Results tagged ‘ Tommy Hanson ’

Hanson needs something more than another thrillng finish

Welcome back to Wrigley Field, the second-best stop on the National League circuit.  San Diego still ranks as the best stop on the Senior Circuit.  But it’s hard to beat a trip to Chicago in the summer the months.   

There were a number of Braves fans present to see Rick Ankiel deliver his two-out game-winning triple on Carlos Marmol’s two-strike delivery yesterday.  With this clutch delivery, Ankiel became the 14th different Braves player to collect a game-winning RBI this year. 

As you already know, Bobby Cox said he told assistant trainer Jim Lovell before Friday’s game that he expected Ankiel was going to have a big series.  <p>

“He was due,” Cox said after Friday’s 5-3 win. 

Since being acquired from the Royals, Ankiel has proven to be a superb defender, who benefits from what Cox described as “the best outfield arm” that he’s seen during his years in professional baseball. 

At the plate, Ankiel recorded just five hits in his first 36 at-bats for the Braves.  But the former pitcher entered this afternoon’s game having hit .421 (8-for-19) over his past six games. 

Ankiel was due to deliver at the plate and also due to become the latest to deliver the decisive hit in one of the Major League-high 22 last at-bat wins recorded by the Braves this year.  This is the highest total posted by the Braves since they notched 31 such victories in 1999. 

Jason Heyward has accounted for five of the decisive hits in these last at-bat wins and Brooks Conrad has tallied three others.  Ten other Braves have accounted for the hits that have proven to be the difference in these thrilling victories.

“It’s like there’s something in the water around here,” Ankiel said.  “It’s fun.  It’s like no matter what, we’re never out of it.  It’s fun to be a part of it.”   <p>     

Tommy Hanson enters this afternoon’s start as the only pitcher since 1913, when earned runs were deemed an official stat in the National and American Leagues, to go winless over a span of five consecutive starts in which he’s allowed one earned run or fewer.  

The Braves have scored two runs or fewer when Hanson has still been the pitcher of record over the course of his past five starts.   He would have still won one of these games had Billy Wagner not erased a one-run, ninth-inning advantage against the Astros on Aug. 11. 

When Wagner was told that he has one fewer win (7) than Hanson (8), he said, “Yeah, that’s partly my fault.” 

Three of the four save opportunities that Wagner has blown since July 21 have cost Hanson wins.   Thus the 23-year-old hurler enters this start having gone 0-2 with a 1.33 ERA over his past six starts. 

TODAY’S LINEUP
Infante 4
Heyward 9
Prado 5
Lee 3
Diaz 7
Gonzalez 6
Ross 2
Ankiel 8
Hanson 1
   

Hanson searching for consistency

After watching Tommy Hanson struggle again during last night’s loss to the Brewers, Chipper Jones said, “For the first three or four innings, they were swinging like they knew what was coming.” 

There’s obviously a chance that Hanson has been tipping his pitches.  But his problems seem to primarily stem from the fact that he’s had trouble finding a consistent release point.  This seemingly led to him throwing more sliders than normal on Friday night.  

Instead of simply referring to Hanson’s inconsistencies as a sophomore slump,  it might be better to describe them as a product of one of the disadvantages created by a 6-foot-6 frame. 

While this might not have been a problem last year, Hanson has certainly had plenty of trouble keeping his lanky frame in sync with many of his deliveries this year. 

This is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  But by the time October rolls around, the Braves will need him to be ready to serve as one of the horses that could carry them through the postseason. 

Heyward rests: With Chris Narveson starting for the Brewers tonight, Braves manager Bobby Cox has decided to rest his left-handed sluggers —  Jason Heyward and Brian McCann.   Left-handed hitters have batted just .204 against Narveson this year.  Right-handed hitters are batting .335 against him. 

