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    Tara has written 117 posts for Braves Wire

    Braves wrap successful road trip

    Despite hairy defense in the last 2 games of the series, the Braves managed to squeak out a series win in Flushing. The Braves were carried to the series win by yet another near no-hitter by Aaron Harang in a handful of games, dominant offense by Mets’ killer Freddie Freeman, continued April prowess by Justin Upton and another gritty start by Ervin Santana.

    Aaron Harang pitched 7 no-hit innings against the Mets, giving up 6 walks and striking out 5 before being pulled.

    Aaron Harang pitched 7 no-hit innings against the Mets, giving up 6 walks and striking out 5 before being pulled.

    Aaron Harang has quickly ingratiated himself to his new Braves teammates with 2 outings where he has flirted with a no hitter, going at least 6 innings in each of his 4 starts, a 3-1 record and a 0.70 ERA. Friday’s game in New York was his first game back to Citi Field where he pitched last season and was his best start yet for his new team. Harang went 7 innings without allowing a hit before being pulled by Fredi Gonzalez when he reached the 121-pitch mark. Afterward, Harang sang the praises of Fredi for having his and the team’s best interests in mind with that tough move. Once Harang left the game, Luis Avilan attempted to continue the no-no, but gave up the first and only hit to the Mets.

    Ervin Santana, much like Harang, has quickly showed the Braves why he was worth the late spring free agent signing. Santana threw 7 innings against the Mets, allowed 6 hits and 1 earned run, while striking out 7. Santana now holds a 2-0 record with an impressive 0.86 ERA. Like Harang, he has pitched at least 6 innings in each of his innings.

    While David Hale may not have been as dominant as veterans Harang and Santana, it wasn’t all his own doing. Hale’s start in the series finale was mired down in costly defensive blunders. The Braves recorded 3 errors, 1 by Justin Upton and 2 by Dan Uggla. Hale completed 6 innings, allowing 6 hits and 2 earned runs (1 unearned). He walked 2 and struck out 5. Hale’s ERA now stands at 2.93. Hale, of course, my be the odd man out when Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd return to the rotation in the next few weeks. However, he has made the case that he deserves to be in the big leagues and could potentially wind up in the bullpen.

    David Hale’s start may have ended after 6 innings, but the game ended in the bottom of the 14th inning.The last time the Mets defeated Atlanta in a game that went as long as 14 innings was on May 5, 2006. Unfortunately, the Braves paid for the defensive blunders in the game. For his part, reliever Gus Schlosser may have walked away with the loss, but he pitched 3 2/3 innings, 3 of them scoreless, and he recorded his first big league hit. For a guy who stretched out in spring, but wasn’t needed to start, he did an admirable job bridging the gap in a long game.

    Braves’ fans saw something they had only seen one other time: the removal of Craig Kimbrel in a save situation. In his first game back in a week due to shoulder soreness, Kimbrel hit a batter, gave up a single, an RBI double, struck out a batter, allowed an RBI single and then allowed a walk. He seemed out of sorts in a way we may have never seen him on the mound. Jordan Walden was brought in with 2 outs & the bases loaded with a 7-5 lead to close the game. Walden recorded a save.

    There is no question that Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis carried the offense on the road. While Upton’s bat cooled in the frigid Philly temperatures, he was back at it in New York going 5-for-13 (.385) with a triple, homer and 4 RBI. Freeman continued to torment the Mets going 6-for-14 with 2 doubles, a home run and 4 RBIs. Evan Gattis went 6-for-21 on the roadtrip with 3 homers and 4 RBIs.

    B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla continue to have hopeful moments at the plate. B.J. is above the Mendoza Line at .208 with a .269 on-base percentage. He hit .286 against the Mets (4-for-14) with a double and RBI. Another great sign for B.J. is that on the road trip he had 5 walks. Getting B.J. on base gives the Braves speed on the bases that they cannot match with any other player. Upton also had 3 stolen bases on the road (all three in Philly). Uggla is also above the Mendoza Line at .234 with a .286 on-base percentage (.375 slugging). In the 3-game series in Flushing, Uggla hit .333, .429 OBP and .417 slugging. He went 4-for-12.

    BRAVES RETURN TO THE TED TO FACE MARLINS…

    The Braves return to Turner Field today for a 6-game home stand against the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds.

    Miami is fresh off a sweep at home of the Seattle Mariners. The standouts from the series were starter Eovaldi and the hot-hitting Giancarlo Stanton.

    Mike Minor allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits with 4 strikeouts over 6 innings for the Gwinnett Braves Saturday. He will throw a side session on Tuesday in Atlanta and depending on the outcome, could make his 2014 debut on Saturday against the Reds. Minor got a slow start at spring training due to a urethra surgery this winter. He then dealt with shoulder soreness that shut him down.

    Gavin Floyd has made 4 minor league appearances and is expected to make at least 2 additional starts before the Braves consider adding him to the big league club. However, there doesn’t seem to be a need for Floyd at this point. Where Floyd would fit is unclear given the early success of both Santana and Harang. The question becomes one of what happens with the bullpen, most likely. If Floyd and/or Hale were to be added to the bullpen, who would be the odd man out? Early success by Ian Thomas suggests he’d not be going anywhere. Varvaro seems to have taken the position of reliability in clutch outings that Luis Avilan held last season. Would Gus Schlosser lose his spot? For a team that looked like they were short on pitching when Gearrin, Beachy and Medlen all went down, they now seem to have a surplus of arms.

    The series opens Monday night with Koehler (2-1, 1.89) taking the bump against Teheran (2-1, 1.93). Tuesday’s game features reigning Rookie of the Year Fernandez (2-1, 2.66) against Wood (2-2, 1.67). The series finale Wednesday night will get underway with Eovaldi (1-1, 3.55) on the hill against Harang (3-1, 0.70).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch

    Braves take shortened series, head to Big Apple

    What was supposed to be their Achilles heel–starting pitching–has turned out to be the greatest strength in the early going for the 2014 Braves. The rain-shortened series in Philadelphia once again put the dominant starting pitching on display with great outings from Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood. Unfortunately, the all or nothing offense was only able to notch one in the win column of Julio Teheran after waiting ’til Santana left the game to explode Monday night and offered no run support for Alex Wood in another solid outing from the young pitcher.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Part of that all or nothing offense was Evan Gattis. In 2 of the 3 games played in Philadelphia, Evan Gattis reminded us of why he was one of the most dynamic hitters on the club last season. He hit .667 with 6 hits, 3 homers and 4 RBI with only 1 strikeout. Wednesday night Gattis put 4 hits on the board, a career high. He added to his superb career April numbers. Over 30 games going back to last season, Gattis has hit .303 (33-for-109) with 8 doubles, 10 homers, 23 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .342 and a .651 slugging percentage. Gattis has 5 dingers in his past 3 games at Citizens Bank Park.

    Justin Upton arrived in Philly the hottest hitter in baseball and the reigning NL Player of the Week. Unfortunately, his terrible road numbers weren’t snapped in Philly. At home, Justin is hitting  .591, with 4 diners and 8 RBIs (6 games). His road numbers are another story. He is batting .118 with a .211 on-base percentage (9 games).

    The surprise of the series was, of course, Dan Uggla’s offense. Where his defense stumbled, including a costly error in Philly’s game 1 rally, his offense made up for it. The highlight of the series for Dan was a grand slam in game 1 that capped a game-winning rally by the Braves. It was Dan’s second homer of the game. He and Gattis both notched 2 homers in that game. Uggla finished the 3-game series in Philly with 3 hits, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. He hit .273 with an on-base percentage of .333 and slugged .818.

    With an all or nothing offense there are bound to be nights when gems from starting pitching don’t get rewarded with a win. Such was the case with both Ervin Santana and Alex Wood in Philly.

    Ervin Santana pitched 6 solid innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 run and striking out a career high 11. However, Luis Avilan game up 5 runs in relief that allowed the Phillies to rally and take the win out of Santana’s hands. In one of those strange scoring events in baseball, Avilan was credited with the win after the team rallied at the top of the next innings after he crumbled on the mound. David Carpenter recorded his second career save, his first save with the Braves.

    Julio Teheran’s brilliant complete game shutout was matched with a brilliant outing by opponent Cliff Lee who also went the entire game. Teheran went the distance allowing 3 hits, 0 runs and striking out 4. Lee, perhaps more dominant, went the distance while allowing 11 hits. The tipping point was the homer Lee gave up to Evan Gattis, the deciding run for the Braves. Cliff Lee is the only pitcher in big league history to lose 2 games where he has allowed 1 run and struck out 13 or more batters. Lee has had tough luck numbers against the Braves recently. In his last 2 starts against Atlanta he has pitched 17 innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 26 strikeouts. Yet he has a record of 0-2. It was a great win for young Teheran for many reasons, but that he achieved it against the opponent he did is huge.

    A.J. Burnett threw 7 innings of 3-hit ball that resulted in no runs for the Braves. His 5 strikeouts were outmatched by the 7 K’s of Alex Wood. However, Wood’s 8 innings of 8-hit ball surrendered a single run that proved to be all the Phillies needed when the offense couldn’t get Wood any run support. It was one of the best outings we’ve seen from Wood in his young career.


    BRAVES, HARANG RETURN TO CITI FIELD…

    Aaron Harang spent part of the 2013 season with the New York Mets. In 4 games started with the club, he had an 0-1 record and a 3.52 ERA with 26 strikeouts (23 IP).

    Friday night’s game will be the first time that Jason Heyward will face Jonathan Niese since being hit in the face by a pitch last season, costing him a good chunk of the second-half of the season with a broken jaw. Heyward is 9-for-24 with 2 HRs against Niese.

    Freddie Freeman hits the Mets very well and has taken the place of Chipper Jones as the player with the most success against the club. Freeman is 9-for-27 with 2 HRs against Niese and over the past 21 games Freddie is 29-for-81 (.358) with 6 homers and 20 RBIs against the Mets.

    Atlanta hopes to have closer Craig Kimbrel back in their arsenal this weekend. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since last Saturday due to shoulder soreness. Shut down, but not placed on the DL, Kimbrel has never had any type of arm soreness or injury before now. The Braves, playing it safe, gave the closer extra time to make sure he was 100% healthy. In a bullpen session Wednesday, Kimbrel reported no discomfort in his shoulder. In 5 2/3 innings this season, Kimbrel has allowed 1 run, has 12 K’s, and has 5 saves. He remains 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz on the all-time list of Braves with the most saves.

    The Braves will send former Met Aaron Harang (2-1, 0.96) to the mound in the season opener against Jonathan Niese (0-1, 3.46). Veterans Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.64) and Bartolo Colon (1-2, 6.00) will square off in the second game. David Hale (0-0, 2.89) will cap the series against Zack Wheeler (1-2, 4.67).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

    Braves’ offense sweeps Nats, takes to road

    Nationals’ pitching brought with them to Turner Field 105 strikeouts in their first 9 games of the season. That kind of stat would generally foretell a tough series for Atlanta’s strikeout-prone lineup. That wasn’t the case. Braves’ offense lit up against the Nats, leading the team to a 3-game sweep against the rival ball club. The Braves outscored the Nats 23-11 in the series. The Braves has now won 22 of their last 29 meetings with the Nationals.

    JUpton (back of jersey) 320px

    Justin Upton has sizzled at the plate. Over the previous 4 games he has hit .786.

