• Exclusives

    Braves split series with Nats, welcome Mets

    Fresh off a disappointing series in Detroit, the Braves opened their home stand with a 4-game set against the Nats. The Washington Nationals arrived in Atlanta having lost the previous 7 meetings with the Braves, 4 of them when the Braves visited D.C. in April. They would lose 2 more games to their division rival before finally taking 2 from the Braves, splitting the series at 2 a piece.

    The big news for the Braves yesterday was that Justin Upton had been named National League Player of the Month for April and Evan Gattis was named NL Rookie of the Month. In his 26 April games, Upton posted a .298 average with 5 doubles, 12 homers and 19 RBIs. Justin Upton’s torrid home run hitting is tied with the Marlins entire roster at 12. Evan Gattis appeared in 21 games in April and posted a .250 batting average. In those 21 games, Gattis had 6 homers, 5 doubles and 16 RBIs. Gattis came through in the clutch for Atlanta, notching 5 game-winning RBIs in the month.

    The story of the Nats/Braves series at the Ted was the 200th career win for veteran ace Tim Hudson. Hudson became only the 3rd active pitcher with 200 or more wins, joining Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay.

    Game 1:

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez went with his 11th different lineup in 11 games in game 1 of the series. Fredi hoped to take advantage of the success Dan Uggla has had against Strasburg. Uggla finished the game with a .476 lifetime batting average against Strasburg.While the hitting was able to bring 3 runs across the plate off 7 hits, the real story of the game was pitching.

    Julio Teheran pitched with the confidence that was lacking in his counterpart Stephen Strasburg. While Strasburg looked frustrated on the mound and left after a bicep strain, Teheran pitched well, leaving after 5 1/3 innings pitched. He gave up 10 hits, giving up only 2 runs and 1 walk. Teheran struck out 5 and threw 58 strikes of his 91 pitches/58 strikes.

    When Teheran left the game, the game was tied. He then handed it over to Jordan Walden, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel who were absolutely dominant. Walden, EOF and Kimbrel retired the last 11 batters they faced. As Kimbrel said after the game, the Nats acted at the plate as if they had no idea that Walden had a changeup. Walden’s changeup was as nasty as any pitch we’ve seen from the former closer who was acquired in the Tommy Hanson deal. Jordan retired each of the 5 hitters he faced in his appearance and all 3 of his strikeouts came with the change up as the put-away pitch.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Nationals 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10 0
    Braves 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 x 3 7 0

    W: Walden (1-0) L: Clippard (1-1) SV: Kimbrel (9)

    Game 2:

    Game 2 was all about Tim Hudson. Between his dominant pitching and his timely hitting, Tim Hudson finally achieved the milestone of 200 career wins. Hudson’s 1st career win came on June 13, 1999 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ironically, that Dodgers team had current Nationals manager Davey Johnson at its helm. With the win, Hudson became the 110th pitcher in MLB history to reach 200 wins. He is now the 5th Braves pitcher to win 200 games, over 100 of those games coming in a Braves uniform. Huddy now has a .655 career winning percentage. That is the 12th highest win percentage all-time and the 2nd among all active pitchers.

    Not only did Hudson leave the game after 7 innings of 1 run baseball, he allowed only 3 hits, 2 walks and struck out 6. Huddy stepped up with the bat, also. Tim had a double and he homered (with help from Bryce Harper), scoring 2 runs. It was the 2nd multi-hit game for Huddy this season, the other also coming of the Nationals. He’s hitting .429 on the season.

    Though it was Hudson’s night, it was also a night of firsts for young Andrelton Simmons who hit his first career leadoff home run.

    Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez struggled once again against the Braves. It was the 5th straight start Gio had gone 5 innings or less against the Braves. A perplexing stat for Gio is that he has surrendered 11 runs in the 7 innings he has pitched against the Braves in 2013. Yet, Gio has given up only 7 runs in 23 innings against all other clubs he has faced.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Nationals 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 1
    Braves 2 2 0 1 3 0 0 0 x 8 12 0

    W: Hudson (3-1) L: Gonzalez (2-2)

    Game 3:

    The final two games of the series were simply a matter of bad luck. Paul Maholm has dominated left-handed hitting this season. In 2013, lefties are hitting .091 (3-for-33) against him. Maholm pitched well in his 8 innings, giving up only 3 hits and 2 runs, but it wasn’t enough with zero run support behind him. Mahiolm retired the final 13 batters he faced and made each of those outs look effortless.