BRAVES LINEUP
Prado 4
Infante 9
Gonzalez 6
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
Cabrera 8
Ross 2
Conrad 5
Hudson 1  

Braves set to conclude a memorable May

Before looking at how the Braves have positioned themselves to move into first place within any of the next three days, I want to thank my father, uncle and each of you who have given us this opportunity to take time today to remember why we have been afforded the chance to enjoy the freedoms provided us here in the United States. 

Based on the way the Braves have played over the course of the past three weeks, there was growing reason to believe there could come a point where they would start seriously challenging Philadelphia’s National League East supremacy.  But two weeks ago, when they sat a season-high 6 1/2 games back, there certainly wasn’t much reason to think they could enter June as the division leaders. 

With the Phillies having scored a total of seven runs while losing six of their past eight games, their manager Charlie Manuel brings a staggered bunch into Turner Field this week.  Winners of 15 of their past 19 games, the Braves enter this afternoon’s series opener just a half-game back in the NL East race. 

Over the course of the previous four seasons, the Braves never even held a share of first place after May 15.   In fact during the 2006, 2008 and 2009 seasons, they never sat above second place this late in the season after April 12.

Now if Phil Niekro can get his arm loose and find some of his get his knuckleball to start dancing again this week, the Braves might really be able to prolong Philadelphia’s offensive woes this week.  

The Phillies have been shutout five times over the course of their past eight games and the only time they scored during any of the six losses that encompassed this span was when they tallied three ninth-inning runs after knuckleballer Tim Wakefield blanked them for eight innings on May 23.

Forty-eight hours after being handcuffed by Wakefield’s knuckler, the defending National League champs were blanked by the one delivered by R.A. Dickey.   This prompted Bobby Cox to playfully tell one of the members of his club’s media relations staff, “why don’t you throw Niekro in there as one of our probables for the Phillies series.”

“With that lineup, it’s just a matter of time before they bust loose,” Chipper Jones said. “Fortunately I like our pitching staff and I think our pitching staff can continue to hold them down.”    

With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe set to take the mound this week, the Braves seemingly match up much better than the Phillies, who will not be sending Roy Halladay or Jamie Moyer to the mound during this week’s series. 

Like knuckleballers have been Philadelphia’s kryptonite, Moyer arguably had the same effect on the Braves when they endured their nine-game losing streak at the end of April.   The 47-year-old left-hander has allowed at least four earned runs in six of his first 10 starts this year.  But in two outings against Atlanta he has completed 15 innings without surrendering an earned run. 

Halladay marked the beginning of that nine-game losing streak and the next night Moyer prolonged it by throwing six scoreless innings at Turner Field.  Seven days later, the Braves had endured a nine-day stretch during which they had hit .223 and totaled 17 runs.

As miserable as that span seemed to be, the potent Phillies offense has actually been even worse recently.  During their past eight games, they have batted just .186 and tallied seven runs.

Within these eight games, the Phillies have missed Jimmy Rollins’ presence at the top of their lineup and seen Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth combine to hit .130 (11-for-84) with two extra-base hits  (a double and a triple). 

In the 16 games played since Martin Prado began handling the leadoff role on virtually an everyday basis, the Braves have hit .289 and scored 5.6 runs per game.  Whey exited Philadelphia on May 9, they had gone through the season’s first 31 games hitting .232 and scoring 3.9 runs per game. 

It appears this is a much different Braves club than the one that lost four of its first six games to the Phillies this year.   But if they are going to maximize the dividends created by the turnaround they have enjoyed this month, they need to make a statement this week at Turner Field. 

Exiting this series in first place would simply be a by-product of the more important opportunity to gain further confidence by claiming a series victory against these Phillies, who are currently vulnerable and always dangerous. 

NOTES:  If the Braves are able to claim a victory with Hanson on the mound this afternoon, they will have gone 20-8 in May.  In other words no matter what happens in this series opener, they will not lose more games during this 31-day stretch than they did during that forgettable nine-game stretch in April…Jason Heyward enters this series opener with an NL-best 1.017 OPS.  He’s legitimized his candidacy for an All-Star bid and also given reason to be an early MVP favorite…Prado leads the NL with a .325 batting average. Back when they were playing in the Minors, Brian McCann predicted Prado would win a batting title.  We’ll see if his words prove prophetic this year.