    Washington nor any team in baseball stood a chance of getting Justin Upton over a 3-game series. On the home stand, the younger Upton hit .591 with a 1.227 slugging percentage. He went 13-for-22 with 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBIs. In addition to a stunning display of power with a game-tying homer in the late innings of Friday’s game, Justin Upton’s single scored the runner from 1st and won the game. He now has 7 game-ending hits since start of 2011 season. That is the most in the MLB for that span (his teammate Freddie Freeman has 6 game-ending hits). According to Elias, the last time the Braves won a game with a similar RBI single scoring a baserunner from 1st was in 1983.

    Upton is now hitting .386 with 17 hits, 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBI in the first 12 games of the season. He is as locked in this April as he was last April. The hope is that he has simplified his pregame preparation to a point that will allow for this hot streak to cool, but not go completely cold like it did last season.

    Freedie Freeman came into the series against the Nats with a .419 average, on-base percentage of .514 and .677 slugging percentage in the first 9 games. He had gone 13-for-31 with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 6 walks and only 4 strikeouts. He added to that torrid offense against the Nats going 6-for-12 (.500) with 2 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBIs. He is now 19-for-43 with a .442 average in the first 12 games of the season (4 doubles, 4 homers and 10 RBIs).

    The Braves saw production from nearly every hitter in the lineup, including the struggling Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Saturday’s game saw an unusual sight: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla had run-producing hits in the same inning.

    In Saturday’s game, B.J. Upton produced hits in his first 2 plate appearances for just the 5th time since the start of last year. The series wrapped with B.J. putting together back-to-back multi-hit games. Dating back to last year, this marks the 3rd time B.J. has had multi-hit performances in consecutive games. He has now achieved the feat twice against the Washington Nationals.

    A few more notes on the series:

    • Two of the three HRs Alex Wood has allowed this year have been to the leadoff hitter. He only allowed 3 HRs in the 2013 season (77 2/3 innings pitched). Each of the 3 dingers in 2014 have come at the top of an inning, 2 of them on the first pitch. He then manages to settle in and has kept his ERA at 1.89.
    • In a scary moment at the plate, Gio Gonzalez plunked Freddie Freeman on the hand in the 4th inning. Freeman said that his choking up on the bat kept his hand from a serious injury. Freeman had homered in his previous at-bat against Gio. Strangely, it was the 1st time Gonzalez had hit a batter since he hit Freeman last August.
    • Atlanta pounced early this series with 14 runs during the first 2 innings of the 3 games played.
    • Aaron Harang had yet another brilliant start. It was his third straight game of going at least 6 innings and allowing 1 or no runs. Harang is now 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA.
    • Jason Heyward stole his third base of the season in Sunday’s finale. This is a great sign for the base-running game for the Braves because Heyward, with above-average speed, stole only 2 bases all of last season.
    • Andrelton Simmons had missed 2 games with a jammed wrist. Inserted as the 5-hole hitter, Simba hit a 3-run blast to dead center. It was the 1st homer on the season for Simmons, though earlier in the game he missed another homer by mere inches.

    BRAVES BEGIN 7-GAME ROAD TRIP…

    Saturday’s save for Craig Kimbrel, his 5th on the season, marked yet another perfect inning by the Braves’ closer. Kimbrel struck out the side in that outing. He has now faced 900 batters in his career and struck out 392 of them (an incredible 44% strikeout rate). All of this is important as we look ahead to the next several series because Kimbrel is now 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz’s franchise record of 154.

    The Braves are the eve of two pitchers returning from injury. Gavin Floyd, who hasn’t pitched in over a year due to Tommy John surgery, had another rehab outing this weekend at Gwinnett. Floyd threw 3 2/3 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. Mike Minor, returning from shoulder inflammation, pitched 5 innings at Rome giving up 1 hit,  1 walk and no runs while striking out 4. The question will become who in the rotation loses their spot with the return of Floyd and Minor. At the moment, it appears the odd man out may be David Hale.

    Another injury update involves reliever Cory Gearrin. Gearrin has elected to have Tommy John surgery to repair the torn UCL in his pitching elbow. His surgery will take place Wednesday. He saw 3 different doctors for their opinion on his elbow and the advice was unanimous. The righty was pulled from a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers and had hoped to avoid surgery. Gearrin has put up 69 1/3 innings for the Braves over the last 3 seasons. Gearrin joins an unusually high number of pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery in the 2014 season including his teammates Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Gearrin will be out for a year, if not more.

    The 4-game series against the Phillies will kick off Monday night with Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.00) vs. Roberto Hernandez (1-0, 4.35). Tuesday will feature David Hale (0-0, 2.89) vs. Cliff Lee (2-1, 5.50). Wednesday the Braves will send Julio Teheran (1-1, 2.84) to the mound against a pitcher to be named later. The series finale will pit Alex Wood (1-1, 1.89) against Jonathan Pettibone (0-0, 1.80).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    The rise of a new Mets killer

    Chipper Jones, for years "Larry" to Mets' fans, finished his career with a .309 average against the Mets.

    Chipper Jones, for years “Larry” to Mets’ fans, finished his career with a .309 average against the Mets.

    Do a Google search for “Mets Killer” and you will be inundated with articles about and images of retired third baseman Chipper Jones. There is no player in the history of the game that has hit the Mets harder than Jones. It is certainly no coincidence that Chipper’s named one of his sons Shea. But in that same Google search you will find a new trend developing. Freddie Freeman’s name is now linked to the New York ball club because of his early success against them. You’ll hear him referred to as the new Mets killer in Braves’ circles and for good reason.

    Take a look at a comparison of Freddie’s offense against the Mets and that of Chipper:

    PA AB R H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
    Chipper Jones 1019 858 168 265 49 159 .309 .406 .543
    Freddie Freeman 232 208 36 65 12 46 .313 .379 .563

    Take a moment to consider just how impressive Freeman’s numbers are given that he has played in 3 full seasons plus a mere 20 games when he first came up with the club in 2010. Chipper had 19 years big league and 245 games against the Mets (compared to Freddie’s 56 games).

    Over the last 3 games, Freddie Freeman continued to put up good numbers against the National League East rival. Though the series was ultimately a losing one for the Braves, minus a superb outing by Ervin Santana in his Braves debut (8 IP, 3 H, 6 K, 0 ER), Freeman lead the Braves’ offense.

    His Met-killing numbers in the series:

    PA AB R H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
    Apr 8 to Apr 10, 2014 12 12 1 5 1 0 3 .417 .417 .500

    With Freeman’s 8 year/$135 million deal (through 2021 when he will be 32) with the Braves, it’s certainly possible that Freeman will surpass Chipper Jones as the Atlanta Braves player with the best numbers against the New York Mets.

    Freeman had a torrid spring, hitting .368 with 21 hits, 4 doubles, 2 homers, 9 RBI and 7 walks (in 57 ABs). For Freeman the season couldn’t begin soon enough.

    Taking his dominant spring into the season, Freeman has a .419 average, on-base percentage of .514 and .677 slugging percentage in the first 9 games. He has gone 13-for-31 with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 6 walks and only 4 strikeouts.

    In addition to stellar offense, Freddie Freeman puts on a defensive clinic nightly with shortstop Andrelton Simmons who routinely makes outstanding plays that Freeman stretches out for and picks better than any first baseman in the big leagues. His defense is underrated for many reasons, but the stretch he utilizes to get runners out by a step is under-appreciated in the league.

    Freeman has the opportunity to not only continue slaying the Mets, but making multiple MVP and batting title runs in the National League. His 8-year deal with the Braves may turn out to be the best financial decision the Braves made in their busy offseason. Freeman’s time with the Braves may turn out to be just as successful as Braves’ greats Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    With series win, Braves head home to honor Hank

    As Bobby Cox likes to say, it’s the series wins that matter. That was the case over the weekend in the nation’s capital when the Braves took 2 of 3 against the rival Nationals.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Lead by dominant pitching, the Braves once again proved that injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and now Cory Gearrin will not be the end of their season. Despite the loss handed to Alex Wood in the series finale, a tough one given his strong 7 innings pitched with only 4 hits and 2 earned runs allowed, Wood, Teheran and Hale were on top of their game. They continued a trend of not allowing more than 2 runs–a trend that started for the Braves on Opening Day in Milwaukee.

    Braves’ pitching as an entire staff is 4-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings pitched. Atlanta’s starters are 1st in the National League with a 3-2 record and 1.63 ERA over 38 2/3 innings. The bullpen holds a 1.35 ERA with 19 strikeouts, 7 holds and 3 saves over 13 1/3 innings pitched. David Hale and Aaron Harang share the lead among the rotation both with a 0.00 ERA. Hale pitched 5 innings of 5-hit ball in the Nats’ home opener. Alex Wood leads the club in strikeouts (9), on his heels is Julio Teheran (8) and closer Craig Kimbrel has made the most of his 3 innings pitched catching up to Atlanta’s starters in strikeouts (6).

    Atlanta’s bullpen may have lost Eric O’Flaherty to free agency and Cory Gearrin to Tommy John surgery as well as continues to wait for Jonny Venters to return from last year’s Tommy John surgery, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting the efforts of the rotation. Luis Avilan, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Thomas and Jordan Walden have yet to give up a run and have 12 strikeouts between them in 7 innings pitched. In the 1st game of the Washington series, David Carpenter put together one of the best innings of relief we’ve seen so far, striking out 3 after allowing a hit and walk in an inning of work. Carpenter is settling into his role in the ‘pen with the returning relief core (Avilan, Kimbrel and Walden) and the rookies (Schlosser and Thomas). In addition to whatever moves take place with Santana, Minor and Floyd joining the club soon, the Braves went out and snagged Pedro Beato off the waiver wire from the Cincinnati Reds. Beato has a career 4.26 ERA. The 2014 season is his 4th in the big leagues, spending a year with the Orioles, 2 years with the Mets and 1 with the Red Sox, though he has only 25 1/3 innings under his belt. What his role will be is still unclear.

    The biggest concern coming into the season may have been pitching, but that concern has mostly been answered. With strong outing from each of the 4-man rotation and with Santana and Minor joining the rotation soon, the only question is who will be dropped from the rotation or if the Braves will go with a 6-man rotation for any length of time. With pitching mostly settled, the focus turns to offense. With far too many low-scoring games to start the season for a team with the bats of Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the Braves have to wonder when this team will click. In the 2nd game of the series in D.C., the Braves looked most like the team they are on paper. Freeman, both Uptons, Johnson and Teheran each put 2 hits on the board in that game with Doumit (1), Uggla (2), Simmons (1) and Teheran (1) contributing RBIs.

    Not surprisingly, Freddie Freeman leads Atlanta’s offense with a .400 batting average with 8 hits, 2 homers and 2 RBIs. Freeman also has walked 6 times, his on-base percentage now .560. Behind Freeman is Chris Johnson at .304 with 3 doubles. a homer and 2 RBIs. Andrelton Simmons is hitting .300 with 6 hits, 1 double and 2 RBIs.