    In addition to pitching well, Paul Maholm had his 3rd career double. That double added to the incredible hitting Atlanta’s pitching has contributed so far in 2013. Another of those strange stats: Tampa Bay has 10 hits from all players who have hit in the DH spot. Atlanta’s pitching staff has 10 hits to match that. The strong hitting of Hudson has led the staff in what is looking like a bit of a competition. Minor has continued the solid hitting he has displayed since his call-up and Teheran, Maholm and Medlen have stepped up their game. Hitting for this staff isn’t just about laying down a good bunt.

    Hitting isn’t the only thing the pitching staff has stepped up. The defense of the pitching staff has greatly improved. Medlen fields off the mound like the shortstop he used to be. Teheran and Minor have learned from Medlen. Both Hudson and Maholm have been good defenders off the mound in their careers.

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

    W: Zimmermann (5-1) L: Maholm (3-3) SV: Soriano (8)

    Game 4:

    The hard luck pitcher on the Braves’ staff so far this season is hands down Kris Medlen. In his quality starts, Medlen has been the recipient of poor run support. Medlen’s starts tend to coincide with the games when the Braves’ offense is cold. Medlen pitched 7 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks and struck out a whopping 8 batters. Unfortunately for Medlen, Dan Haren seemed to finally get his control back in his outing. Haren had been hit hard since the season began, but was nearly untouchable for the Braves.

    The only offense to speak of in the final game of the series came from Dan Uggla who smashed a home run to left field. It was Uggla’s 5th homer of the season and improved his batting average to .167. Unfortunately, that is also the projected batting average for Uggla in the 2013 season. It is just a reminder that the Braves are getting virtually nothing from B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward. Andrelton Simmons does appear to be breaking out of his early slump, quite possibly because he isn’t trying to hit home runs in each at-bat.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Nationals 1` 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 5 1

    W: Haren (3-3) L: Medlen (1-4) SV: Soriano (9)


    The Braves will not have any returns from the disabled list while the Mets are in town, but there will be some big additions to the roster in the days ahead. Brian McCann is hoping to be back for next week’s series against the Cincinnati Reds. McCann homered for Class-A Rome in his final rehab game there. He has since joined Triple-A Gwinnett and went 1-for-4 with an RBI single Thursday. The consensus seems to be that Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird will remain on the roster when McCann returns. Gattis can play first base and left field in addition to catching. McCann likely won’t be able to catch in more than a couple consecutive games right away. Jonny Venters played catch Tuesday for first time since being shut down and going on the disabled list in March with an elbow strain. According to reports, Venters felt no discomfort while throwing at a distance of 60 feet. His return will be important, especially now that the Braves have placed Luis Ayala on the 15-day DL with an anxiety disorder. Whether Ayala is able to return after 15 days remains to be seen. One other update on injuries: Brandon Beachy, who was the best pitcher in baseball last season before needing Tommy John surgery, has only 3 more side sessions before he can begin his rehab assignment. Though roster decisions will have to be made, the return of McCann, Heyward (still recovering from appendectomy), Venters and Beachy will be huge for the Braves.

    The Braves are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies at 17-11 for best record in the National League. Only the Boston Red Sox have a better win-loss record than the Braves in Major League Baseball. The Braves are set to face the Mets who are 4 games back in the NL East with an 11-15 record. Braves pitchers have the best ERA in the National League at 3.10. Mets pitchers have a combined 4.11 ERA. Where the Braves and Mets are comparable is in batting average. The Braves have a .239 BA while the Mets have a team .237 BA.

    Matt Harvey, the reigning NL Pitcher of the Month, will square off against the Braves in the series. Braves hitters have not seen much of Harvey and that may play a key role in the matchup. The only Braves pitcher with success against Harvey, in limited at-bats, is Jason Heyward (.333, 1-for-3 with a home run) who will still be on the DL throughout the series. Unlike Harvey, the Braves have seen a lot of Niese and have hit him hard. Look to see Reed Johnson in right field against Niese. And if any pitcher can be exactly what B.J. Upton needs, Shawn Marcum may be the guy. In 2010, Upton hit .417 off Marcum (5-for-12 with 1 BB).

    Friday will feature Marcum (0-2, 7.94) vs. Minor (3-2, 3.13). Saturday’s game will pit Niese (2-2, 3.31) vs. Teheran (1-0, 5.08). And the finale will reigning NL Pitcher of the Month Harvey (4-0, 1.56) vs. 200-game winner Hudson. (3-1, 3.86).

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