Results tagged ‘ Yunel Escobar ’

Johnson out of the lineup for a third straight game

With the Astros coming to town to start a three-game series tonight, I can’t help but think about Kyle Farnsworth, Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Joey Devine and Chris Burke.  I guess you could say spending 18 innings developing a story around those guys makes them unforgettable. 

It’s been just four years since they served as the key figures in the 18-inning National League Division Series-clinching victory the Astros claimed at Minute Maid Park.  But Berkman is the only member of that quintet who will be present this weekend at Turner Field.

Or at least somebody looking like the Big Puma will be in town.  The veteran first baseman is hitting .162 with five homers and a .718 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).  During his past 42 at-bats, he’s recorded five hits, including three homers. 

Who does he think he is, Kelly Johnson?

Speaking of Johnson, who has four hits in his past 39 at-bats, he is out of tonight’s lineup again.  Friday night’s game marks the third straight that Omar Infante has started at second base and served as the leaoff hitter. 

As of Wednesday, Johnson wasn’t suffering from any physical ailments.  Cox is either sending him a message or growing comfortable with seeing Infante on an everyday basis. 

Cox’s alternative options in the leadoff spot are limited.  He could go with Yunel Escobar, who has hit .317 with a .370 on-base percentage in 346 career plate appearances in the first spot of the order. 

Whenever asked about the leadoff hitter, Cox has said it doesn’t matter who you put there unless you have a Rickey Henderson or a Pete Rose.  In addition, he also mentions that you really only hit leadoff once per game.

Really a leadoff hitter can do so much more for you than simply attempt to jump start the lineup during the first inning.  A good one could consistently turn two quick outs at the bottom of the order into a potential rally for the heart of the lineup to produce. 

But even if you simply base your decision using Cox’s simplified version of the leadoff hitter, Escobar has some pretty impressive credentials.  In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.

In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.

Johnson has hit .263 with a .354 on-base percentage in 571 career plate appearances in the first spot of the lineup.   In the 123 plate appearances he’s garnered as the Braves first batter of the game, he’s hit .212 with a .276 on-base percentage.

In 418 plate appearance while serving as the first batter of an inning, Johnson has hit .271 with a .349 on-base percentage.

I had no idea what some of those numbers would be until I started researching them on baseball-reference.com.  But I think it’s safe to say that I said “Wow” when I saw the difference in the numbers Johnson and Escobar have produced while serving as their team’s first hitter of the game.

Because of his speed, there’s still certainly a chance that Jordan Schafer eventually finds himself in the leadoff spot.  With 12 walks in his past nine games, the rookie center fielder has certainly shown some patience than he did during his first two weeks in the Majors.  But some scouts believe he’s still learning the strike zone and is best suited to stay near the bottom of the lineup.

Sammons gets his first start:  With an afternoon game tomorrow and left-hander Mike Hampton pitching tonight, the left-handed hitting David Ross will rest while Clint Sammons gets his first start of the year behind the plate in the opener of this three-game series against the Astros. 

That’s it for today.  I’ll update you if Brian McCann has anything good to say about his progress.  Garret Anderson was running in the outfield this afternoon and should be ready to play early next week.

Twitter @mlbbravesscribe 

Waiting on updates from McCann and Glavine

Regardless of how Jair Jurrjens fares against Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, this should be an interesting day for the Braves.  We should learn more about Brian McCann’s condition and Tom Glavine may provide some information about his future.

McCann was scheduled to visit Dr. Alan Kozarsky this morning to gain more clarity about why he’s been experiencing blurred vision in his left eye since the season started.  Hopefully, the remedy will prove to be as simple as once again undergoing Lasik surgery.

It’s understandable that his vision could have changed since he initially underwent this procedure at the age of 23 at the end of the 2007 season.  But while admitting I can’t spell ophthamology without Google’s assistance, I still have to wonder what has caused the dry sensation he’s complained about.

While McCann is in the early stages of a career that could one day be preceded by the words “Hall of Fame”, Glavine is simply hoping for the opportunity to enhance the numbers that will be linked to him when he’s immortalized in Cooperstown. 

Tomorrow will mark the two-week mark since Glavine asked for two more weeks to evaluate the status of of his troublesome left shoulder.  If he hasn’t realized some improvement this week, he’s not interested in waiting around another couple of weeks before resuming  preparations.  This would essentially take him back to the point he was when he arrived at Spring Training in early March and set up the likeliehood that he wouldn’t be ready to make his first start until some time in June.  

Thus within the next two days, we can expect to  hear him say that he’s going to begin another Minor League rehab within the next week or that he’s ready to put an end to his storied career that has included 305 wins. 

Even before Glavine found some success during Spring Training, there was reason to believe there should be fewer concerns about him than Kenshin Kawakami.  This was based solely on the fact that he’s spent the past 20-plus years learning exactly what it takes to retire Major League hitters.

The 7.06 ERA that Kawakami has notched in four starts isn’t nearly as concerning as the fact that he’s allowed at least one homer during each of his outings.  This development hasn’t exactly been surprising.  During the early days of camp, it was apparent that he has a tendency to live up in the zone with far too many pitches. 

