• Exclusives

    Braves progressing as season nears

    By Andrew Hirsh

    Catcher Brian McCann is 9 for 24 with 2 HR in his last 10 games.

    With April fast approaching, Spring Training is nearing its end. Organizations across the league are now in the process of finalizing their rosters, and players have begun to transition into the proper mindset for the start of a new MLB season.

    For the Atlanta Braves, a team that immediately plummeted into the basement of the Grapefruit League, this spring has been anything but smooth sailing.

    However, they’ve shown marked improvements of late, losing just three of their last 11.

    As we’ve discussed before, it’s illogical to put too much stock into the results of Spring Training games, both in the standings and in individual performances. That being said, it’s now time to look for the players to be ready for action, especially with opening day less than two weeks away.

    Fredi Gonzalez believes that Spring Training needs to be separated into three segments, each serving its own purpose.

    “I always divide Spring Training into thirds,” Gonzalez told MLB.com. “The first 10 games is just get your at-bats and get your timing down. … The second 10, you kind of let them look for signs like we’ve been doing. Then the next 10, you try to play it as close as you would during the season to a certain extent.”

    The Braves currently find themselves in Gonzalez’s final ‘third,’ and fans should look for the players be prepared for the grueling 162 game schedule on the horizon.

    With this in mind, we’ve reached the point in which it’s fair to start applying a certain level of significance to what we see on the field. With so little time between now and April 5, it’s important for the Braves to be properly adjusted both physically and mentally to ensure a strong start to the 2012 season.

    Contrary to the beginning of spring, many of Atlanta’a position players have been hitting well recently. Tylor Pastornicky, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman are all coming along nicely after slow starts out of the gate, and Martin Prado and Dan Uggla have produced all month.

    Pastornicky, who has no MLB experience, is currently riding a five game hitting streak and is starting to look like the legitimate big leaguer the Braves need him to be. His recent streak, which includes a four-hit performance against the Marlins, is a nice contrast to his start this spring in which he only accumulated three hits in his first 30 at bats.

    1B Freddie Freeman is 6 for 13 with 3 HR in his last 4 games.

    Freeman, who will attempt to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump this year, has hits in seven of his past nine; McCann started slow but has four hits and two homers in his last five appearances.

    Prado and Uggla are batting .362 and .313, respectively, so far in Grapefruit League action. After all the struggles they experienced in 2011, it’s encouraging to see them both hitting well on a regular basis. If anything, it will give them the confidence they will surely need to find success in the regular season.

    In addition to their hitting, the Braves have also seen improvements on the mound. Jair Jurrjens looked awful through most of the spring, but his last start on Sunday resembled the pitcher we saw during the first half of last year, as he tossed six innings, allowing one run and three hits. Tommy Hanson, who got a late start this spring after suffering a minor concussion, allowed one hit, one unearned run and one walk in four innings Wednesday against the Nationals.

    All in all, this year’s team appears to be coming together. For the most part, the players that the Braves need to succeed are doing so (or are at least on the right path). Again, while Spring Training results should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s important to see the team near its regular season form as the exhibition schedule comes to a close.

    By the way, we talked with BravesWire scribe, Bud Ellis, about Chipper’s retirement on our most recent Southern Fried Baseball podcast. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Follow Andrew Hirsh on Twitter: @andrewhirsh … and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire