.
 
“I think I ran over some of Sharon’s plants or flowers  pulling it in there,” LaRoche said.

Escobar update:  While taking batting practice in the indoor cage this afternoon, Yunel Escobar had some trouble getting his bat around on the inside fastball.  The swelling around his right wrist has subsided.  But he likely won’t know if he’ll be able to play during Monday’s series opener in San Diego, until he has the opportunity to take some swings and make some throws during the afternoon hours.  <p>
 
Hudson update:  Because he believes there’s a chance he could resume his Minor League rehab assignment next weekend, Tim Hudson won’t accompany the Braves on their trip to Southern California.  Instead, he’ll stay in Atlanta and continue to rehab the mild left groin strain that he suffered before Friday’s schedule rehab start.  
Hudson remains hopeful that this ailment won’t prevent him from rejoining the Atlanta rotation some time this month.

Norton’s rainbow:  While Greg Norton was certainly due to record pinch hits on both Friday and Saturday, there wouldn’t have been much reason to believe this would be the time he’d break out of this slump if you would have seen the multi-colored bruise he gained on his calf courtesy of a foul tip on Thursday night.
 
Initially Norton didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t really realize any swelling until the Braves charter flight left Ft. Lauderdale and was en route to Atlanta.   The Braves medical staff drained some of the blood out of his calf on Saturday and the veteran pinch hitter has spent the past couple days limping around with his leg heavily wrapped.
 
The bruise extends from ankle to knee and I’d detail some of the colors present if I’d actually seen them before.   Believe me when I say it’s harder to look at Norton’s calf than it was to watch Jeff Bennett attempt to keep inherited runners from scoring.
 
Minor League Rehab stints:
  Both Omar Infante and Buddy Carlyle will play for Class A Rome on Tuesday night.  Carlyle, who believes he could return to the Atlanta bullpen soon, will pitch the first two innings.  This will mark the beginning of a Minor League rehab assignment for Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand.  
 
 

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.”   

Braves not looking to move Escobar

Jeff Francoeur is out of the lineup for a third straight game.  Tim Hudson felt fine while throwing an 18-pitch live batting practice session.  And, Martin Prado was named the National League’s Player of the Week.  

But before digging into today’s events, it seems more important to at least quiet the Yunel Escobar rumors that are circulating. 

Look I understand the entertainment value of the rumor market that will swirl over the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline.  But at the same time, I think it’s time to take Yunel Escobar’s name out of the mix. 

Teams have certainly called to express interest in Escobar and with his stubborn personality the talented shortstop has given the Braves at least reason to ponder the possibility of moving him.

But from what I’ve gathered, the Braves have zero desire to move Escobar.  He’s simply not the kind of player that you move because you’ve found another warm body to fill the shortstop position.  

While his mental mistakes have sometimes been maddening, Escobar is a top-flight defensive shortstop, whose offensive production will grow as he continues to increase his power.   He ranks second in the National League with a .405 batting average with runners in scoring position and his team-leading 42 RBIs have been gathered at a cost of $425,000.  

Still one year away from becoming arbitration eligible, Escobar will once again prove cheap again next year, when he’ll once again be with the Braves.

Huddy update: The five-minute, 18-pitch live batting practice session that Hudson threw today was essentially what he would have completed had this been the first day of Spring Training.  He will throw another short session again on Tuesday and then steadily work to increase his arm strength in preparation for his for Minor League rehab start with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach on July 19. 

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to pitching in a game, seeing hitters out there and having that added adrenaline rush,” said Hudson, who likely won’t be able to rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25. 

Francoeur sits again:  Not to long ago, it was noteworthy whenever Jeff Francoeur was out of the lineup.  Thus, it was certainly newsworthy to see Cox leave Francoeur out of his lineup for a third straight game on Monday.

It’s near impossible to keep Matt Diaz’s bat out of the lineup right now and with the Cubs throwing right-hander Randy Wells tonight, Cox wanted to keep Garret Anderson’s bat in the mix.

When asked if he’d like to be traded Francoeur said, “It’s not something that I want.  I just want to play. You can take that however you want to.”

Prado POW:  When asked what he thought about being named the NL’s Player of the Week, Martin Prado talked about how surprised he was to win an honor that could have gone to the likes of Albert Pujols.

But while hitting .577 (15-for-26) with a .621 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage last week Prado deservedly earned this award over the likes of Pujols, who hit .429 (9-for-21) with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage.

 

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