    The parts of the offense that everyone seems to be watching closely are the very parts that failed last season. The Braves’ strikeout rate is already of concern. B.J. Upton has 11 strikeouts in 25 at-bats, Justin Upton has 10 in 22 at-bats and Jason Heyward has 8 in 23 at-bats. B.J. is 3-for-25 with 1 double and 1 stolen base, hitting .120. At this point of the season, we can hope that Upton is simply off to a slow start. Dan Uggla is 5-for-23  with a .217 average thus far with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs. Uggla has only 5 strikeouts, but has yet to have a walk. Of course after last season there will be extra scrutiny on B.J. and Uggla. However, the early take on the two hitters is that Uggla is hitting the ball hard, but suffering from bad luck with the placement of the fielders. B.J., on the other hand, seems lost at the plate. Evan Gattis also appears to be off to a slow start with a .167 average. Gattis is 2-for-12 with 1 homer, 1 RBI and 6 strikeouts.

    BRAVES RETURN FOR HOME OPENER & TRIBUTE TO HAMMERIN’ HANK…

    New acquisition Aaron Harang will make his home debut in the Braves’ home opener at Turner Field, but the man of the hour will not be any current Atlanta Brave. It will, of course, be Henry Louis Aaron, the Braves home run leader and the man for whom the Braves are wearing a 715 patch on their uniforms this season. Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run, surpassing then home run leader Babe Ruth. The Braves are pleased to put the spotlight on Aaron in their first game at home of the 2014 season.

    The Mets are off to a 2-4 start. Their pitching is 13th in the National League with a 4.75 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen is dead last in the league with a 6.75 ERA. New York’s offense is also dead last in the NL in batting average at .178. However, they have scored 6 runs more (21) than the Braves (15).

    Some offensive stats to keep in mind as the Braves host the Mets: Dan Uggla is 2-for-5 against Zack Wheeler with a .400 batting average, a double, a homer and 2 RBIs. Freddie Freeman is 4-for-6 with a .667 with a homer and RBI. B.J. Upton is 1-for-3 (.333) against Wheeler and is one of the few Braves with any experience with Bartolo Colon. Upton is 7-for-23 against Colon with a double, a triple, a homer and 5 RBIs.

    The Mets will send Bartolo Colon (0-1, 4.50) to the mound against Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00) Tuesday. Zach Wheeler (0-1, 4.50) will toe the rubber against Ervin Santana (0-0, -.–) in his 2014 debut Wednesday. Jennry Mejia (1-0. 1.50) will face off against David Hale (0-0, 0.00) in the series finale Thursday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves take opening series, on to DC

    With pitching, particularly starting pitching, the biggest concern for the 2014 Atlanta Braves, the opening series on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers showed a rotation that can likely hold on until the cavalry arrives in mid to late April. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and new Brave Aaron Harang stepped up for the team and proved that they can certainly hold their own until Mike Minor, Erwin Santana and Gavin Floyd join the team.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    The Braves leave Milwaukee with 2 out of 3 games in the win column. The rubber match of the series saw the first start of Aaron Harang in a Braves’ uniform. Harang stepped up in a big way, pitching 6 2/3 no-hit innings against Matt Garza who was equally impressive until giving up a solo homer to Chris Johnson. Harang surrendered only 2 hits in his outing, walking 1 and striking out 3. His outing was supported by only 2 hits by his teammates against new Brewer Matt Garza and 1 off the bullpen. One of those hits was a 2-out solo homer by third baseman Chris Johnson that proved the deciding run of the game. In addition to Harang’s brilliant debut, Craig Kimbrel secured his second save of the young season. For their part, the defense was solid behind Harang including 2 incredible plays by Jason Heyward in right field.

    Harang’s dazzling outing came on the heels of Alex Wood’s 2014 debut. Wood was asked to step up in the wake of injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. Wood, in the second slot of the rotation, did as he had throughout spring camp by shutting down Brewers’ hitters. With the exception of a first pitch solo homer given up to Carlos Gomez, Wood was solid. He allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run and 3 walks in 7 innings.

    In the second game of the series, the offense stepped up with power behind Alex Wood’s solid outing. Jason Heyward launched a homer off Kyle Lohse in the 5th inning and Freddie Freeman, continuing the torrid offense he put on display in camp, launched 2 homers–the first off Lohse in the 6th inning and then following up with his second off Duke in the 8th inning. Also contributing an RBI was Andrelton Simmons with a sacrifice. Dan Uggla, hoping to have reset himself over the winter, hit 2 doubles in the game, showing that he is much quieter in the batter’s box and is no longer swinging for the fences with every pitch. Wrapping up the 5-2 win over the Brewers was closer Craig Kimbrel with a 3-strikeout save.

    Of the 3 starting pitchers, Opening Day starter Julio Teheran fared the worst, though his outing was just as much affected by a complete lack of offense from his teammates as it was by his pitching. Teheran went 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs while striking out 2. Teheran lobbed 55 strikes of his 84 pitches. His control did not seem to be as sharp as we had seen in spring training, but this could be chalked up to Opening Day jitters, the responsibility of being the Opening Day starter or the self-imposed pressure that comes with a big offseason contract.

    After Teheran’s 6 innings, rookies Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser made their big league debuts. Thomas allowed a hit in the 1/3 inning pitched. Schlosser fared better going 1 2/3 perfect innings with 1 strikeout.

    The team went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 7 men on base in the opener.

    BRAVES BEGIN WEEKEND SERIES IN NATION’S CAPITAL…

    In the span of 7 days, the Atlanta Braves will have participated in 3 home openers including their own at Turner Field. The second home opener they’ll play in will be that of rival Washington Nationals in D.C. Friday night. After a day off Thursday, the Braves will face the Nats in a 3-game series.

    Tanner Roark will be making the Friday afternoon start in the spot of Doug Fister who was placed on the disabled list by the Nats. Roark and rookie Jordan pitched very well at spring training, but there was only one rotation spot to be had. In the end, new manager Matt Williams was not forced to choose between them due to the injury to Fister. Roark went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA last season for the Nats. Roark went 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings in camp.