Setting Francoeur up for the regular season

Am I right with my assumption that those of you who predicted that Jeff Francoeur would homer and draw a pair of walks in his first three plate appearances today are also the same people who predicted that Northern Iowa would beat Kansas? 

Francoeur soured Tommy Hanson’s five-inning performance on Tuesday afternoon with a solo homer that easily cleared the center field wall in the fourth inning. 

“We were just setting him up for the regular season,” joked Braves catcher Brian McCann.  

Francoeur’s second homer of the year accounted for one of the four hits surrendered by Hanson, who allowed two earned runs, recorded five strikeouts and issued three walks during this 91-pitch effort.  

Slated to go six innings, Hanson was lifted after five innings because of his pitch count. 

“My arm feels good and I didn’t feel tired one bit,” Hanson said. “It’s good to throw that many pitches and still feel good.  I think it’s another start and another step in the right direction getting ready for the season.” 

Hanson will make one more start in Florida and then likely throw just three or four innings while making his final appearance of the exhibition season against the White Sox at Turner Field on April 2.

Heyward update: After reaching base safely during each of his first 12 games of the year, Jason Heyward hasn’t reached first base in either of his past two games.  He is hitless in his past seven at-bats and he has struck out in three of his past five plate appearances. 

This mini-slump shouldn’t cause any reason for concern.  But it will be more important to monitor what Heyward does during these final two weeks of the exhibition season, when he finds himself facing more Major League-caliber pitchers than he did during the previous couple of weeks. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren said that the club hasn’t made a firm decision regarding whether Heyward will begin the season in Atlanta. 

But whenever asked about the remaining position battles, the club’s officials often just mention the battle being waged between Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad.

“There’s still 13 days left before Opening Day,” Wren said regarding Heyward.  “So we just want to continue to watch and monitor and make sure that we’re doing what’s best for him and for us.”   

Tim Hudson will be on the mound when the Braves return to Disney tomorrow afternoon to face J.A. Happ and the Phillies.  This game, which will be televised by ESPN, will also include an appearance by Jo-Jo Reyes, who is fighting for a spot in the Braves bullpen. 

  

Mother Nature provides Jurrjens a chance to pitch

(UPDATED WITH HANSON INFO)

Mother Nature cooperated long enough for Jair Jurrjens to complete his two scheduled innings in scoreless fashion.  But a second-inning rain delay forced Tommy Hanson to simulate his four-inning appearance in the covered batting cages here at Disney.

This morning it didn’t look like the Braves would have a chance to send Jurrjens to the mound to make his Grapefruit League debut against the Pirates.  But the rain that has pelted this area over the past two days subsided just long enough for the 24-year-old right-hander to complete his work in impressive fashion.

Having already gotten himself warm by the time play was halted with one out in the bottom of the second inning, Hanson went sent to the batting cages to complete this work that keeps him on his regular schedule.   He’ll attempt to complete at least four innings again on Wednesday, when he returns to the mound to face the Marlins in Jupiter.

Jurrjens opened his outing by getting Andrew McCutchen to look at three consecutive strikes and exited it having allowed just one hit  — Ryan Doumit’s second-inning leadoff single. 

The game was halted during the bottom half of the second inning after Yunel Escobar drilled that struck Ross Ohlendorf on the back his right leg, just above the knee.

During the bottom of the first, Martin Prado provided a leadoff single and advanced to third base when Nate McLouth’s well-placed bunt single drew a wayward throw from Ohlendorf.  But  Prado got caught in a rundown after Chipper Jones directed a grounder to first base and McLouth got picked off attempting to steal third base.    

