• Exclusives

    Braves start season with sweep and new closer

    Still reeling from the news that the Braves had traded former Rookie of the Year, perennial all-star and all-time club saves leader Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres, the Braves embarked on the first series of the season in Miami lacking some of the cohesiveness they had broke camp with. Despite the startling news to Kimbrel’s former teammates, they took to Miami with confidence and walked away with a series sweep.

    Pierzynski

    A.J. Pierzynski, the 38-year-old backup catcher, launched a 2-run blast off Koehler in the 7th inning of a no-score game.

    The story of the series wasn’t the remaining members of the 2014 Opening Day roster (Avilan, Freeman, C. Johnson, Simmons and Teheran), but the newcomers to the club. Backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski came through in the final game of the series with a 2-run homer that put the Braves on top and unreachable by the scuffling Marlins. Pierzynski appears to be an addition that can provide offense if given proper rest, an arrangement that is perfect for a club with Christian Bethancourt as its everyday catcher. Pierzynski was signed as the veteran catcher that could mentor the young Bethancourt, any offense he provides is a bonus in the eyes of the club, a bonus that will endear him to fans quickly.

    Fredi Gonzalez announced on day one of the new season that he would turn to veteran closer Jason Grilli to come in for the club in save situations with the possibility of another veteran closer, Jim Johnson, getting a few saves when Grilli needs a day off. Grilli stepped in without hesitation and has notched 2 saves on the season thus far. Grilli, who made his MLB debut in 2000, is no stranger to closing and made a name for himself and an all-star appearance in that role with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    It wasn’t only the veterans making their mark in the first 3 games of the season. Jace Peterson, who came to the club in the trade that sent Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres, made a splash with a few impressive defensive plays at second base. Peterson was named the starting second baseman over veteran Alberto Callaspo and fellow rookie Pedro Ciriaco. He recorded 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs scored in his debut series. His bat will need improvement, but the young man has a promising future and looks to be a great add for a club that has struggled at second base going back to the trade that brought Dan Uggla over from the then Florida Marlins.

    Perhaps the trade that will pay the highest dividends for the club this season was the swap with the Cardinals that brought starting pitcher Shelby Miller to Atlanta in exchange for Jordan Walden and Georgia’s own Jason Heyward. Miller brings with him to Atlanta a record 25-18 record over 370 innings pitched. Young and with loads of potential, Miller will be with the club for far longer than Jason Heyward would have been (Heyward becomes a free agent at the end of the 2015 season) and can slot in nicely in the rotation in either the 2 or 3 spot. In his first start with the club, Miller pitched 5 innings of scoreless ball while striking out 4. Miller looked sharp despite only lasting 5 innings.

    Something that was quickly obvious in the first 3 games of the season was the lower strikeout rate of the roster and the ability to move base runners over. They were 10-for-23 with runners in scoring position in Miami, already a huge improvement from the 2014 Atlanta Braves. The rally that they put together in game 2 that gave them a 7-0 lead after the first inning was a sight for the sore eyes of fans who watched many a rally killed last season. The final 12-2 score was a credit to the entire lineup with contributions from Markakis, Freeman, EY Jr., Bethancourt, C. Johnson and newcomer Maybin.

    BRAVES HOME OPENER BRINGS OLD FOE TO TURNER FIELD…

    The home opener in Atlanta looks to be full of familiar faces as former Braves descend on Turner Field to mark the season in which the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta. Bobby Cox, Fred McGriff, Henry Aaron and Chipper Jones are expected to be in attendance.

    Friday’s opener will feature Niese v. Stults. Saturday pits Gee vs. Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA). And Sunday’s finale will feature a yet to be named Met vs. Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA).

    Eric Stults had a solid spring with his new club, beating out Wandy Rodriguez for a spot in the rotation. Stults isn’t necessarily a name familiar to the casual fan as he really struggled through most of last season with the equally troubled Padres. However, with the help of changed mechanics, he put up a 2.74 ERA in the final 11 starts of his Padres tenure. The Braves toyed with the idea of putting Stults in the ‘pen, but his strong spring would not allow for it. He has a lot to prove to his new club with this start, but with the injury to Mike Minor and the time Mike Foltynewicz needs at Triple-A, Stults won’t be facing competition for his starting job. Stults brings a career 4.12 ERA and a 35-43 record to the club.

    With both a righty and a lefty taking the mound, look to see a mix of outfielders with Eric Young, Jr. facing his old team as well as fellow newcomers Cameron Maybin, Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson. Gomes and perhaps even Gosselin will get a chance against the lefty.

    One other note on the flexible outfield that Fredi Gonzalez has at his disposal: The Braves got word this week that $7.5 million dollar man Dian Toscano has finally arrived in Florida. The Cuban defector had been in limbo in the Dominican Republic while awaiting a U.S. visa. He will attend extended spring training at the Wide World of Sports complex in Florida before being sent to Triple-A Gwinnett.

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