    Stephen Strasburg is fresh off a tumultuous start against the Mets on Opening Day where he struck out 10 batters while giving up 4 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. The Nationals pulled out that game in 10 innings after the Mets’ bullpen collapsed and gave up 5 runs.

    As is often noted when the Braves face off against Strasburg, Dan Uggla has the best numbers against the fireballer. in 30 plate appearances Uggla has a .407 batting average (.467 on-base percentage, .704 slugging) with 11 hits, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 3 walks and 8 RBIs. Another Brave with outstanding numbers against Strasburg is the hot hitting Freddie Freeman. Freeman holds a .417 batting average against Strasburg in 21 plate appearances with 7 hits and 6 RBIs.

    Jordan, Sunday’s starter, had a strong spring going 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings pitched. Last season with the Nats, Jordan recorded a 3.66 ERA in a limited 51 2/3 innings. Jordan led all Washington pitchers in spring training, including Strasburg, with 20 strikeouts.

    The Braves will continue their 4-man rotation in D.C., sending rookie David Hale (0-0) to the mound Friday afternoon against Tanner Roark (0-0). Saturday’s night game pits Julio Teheran (0-1, 3.00) against Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00). The final game of the series Sunday features Alex Wood (1-0, 1.29) and Taylor Jordan (0-0).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves sign veteran Harang, release Garcia

    Camp for the Atlanta Braves has been tumultuous, to say the least, due to the constant question mark surrounding starting pitching. Over the weekend, the Braves sent The RHPs Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Kris Medlen and LHPs Mike Minor and Jonny Venters to the 15-day disabled list. In addition to those injuries, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, of course both needing second Tommy John surgeries on their pitching elbows and out for the entire season, recent acquisition Ervin Santana won’t be ready by Opening Day. Without Beachy, Medlen and Tim Hudson, who departed in free agency this winter, a veteran presence is desperately needed on the staff.

    GarciaUp until Monday, the belief was that veteran Freddy Garcia would fill that void and round out a strong rotation of young arms lead by Julio Teheran who has been named as the Braves’ Opening Day starter. But Frank Wren had other plans, apparently.

    Freddy Garcia’s 1-year contract this winter had an opt-out clause if Garcia didn’t make the starting rotation out of camp. With concerns about velocity and whether Garcia would be durable in the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation, the Braves released Garcia. Garcia had been a much needed addition late in the year for the Braves in 2013 when he recorded a 1.65 ERA in 3 starts and 3 dazzling relief appearances.

    Not long after that announcement was made, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Braves were going after veteran Aaron Harang who had been released by the Cleveland Indians the same day. By afternoon, the Braves announced a 1-year deal with Harang.

    Harang, 35, will begin his 13th big league season with the Braves. With the Indians this spring, Harang pitched 9 innings, allowing 2 runs on a total of 8 hits and 2 walks. In 2013, Harang had a bumpy road split between the Mariners and the Mets. He finished 2013 with a 5.40 ERA  (143 1/3 innings) and a 5-12 record. Harang has a career record of 110-116, with a 4.28 ERA. In 5 starts at Turner Field in his career, Harang has a 1-1 record with a 3.41 ERA over 34 1/3 innings, surrendering only 2 homers.

    How the Braves made the decision between Garcia and Harang is unclear, but it likely came down to money. Frank Wren has said that the Braves are about $10 million over their $100 million budget for 2014, mostly due to the urgent signing of Ervin Santana a few weeks ago. Garcia would have received $1.5 million if he made the team out of spring training and then $1.5 million plus in performance incentives.

    Both Garcia and Harang were in a similar situation for the Braves and Indians, respectively. Under union rules, their teams had to guarantee them a spot on the Opening Day roster, pay a retention bonus, or release them. Garcia spoke briefly with reporters yesterday and said the Braves didn’t want to pay his contract and that’s why he was leaving.

    The financial details of the Harang signing have not been released yet.

    With the signing of Harang, the Braves will likely begin the season with a 4-man rotation of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and David Hale. Ervin Santana will be a few weeks behind joining the rotation due to his late signing. Winter acquisition Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor could both join the rotation during the week of April 20-26. Both Floyd and Minor begin the season on the DL, Floyd is returning from Tommy John elbow surgery and Minor is recovering from shoulder inflammation. How the rotation will look at that point has everything to do with how Gavin Floyd looks and how David Hale performs in the early going.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves sign Santana, Medlen a likely Tommy John candidate

    Braves, GM, Frank Wren

    Braves GM, Frank Wren

    When starting pitcher Kris Medlen left the mound Sunday, the Frank Wren knew they the Braves were in trouble. With the departure of veteran Tim Hudson to free agency, growing concerns about the health of Brandon Beachy, and a rotation rounded out with the inexperience of youth (Teheran, Wood, Hale), it was clear the Braves would need to make a move if they hoped to contend in the National League East.

    Not taking much time at all, general manager Frank Wren moved quickly to get free agent Ervin Santana in for a physical. Santana, who had been rumored to be in talks with various teams including the Blue Jays and Mariners, was intrigued by the idea of pitching in the National League. It didn’t take long at all for the Braves to reach a deal. He flew from Arizona to Florida Tuesday, took his physical last night and signed with the club this morning.

    The 1-year deal for Santana is worth $14.1 million. The Braves will lose the 26th slot in the MLB draft, which was worth $1,839,400 in 2013. If the Braves don’t re-sign Santana after the season, they’ll have the opportunity to gain a draft pick

    Santana, 31, had a rebound season with the Kansas City Royals in 2013 after a tough go in 2012 with his long-time club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Santana posted a 9-10 record with a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 32 starts (211 innings pitched). Over a 9-year career, he has a career 4.19 ERA, a winning 105-90 record, has had 5 seasons of 200+ innings and has pitched 14 complete games. His experience on the mound will be important to a young staff that features only 1 other veteran–Freddy Garcia (until, presumably Gavin Floyd returns from Tommy John surgery and joins the club).