BRAVES LINEUP
Martin Prado 4
Nate McLouth 8
Chipper Jones 5
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Esbobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Matt Diaz 7
Jair Jurrjens 1

Notes:  Bobby Cox said that Scott Proctor will pitch in his first game around March 19.  The right-handed reliever has impressed with the arm strength he has shown while attempting to return from Tommy John surgery…Tom Glavine will arrive in camp early next week and handle the broadcasting duties for Tuesday’s game against the Marlins.

Watching it rain

As rain continues to pelt the tarp here at Disney, it appears Jair Jurrjens might have to wait until Tuesday to finally pitch against batters who are not wearing a Braves uniform.

But the Pirates made their scheduled departure from Bradenton at 10 a.m. and for now they are still scheduled to play the Braves here at Disney at some point today.  According to weather.com, it appears the rain could subside between 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jurrjens’ scheduled debut was rained out last night and if Mother Nature continues to saturate the Disney area this afternoon, he will get his work in by simulating two innings in the indoor batting cages.  The Braves will want him to be ready to at least attempt to complete three innings during his scheduled start on Tuesday.

To stay on his schedule, Tommy Hanson, who was scheduled to work four today, would also simulate his workload in the batting cages.

If today’s game is played, the Braves will have Martin Prado bat leadoff and move Nate McLouth down to the two hole.  This is just an an example of one of the many ways Bobby Cox could  toy with his lineup mix during the exhibition season.

As mentioned before, there’s not much reason to be concerned about the fact that McLouth has recorded just one hit in his first 16 at-bats.  Really that simply amounts to a couple of bad games.  But the fact that he has struck out six times already certainly intensifies the reason to wonder if the Braves would be better off with somebody out in the leadoff spot.

Derek Lowe seems pretty confident that he will be able to make his start against the Nationals on Monday night.  When he took his sock off this morning, it was apparent that the blister on his right big toe wasn’t nearly as ugly as it was when he was forced to leave Wednesday’s game after just one inning. 

    

 

Braves renew contracts of Escobar and Hanson

After proving unsuccessful in their attempts to reach agreements regarding salary figures, the Braves were forced to renew the contracts of Yunel Escobar and Tommy Hanson. 
 
The Braves made this announcement on Wednesday afternoon while revealing that they had come to an agreement with each of their other unsigned players who have not yet recorded enough service time to have their salaries determined through the arbitration process.   

Financial details of the salaries assigned to Hanson and Escobar were not made available.   Their salaries for the 2010 season will be based on the scale the Braves utilize for each of their unsigned players, who have recorded anywhere from 0-3 years of service time at the Major League level.

“It’s just part of the game and something that we won’t even think about tomorrow,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “It’s a procedural move that we make today to get everyone officially under contract and then we move forward.”  

Escobar, who has hit .301 and compiled an .801 OPS while serving as the Braves shortstop during most of the past three seasons,  said that he was not going to let this bother him.   He made $425,000 last year and will seemingly see a slightly higher figure this year.

“I’m not worried about my contract,” Escobar said with Martin Prado serving as his interpreter.  “I’m just worried about playing the game and helping the team make the playoffs.”  

Hanson, who was unavailable for comment, made the prorated portion of Major League Baseball’s minimum salary of $400,000.  After making his Major League debut on June 7, the 23-year-old right-hander went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA.   His third-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting factored into the salary the Braves offered for this upcoming season.     

“It’s one of those situations where you wish you could come to an agreement, but at the same time, we like every other club have a salary scale for our 0-3 players and we feel like we reward them more than most, maybe not as much as some for their service and their performance,”  Wren said.  “We also have additional bonuses we pay for guys getting awards, awards votes and all of those kinds of things.”  

Lowe named Opening Day starter

With a vote of confidence, Braves manager Bobby Cox has announced that Derek Lowe will be his Opening Day starter for the second straight season.

Lowe will take the mound when the Braves open the 2010 season against the Cubs on April 5 at Turner Field.   Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are slated to pitch the other two games against the Cubs that week and Tim Hudson is scheduled to make his season debut on April 9 in San Francisco. 

