• Exclusives

    Braves split interleague series, gear up for Nats

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    In an unusual interleague series that began north of the border and concluded in Atlanta, the Braves took one game in Toronto and one game at home, splitting the series with the Blue Jays.

    Game 1 (Toronto):

    Perhaps the only highlight of the Blue Jays rout of the Braves to begin the series was the 2-run blast by Evan Gattis who continues to impress all of Major League Baseball with his power and versatility.

    Tim Hudson has been terrible on the road of late, but his road woes are not all of the story. He has allowed 19 earned runs over his last 19 2/3 innings pitched.

    Young Cory Rasmus came out of the bullpen in the 7th and something happened that hasn’t happened since 2010–he faced his older brother Colby. The last time this happened in MLB was in 2010 when Jeff and Jered Weaver faced each other. It was not a sharp outing for Cory who gave up 3 runs in 2 innings.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 3 8 1
    Blue Jays 0 2 2 0 0 2 3 0 x 9 11 0

    W: Buehrle (2-3) L: Hudson (4-4)

    Game 2 (Toronto):

    Brian McCann is back and there is no denying that when he is right, he is one of the best hitting catchers in the big leagues. McCann had his first multi-homer game of the 2013 season at the Rogers Centre. It was the 9th multi-homer game of his career. His second homer of the game game in the 10th inning and proved to be the winning run of the game for Atlanta. McCann’s 2 homers were not the only for the Braves. Gattis and Schafer also went yard. Gattis and McCann had swapped duties in game 2–one catching and the other serving as designated hitter.

    It just wasn’t Maholm’s night. In the 1st inning of the game, he had very little command of his fastball and was unable to hit his spots. For a pitcher like Maholm, who simply doesn’t have the velocity to blow it by batters, there was no hiding how poorly his pitches were and the hard-hitting Blue Jays capitalized. Maholm’s 1st inning behind him, he did settle in. When he handed the game over to the bullpen, Avilan, Gearrin and Kimbrel were able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless. This was a good sign for the bullpen that has struggled since the loss of O’Flaherty and was a sign of things to come in game 3 when they picked up Kris Medlen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Braves 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 7 12 1
    Blue Jays 4 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 12 2

    W: Gearrin (2-1) L: Weber (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (16)

    Game 1 (Atlanta):

    The Braves recorded their 7th shutout loss of the 2013 season. Strikeouts were once again an issue for the offense. The Braves have now struck out at least 10 times in 24 of their first 52 games. The Braves have an amazing record of 29-6 when they record at least 1 homer. They are 2-15 on the season when a home run isn’t recorded.

    After Medlen was hit by the line drive, the bullpen was solid. For perhaps the first time since the loss of O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgery, the ‘pen was able to buckle down, work together and get the Braves through the remainder of the game scoreless. Though the Braves didn’t get the win, this loss fell on the shoulders of the offense and not the ‘pen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 2

    W: Perez (1-0) L: Medlen (1-6) SV: Janssen (11)

    Game 2 (Atlanta):

    Prior to the final game against the Blue Jays, the Braves announced that they had designated Juan Francisco (3B) for assignment to make room on the roster for relief pitcher Alex Wood. Francisco will now either be traded, claimed off of waivers or released. Francisco went 3-for-30 with 14 K’s in his last 11 games with the Braves. In that time, he did not record an RBI. For the season, he was batting .241 with 5 homers and a whopping 43 strikeouts. He had a terrible average of .159 in May.

    The Braves required an extra arm in the bullpen for the final game of the series after the ‘pen had to step in and pitch 7 innings after Medlen was hit by a line drive in the first game in Atlanta. The Braves purchased the contract of Alex Wood from the Mississippi Braves. Wood faced the minimum in a scoreless 9th inning. He was called up less than 24 hours before making his first big league start in Atlanta.

    Mike Minor continued a great start to the season with another solid outing. Minor pitched 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 of them earned, no walks and 5 strikeouts.

    Simmons had committed five errors in the 92 career games he’d played entering Friday. He’s committed 3 in the 7 games that have followed. Simmons went 43 games w/o an error but now has three in 7 games, this one opening door for three runs in the sixth. Tied up 3-3

    Two offensive highlights from the game came from Reed Johnson and Ramiro Pena. Johnson belted his 1st home run as a Brave. His 2-run homer was his 5th career pinch hit homer. Pena had a career-high 4 RBIs in the game as he started in the place of the resting Dan Uggla.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3 7 1
    Braves 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 2 x 11 16 1

    W: Minor (7-2) L: Dickey (4-7)


    Following the split series with the Blue Jays and the Nationals’ loss to the Orioles, the Braves have a 5 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East.

    Despite the loss, the first game of the split-series in Atlanta was a good sign for Atlanta’s bullpen. Carpenter, who Braves’ fans haven’t seen much of, pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief. He could very well become the long man in the ‘pen in the absence of Cristhian Martinez. If he can be a reliable arm for Fredi Gonzalez to turn to in tight spots, that will surely help with the bullpen situation. Jordan Walden appears healthy. He hit 97 mph on the strikeout that ended the 8th inning. His velocity returning, without the prior soreness, puts him in a good position to be the setup man for Craig Kimbrel.

    The Braves are in a precarious situation with B.J. Upton as he attempts to get himself right. BJ Upton is batting .148/.236/.252. We’re a third through the season and he has just 8 RBI. In game 2 in Atlanta, B.J. Upton was quite obviously frustrations when he threw his bat and his helmet striking out for the second time in as many at bats in the game. He had been held out of the lineup for several games as he worked with hitting coaches Walker and Fletcher to try to get his swing right. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he is on the right track. B.J. Upton is qualified worst in the National League in strikeouts with 1 K for every 2.9 plate appearances. In a strange twist, Jordan Schafer, who was a huge disappointment to the Braves in his first stint with the team, has been one of Atlanta’s hottest hitters. In addition to his surprising offense, he has been a solid defender in the outfield with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

    The big stories of May have come via the younger guys on the roster. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran’s combined in May to go 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in their combined 10 starts. Between them they had 55 strikeouts in 69 innings. Rookie Evan Gattis had 17 hits, 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 62 plate appearances in May. He has a .298 batting average with one day left of May. Chris Johnson, who becomes the everyday third baseman with Juan Francisco DFA’d, had 14 hits, 5 RBIs and a .304 average in 50 plate appearances in May. And quietly, Freddie Freeman has had a torrid May. In 114 plate appearances, he has 32 hits, 19 RBIs, a .305 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.

    Beginning today and going through Sunday is the Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend at Turner Field. The event pays tribute to the rich heritage in the Atlanta area and includes a Champions of Justice Discussion Panel today, focusing on the role of sports in civil rights. Saturday’s game will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and will again feature the Atlanta Black Crackers throwback uniforms that the Braves sported earlier in the season. The Nationals will wear the uniform of the Homestead Grays.

    Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend will feature Strasburg (3-5, 2.49) vs. Teheran (3-1, 3.67) Friday night. Saturday night’s game appearing nationally on FOX will feature Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90) vs. Hudson (4-4, 5.37). Sunday afternoon’s finale will feature Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. Maholm (6-4, 3.74).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.