That’s a recipe for disaster while facing hitters that physically stronger than the ones that served as the opposition during his successful days in Japan.

With this being said, Kawakami has the potential to be a successful fourth or fifth starter in the Majors.  The first homer he surrendered to Jay Bruce on Sunday came courtesy of a mistake he made in a situation when he should have issued a walk.  The opposite-field shot snuck inside the left field foul pole. 

From there it seemed like Kawakami allowed his emotions to get the best of him.  He could have easily escaped the fifth inning unscathed.  But as the adversity built with an intereference call on a potential double-play grounder and an infield single, he began to throw more high strikes, much to the delight of Joey Votto and Bruce, who has now hit .609 with four homers in six career games against the Braves.

Still regardless of what occurs with Glavine or Kawakami during the next few weeks and months, the Braves rotation is shaping up nicely for the final months of the season.  

While regaining his aggressive approach during his past two outings, Jurrjens has enhanced the strength of a rotation that has been solidly anchored by Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez.  And of course, it won’t be long before we start to see Bobby Cox sending Tommy Hanson to the mound every five days.

Through his first four starts for Triple-A Gwinnett, Hanson is 0-3 with a 2.18 ERA.   He has allowed one earned run or fewer in three of those outings and opponents are hitting just .205 against him. 

It was encouraging to see Hanson complete six innings with 95 pitches against Charlotte on Friday night.  During his two previous outings, he had reached the 95-pitch mark before completing five innings and was removed to preserve the arm strength that could prove to be so benefiical in Atlanta during the season’s final months.

Kelly’s inconsistencies:  During the first eight games of the season, Kelly Johnson hit .333 with a .412 on-base percentage.  But in the past 10 games, the current leadoff hitter has batted .111 with a .220 on-base percentage. 

This better explains why the Braves have scored two runs or fewer in six of their past 10 games.  It hasn’t helped that Chipper Jones missed three of those games or that McCann’s bat has essentially been absent since the end of the season’s four game. 

But Johnson’s inability to serve as a catalyst in the leadoff spot during the past 10 games, has certainly played a factor. 

With McCann absent,  Johnson and Yunel Escobar have to find a way to consistently provide Jones with run-producing opportunities.  Casey  Kotchman has spent the past three games in the cleanup spot and he’s still on pace to go homerless this year.

During the just-completed nine-game road trip, the Braves received a .135 (5-for-37) batting average, .220 on-base percentage and .162 slugging percentage from the batters hitting in the leadoff spot.  Those players batting in the ninth spot of the order hit .167 with a .333 OBP and .208 SLG.  

McCann dealing with blurred vision

Brian McCann isn’t ready to discuss the possibility that he might need to go on the disabled list. But the Braves All-Star catcher is concerned about the blurred vision he’s experienced in his left eye since Opening Day. 

After returning from Philadelphia last week, McCann visited an eye doctor who told him that there’s a chance that his vision has changed since he underwent Lasik surgery in Nov. 2007.  But while wearing a contact over the last week, the 25-year-old catcher didn’t experience improved vision.

Essentially, McCann’s left eye has been dry and he hasn’t benefitted from the use of eye drops.  On Saturday morning, he began using a prescribed ointment. 

If this latest treatment doesn’t work, McCann may have to have the vision in his left eye re-adjusted and there’s certainly a chance this would necessitate him to miss at least one week and possibly experience a stint on the 15-day disabled list. 

McCann began this season with six hits, including two homers and three doubles in his first 15 at-bats.  But he recorded just one single in the 17 at-bats that followed. 

While experiencing better vision during the day, McCann entered Saturday’s game hitting .167 (4-for-24) in night games and .375 (3-for-8) in day games. 

Boyer DFA’d:  Blaine Boyer didn’t seem too surprised when he walked in the clubhouse on Saturday morning and was told that the Braves had designated him for assignment.   To make room for Jo-Jo Reyes, Boyer had established himself as the obvious roster casualty. 

While making 51 appearances before last year’s All-Star break, Boyer posted a 3.93 ERA and saw opponents hit .237 with a .301 on-base percentage.   In the 28 appearances that have followed, he’s posted a 13.06 ERA, seen opponents hit .330 with a .402 on-base percentage.

The Braves saw the tremendous physical skills that will likely lead another club to claim Boyer off the waiver wire.  But as time progressed, they became convinced that his mental shortcomings were going to prevent him living up to his potential in their organization.

Chipper and Escobar updates:  Chipper Jones is still aiming to return to the lineup on Sunday and there’s a chance that he could be joined by Yunel Escobar, who has missed the past two games with a strained abdominal muscle. 

Escobar was able to perform just one situp on Friday.  But by Saturday morning, the 26-year-old shortstop’s strength had improved to the point that the Braves gained the belief that he’d be available for Sunday’s series finale against the Pirates.  

Updates on Chipper and Escobar

It’s hockey night in Pittsburgh and the fans are truly showing their colors.  Actually, some are wearing the modern black Penguins jerseys and a handful of others are sporting the blue ones that the club wore during the pre-Mario Lemieux days.