    The flip side of the Santana signing is the terrible news about clubhouse and fan favorite Kris Medlen. In this morning’s press conference, the Braves announced both the signing of Ervin Santana and the unfortunate news that Kris Medlen’s MRI revealed “involvement” of the elbow ligament that had previously been repaired. It seems a forgone conclusion at this point that Medlen is headed for his 2nd Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. It will be his 2nd elbow surgery in 4 years.

    On top of the Medlen news, the Braves have been watching Brandon Beachy closely. He left his last spring training game early with soreness in his throwing arm. It was announced that he would miss his next spring start to rest that arm. Like Medlen, Beachy has a replaced ligament in his pitching elbow and returned for a short time last season from that surgery before needing an arthroscopic clean-out of his elbow shortly after. Beachy arrived at camp supposedly healthy, but his velocity has been way down (averaging 86-87 mph).

    Also worth noting is that Mike Minor has been dealing with shoulder soreness recently. Camp for him got off to a slow start as he was unable to workout due to pain from a procedure on his urethra over the winter. A rotation that was likely to feature some combination of Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Teheran, Wood/Hale and possibly veteran Garcia will now feature Santana and Teheran for certain and hopefully some combination of Beachy, Minor, Wood/Hale and Garcia to round it out.

    Frank Wren has had his work cut out for him this winter and never more than in the past 4 days. The old adage ‘when you think you have enough pitching, get more’ is once again confirmed.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Atlanta’s Offseason: A Review

    Now that the Braves have begun exhibition games in the Grapefruit League, fans are getting their first look at the 2014 Braves. Asking what happened to so-and-so or who the new young reliever is comes naturally for any fan. It seems a good time to review what happened over the offseason including who left the team and who joined the Braves.

    The Departures:

    • hudsonStarting pitching: Tim Hudson (Giants), Paul Maholm (Dodgers).
    • Relief pitchers: Eric O’Flaherty (A’s), Cristhian Martinez (unsigned), Scott Downs (White Sox), Luis Ayala (Nats).
    • Position players: Brian McCann (Yankees), Paul Janish (Rockies), Elliot Johnson (Indians), Reed Johnson (Marlins).

    Of the departures, the three that will certainly sting the most for the Braves as the 2014 season gets underway are Hudson, McCann and O’Flaherty. Hudson and McCann have offered leadership on and off the field for the Braves. O’Flaherty, with the exception of last season’s Tommy John surgery ending his year, has been a force in the bullpen for the Braves. Since joining the Braves in 2009, O’Flaherty pitched in 295 games (an average of 69 per 162 games) and a total of 249 1/3 innings (average of 58 per 162 games). He notched a stunning 1.99 ERA from 2009-2013 with a 13-7 win/loss record. His strikeout/per 9 innings rate was 7.2. With Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, the Braves boasted the best bullpen in baseball. While both O’Flaherty and Venters recovered from Tommy John surgeries last season, the Braves got an idea of what the ‘pen would look like when one or both moved on. Luis Avilan stepped up in a big way and the addition of Jordan Walden proved crucial.

    The Signings:

    • GarciaFreddy Garcia (SP): Garcia, you’ll remember, was fierce for the Braves in September when they desperately needed his veteran leadership. He went 1-2, that record not reflective of his dominance, with a 1.65 ERA in 6 games that final month. Garcia’s minor league deal with his spring training invite leaves open the option for The Chief to be the fifth starter in the rotation. Part of Garcia’s minor league deal worth $1.25 million includes a provision in the contract that allows Garcia to opt-out if he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Garcia, a 12-year veteran of the big leagues, has no interest in being sent to the bullpen or pitching in the minor leagues. Garcia has posted a 156-108 career record with a 4.15 ERA. His postseason record is of great interest to clubs; 6-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 11 postseason games, 10 of those starts.
    • Gavin Floyd was signed to a 1-year contract Monday with Atlanta.Gavin Floyd (SP): Like Garcia, Floyd is a veteran with a huge upside–the potential far outweighing the risk. The Braves signed Floyd to a 1-year contract for $4 million. Floyd’s best year came in 2008 for the White Sox when he had a 17-8 record with a career-best 3.84 ERA (in 206 1/3 innings pitched). Over his 10-year career he has a 70-70 record (in 199 games) with a 4.48 ERA. Floyd had 5 starts in 2013 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair both a torn ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon. He is likely to be ready to pitch by mid-May.
    • DoumitRyan Doumit (OF/C/1B): One of the more interesting signings by general manager Frank Wren this offseason was that of Ryan Doumit. Doumit had spent the last 2 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and prior to that he spent 7 years in the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his career in the NL, Doumit posted a .271 batting average and in the AL a .261. The Braves acquired Doumit for minor league pitcher Sean Gilmartin who had ceased making progress on the Braves’ farm. Gilmartin had a rough 2013 season at Triple-A Gwinnett where he went 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA. In addition to Gilmartin to the Twins, the Braves will pay Doumit $3.5 million in 2014. Doumit comes from a mold similar to Evan Gattis. He is average on defense, nothing spectacular, at both catcher and the outfield. He can play first base in a pinch. But the upside with Doumit is that he can hit. As a bench bat, there is a huge upside for the Braves. Also, with Gerald Laird aging, Doumit could catch if Gattis needs a day off and Laird isn’t able to step in.
    • VasquezLuis Vasquez (RP): Vasquez, the more interesting of the two pickups, is a reliever with a great deal of potential despite underwhelming numbers in both Double A and Triple A. Playing in the Dominican Republic Winter League, Vasquez had posted an 1.15 ERA in 20 appearances for Licey. He had 19 strikeouts to 3 walks in 15 2/3 innings while allowing only 4 hits. His dropped arm slot has been a huge success, something he did while with the Dodgers in 2013. He routinely throws between 94-96 MPH. He comes with the rave reviews of current Dodger and former Brave Peter Moylan.