Lowe’s eight scoreless innings against the Phillies on Opening Day last year served as one of the highlights of a season that soured for him down the stretch.  But he was provided this honor once again from Cox, who views the veteran sinkerballer as a “big-game” pitcher.

As long as his shoulder cooperates, Jurrjens will start the April 7 game against the Cubs.  Hanson would start the series finale the next day.  This arrangement provides Hudson a chance to pitch with at least one extra day of rest before each of his first three starts in April.

Hudson made seven starts after returning from Tommy John surgery last year and all indications are that he is healthy.  But the club wants to take it easy on him early and possibly be in position to monitor the innings completed by Jurrjens and Hanson during the season’s second half.
 

“We’re trying to keep (Hudson) strong and ready for the stretch
run, so that we can run him out there as often as we can and give Hanson and
Jurrjens a chance to be the guys that get the extra days in the second half,” Cox said.

Lowe would likely return to the mound for the April10 game in San Francisco.  Kenshin Kawakami would make his regular season debut the following day during the series finale against the Giants.

LATE ADDITION: 

Grapefruit League rotation:

Tues @ Mets  —   Hanson

Wed vs. Mets  —  Hudson  (Moylan and O’Flaherty also scheduled to pitch)

Thurs. vs. Pirates —  Kawakami

Fri. vs. Nats  —  Lowe (Saito and Wagner also scheduled to pitch)

Sat. @Astros — Medlen

Jurrjens will begin throwing off the mound again on Monday and after at least three side sessions, he could slot into the spot currently filled by Medlen.  

Wrapping up a busy day from Disney

Today was further proof that things can get a little busy when Hank Aaron arrives in camp. The Hammer expressed his appreciation for Bobby Cox, threw some love in the direction of Tommy Hanson and said that he’s reserving judgment on Jason Heyward until he sees how the 20-year-old outfielder performs at the Major League level. 

Oh yeah, he also said that he was happy with Mark McGwire’s steroid confession, but wished the admission had been made sooner. 

Before going over some of the highlights of Hank’s address, I’ll let you know that the Braves still haven’t provided confirmation that they have signed highly-regarded Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo.

But it still appears that this deal could be confirmed in the very near future with the completion of a physical. 
 
Braves international director of scouting Johnny Almarez was in camp today and there is reason to believe that his arrival had something to do with Salcedo, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound shortstop who is regarded among the best international prospects. 

Early indications are that the Braves will be providing Salcedo with a signing bonus that is worth slightly north of $1.5 million, but less than $2 million. 

OK now to recap some of the things Aaron had to say about the Braves:

(Thoughts about Cox’s retirement at the end of this season)

“It’s going to be sad when he leaves. He’s not only been great for Atlanta, but also the game of baseball.  The game of baseball is going to miss him.”

(Thoughts about Tommy Hanson)

“This kid has the world in front of him, really. If everything stays on par and he pitches the way I think he can pitch, I think the Braves have a superstar.”

(on Heyward, who he will see for the first time during Tuesday’s first full-squad workout)

“I think he’s going to do well, but I don’t get excited until after I see them perform in the Major Leagues. Then I will try to put an opinion on what I think they can do.” 

(when asked if he could take Billy Wagner deep)

“I think my deep days are over with.   The only thing I can hit is a golf ball —  all over the place.”

Tuesday’s workout: Balls will be flying tomorrow when the position players start taking their first rounds of batting practice on the field. It will be nice to see the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Heyward take his swings. 

But if you’re looking for raw power and you’re coming to camp tomorrow make sure you watch Cody Johnson take his BP cuts. 

It’s too early to determine whether Johnson’s mighty swing will ever provide the consistency needed to make it to the Majors.  But based on what I saw during Brian McCann’s charity softball tournament in November, it’s fun to watch the powerful kid launch balls into orbit.

Also check back in tomorrow morning to get an update on Jair Jurrjens, who is planning to begin his throwing program at some point this week. 

Wren heading to Indy with a shorter shopping list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Wren doesn’t believe this is necessarily true.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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