Whatever the case, I’d have to say close to 50 percent of the people I saw walking the streets this afternoon were wearing Penguins jerseys.  I didn’t see a Pirates jersey until Adam LaRoche and his buddies came out to take batting practice here at beautiful PNC Park. 

Speaking of LaRoche, the former Braves first baseman has at least delayed his traditional slow start by recording 10 hits, including three homers in his first 34 at-bats this year.  Considering that he owned a .181 career batting average in April entering this year, it’s safe to say that he’s enjoying this early production.

LaRoche’s buddy Chipper Jones is once again out of the lineup with a bruised left thumb.  The Braves third baseman has been encouraged by the fact that the swelling has decreased and he’s hoping to return to action during Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Buccos. 

“The swelling is getting better,” Jones said. “But (the trainers) were rubbing it down today and it’s still extremely painful.”  

Having already aggravated this injury multiple times by getting jammed with pitches, Jones recognizes the importance of resting the thumb as long as necessary.  The bottom line is that he doesn’t want to deal with this throughout the season.

“If I came back too early and did it again, I’d have to miss another three to four days,” Jones said. “I just want to make sure we get it right.”

As for Yunel Escobar, he could be back to his jumping ways as early as Saturday.  When Escobar strained his abdominal muscle while doing his traditional pre at-bat jumping routine in the on-deck circle Thursday, the Braves thought he might miss three to four games. 

But Escobar took some swings in the indoor batting cage on Friday and didn’t experience any concerning discomfort.

Forget about the possibility of this episode leading Escobar to end his jumping days in the on-deck.  The talented shortstop is as stubborn as they come.

When Jo-Jo Reyes takes the mound to face the Pirates on Saturday, you’ll likely see a pitcher that doesn’t resemble the one who went 0-7 with a 7.81 ERA in his final 13 appearances (12 starts) last year.

Reyes has grown comfortable with the fact that he doesn’t have to attempt to overpower every hitter.  The more efficient 23-year-old southpaw impressed during Spring Training and tossed five solid innings before struggling through a rain-drenched sixth inning during his regular season debut for Triple-A Gwinnett last week.
    
Reversing back to the LaRoche-Jones connection, the two former Braves teammates have become heavily involved with the Buck Commander videos that are produced by noted hunter Willie Robertston. 

With assistance from their good friend Luke Bryan, the guys developed this video that shows them enjoying some of their hunting experiences.  

Kawakami makes scoreless debut

When Adam LaRoche was traded to Pittsburgh, I said, “Please do whatever you can to keep my dad interested in the Pirates until at least the end of May.”

Two years later, Dad’s positive remarks about the Pirates still solely center around PNC Park and their Friday night fireworks displays. It’s been 17 years since the late John McSherry incorrectly ruled Sid Bream to be safe and still it’s downright painful to be a Pirates fan. 

(NOTE:  As somebody pointed out after this post was published, it was actually Randy Marsh who made the call. McSherry started behind the plate and then began feeling ill.  Personally, I didn’t begin feeling ill until Bonds unleashed that toss, which certainly didn’t appear to have  the assistance of any banned performance-enhancing aids.)

But the Buccos do have a great Spring Training park and it’s a beautiful Friday afternoon for baseball.  Kenshin Kawakami worked a perfect first inning and allowed just a bloop single off LaRoche’s back in his scoreless two-inning sting. 

Kawakami threw 18 of his 29 pitches for strikes and ended his afternoon with a strikeout of Jose Tabata.  While pitching in the United States for the first time, the Japanese hurler made a solid first impression.   

In a few innings we’ll gain a better understanding about why members of the Braves front office are so high on Kris Medlen, who actually looks younger than Brent Lillibridge,

Medlen has been described as a poor man’s Greg Madddux.   The 24-year-old right-hander stands 5-10, weighs approximately 185 pounds and has a baby face that might lead some cinema workers to card him if he attempted to purchase tickets to a rated-R movie. 

After moving into Double-A Mississippi’s starting rotation midway through the 2008 season, Medlen worked 92 1/3 innings, recorded 90 strikeouts and issued 21 walks.  In the 25 innings he worked during the Arizona Fall League, he registered 25 strikeouts, issued one walk and limited opponents to a .203 batting average. 

“If he was 6-foot tall, you’d be hearing a lot more about this guy,” one National League scout said.

When asked this morning about who he is considering to use as his leadoff hitter, Braves manager Bobby Cox mentioned Josh Anderson, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.  It still appears Anderson is the favorite. 

But the fact that Anderson has recorded a .340 on-base percentage during his Minor League career provides some concern.  He doesn’t possess the same plate discipline as Gregor Blanco and there’s reason to wonder what his OBP would be over the course of an entire big league season.

Some of you have said you would have the perfect leadoff hitter if you meshed the best traits presented by Anderson and Blanco.  Over the past few days, I’ve heard some of the Braves coaches (not Cox) say the same thing.

- Mark Bowman   

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