    The Extensions:

    • Freddie Freeman (1B): 8 years, $125 million
    • Jason Heyward (OF): 2 years, $13.3 million
    • Craig Kimbrel (RP): 5 years, $59 million
    • Julio Teheran (SP): 6 years, $32.4 million
    • Andrelton Simmons (SS): 7 years, $58 million

    In addition to the contract extensions of the young core, both GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez saw their contracts extended. The specifics of those contracts have not been made public, but both will be with the team through at least the 2015 season.

    The Bench Battle:

    • GamelMat Gamel (IF): Signed to minor league contract in December, released by the team in February. Gamel was a touted prospect for the Brewers and heir-apparent to Prince Fielder at 1B until he required two knee surgeries. Gamel’s likely option with the Braves was on the bench. In 290 games at Triple A, Gamel hit for a .301 average with 53 homers and an .886 OPS. However, the Braves released Gamel this month when it became apparent that problems with his surgically repaired knee would prevent him from being available. Gamel’s release opens up a spot on the bench that could potentially be filled by infielder Tommy La Stella.
    • LaStellaTommy La Stella (IF): In 81 games with the Mississippi Braves (Double-A) in 2013, La Stella posted a .343 batting average with 97 hits, 21 doubles, 4 homers, 41 RBIs, and a .422 OBP. Over the winter, La Stella played in the Arizona Fall League where he had success with a .290 batting average in 62 at-bats. In addition to his offensive strength, La Stella is a decent fielder with room for improvement. He could adequately step in at second base to relieve Dan Uggla who struggled mightily last season on offense. With the departure of Gamel, La Stella now has a shot at making the team out of camp.

    The Injuries:

    • Mike Minor (urethra): Minor required a procedure to repair his urethra over the winter. He wasn’t able to throw in January and arrived at camp with continued soreness. His throwing program at camp was delayed a week due to soreness, but he will be on track to make his first start in the rotation opening week.
    • Tyler Pastornicky (knee): Pastornicky tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August last year when filling in for the struggling Dan Uggla. He arrived at camp with the only remaining limitation being that of lateral movement. He missed the first week of camp, but, like Minor, should be on track quickly.
    • Jonny Venters (elbow): Venters required Tommy John surgery last May after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The current time table for his return is late May or early June.
    • Gavin Floyd (elbow): Floyd, like Venters, tore his ulnar collateral ligament last May. The projected timetable for his return is mid-May.

    Perhaps the biggest news of the winter for the Braves was not a signing, not a departure and certainly not an injury. The Braves announced that they will leave Turner Field in 2017 for a new stadium in Cobb County. This announcement has opened doors for the Braves that wouldn’t have been possible had they stayed in Atlanta at the Ted. Projected revenue from the new stadium meant that Frank Wren was able to go out and sign the extensions with Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Teheran and Simmons. After 17 years at Turner Field, a stadium that was built for the 1996 summer Olympics and then retrofittef for the Braves, the Braves will part with an average stadium that came with obvious problems. The new stadium not only made the winter contract extensions possible, it will give the Braves payroll flexibility in the coming years as they approach arbitration and free agency with Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Evan Gattis and others.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves sign Simmons to 7-year extension

    Both Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons are now celebrating extensions--2 years and 7 years, respectively.

    Both Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons are now celebrating extensions–2 years and 7 years, respectively.

    Frank Wren continues a torrid spring of signings with today’s news that Atlanta has signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a 7-year extension. Simmons joins Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel as part of the young core the Braves have locked in for many years to come.

    The deal signed today with the defensive wizard is worth $58 million. Simmons’ deal includes a progressive salary beginning with $1 million for 2014, $3 million in 2015, $6 million in ’16, $8 million in ’17, $11 million in ’18, $13 million in ’19 and $15 million in 2020. In addition to his annual salary, Andrelton was given a $1 million signing bonus. Simmons will be 31 when his contract expires.

    Andrelton Simmons, the last regular man to arrive at camp due to visa issues, was quick to sign the extension with the Braves. Andrelton said he couldn’t be happier with the extension, noting that the Braves are a team he grew up following. Part of the reason for that is his fellow Curaçao countryman Andruw Jones who patrolled Atlanta’s outfield for 12 seasons, winning 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards. Simmons won his first Gold Glove award in 2013. His first of many, certainly.

    Andrelton Simmons is best known for his defense, notching a defensive WAR (wins above replacement) of 5.4 in 2013, the highest WAR for his position. Also in 2013, Andrelton recorded 499 assists, another best among those at his position. That same year he finished 14th in MVP balloting and won the Gold Glove. Simmons has a career .256 batting average in 206 games (840 plate appearances). While the small sample size doesn’t necessarily foretell Simmons’ offensive strengths in the years to come, his defense thus far is a good indication that he has the potential to be one of the best if not the best defensive players in the history of the game.

    Simmons’ signing is one of several in recent days and speaks to the payroll flexibility the Braves gain with the announced move to a new stadium in Cobb County.

    Atlanta’s front office has committed approximately $280 million to 5 players in extensions in just over 2 weeks Jason Heyward was signed for 2 years, Freddie Freeman for 8 years, Julio Teheran for 6 years, Craig Kimbrel for 5 years and now Simmons for 7. In addition to these signings, both Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren had their contracts extended through at least the 2015 seasons.

    Speaking to the recent extensions of himself and his teammates, Simmons said, “it’s really nice to see the Braves want to keep this team together. We have great talent.”

    Mike Minor, the only missing piece of the puzzle, is likely the next domino to fall. Minor is under Atlanta’s control for 4 seasons including the 2014 season.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.