• Exclusives

    Braves showing signs of life

    By Kent Covington

    After a slow start, Brian McCann has lifted his spring average to .308

    After a 1-10 start to the Braves’ Grapefruit League (pre) season, many fans were openly concerned.  Some in Braves nation began to wonder if their September struggles were bleeding over into the new year.

    Our insistence, however, has been that very little stock should be placed in the results of the first 2 weeks of spring. Early in the spring schedule, big league players are generally just getting their legs underneath them, and minor league players account for half or more of the results.

    We suggested that your hope should be for key players to begin showing signs of improvement around the middle of the spring schedule, looking game-ready by the first of April.

    Well, the middle of the pre-season schedule is here, and the Braves have won 4 of their last 5 spring contests. But scores and records hold no meaning in March. The important thing, as the spring progresses, is that your big league players show signs of increasing readiness for the season ahead. Fortunately, the news is good there as well.

    Dan Uggla and Martin Prado have both looked ready for opening day, seemingly since reporting to camp. Uggla is batting .310 with 4 homers and 9 RBI, while Prado is hitting a cool .378.

    Now other key hitters are beginning to come around as well.

    Jason Heyward has 2 homers and a double off the RF wall in his last 4 games. Brian McCann has lifted his average to .308. Michael Bourn is hitting .270 (not far off from what’s expected of him in the regular season).  And Chipper–3 hits in his last 6 at-bats–looks as though his timing has improved at the plate.

    <a href='http://www.foxsportssouth.com/pages/video?videoid=a13858ac-d746-4f87-becd-88026f1d64eb&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Heyward, Jones talk win over Astros' >Video: Heyward, Jones talk win over Astros</a>

    Two struggling youngsters are also showing positive signs.

    Rookie SS, Tyler Pastornicky, started slow, but has hits in each of his last 2 games. On Saturday vs the Mets, he put together 3 solid at-bats, driving in a pair of runs.

    Last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, Freddie Freeman, may be lagging a bit behind his teammates (.147) after being sidelined for a time with a minor knee injury. However, Freddie’s timing has improved and he says he is starting to feel much more comfortable in the batter’s box.

    Braves’ pitching is also looking up.

    The sole lefty in the Braves rotation, Mike Minor, has been dominant all spring. His line so far: 9 inn, 0 ER, 5 hits, 4 BB, 7 strikeouts.

    After struggling with his command in a start last Monday, Brandon Beachy was in control on Saturday, holding the Jays to 1 run on 2 hits & a walk. He also struck out 6 batters in his 4 innings of work.

    Prized pitching prospect, Julio Teheran, is improving as is fellow phenom, Randall Delgado, who threw 4 solid innings on Friday.

    <a href='http://www.foxsportssouth.com/pages/video?videoid=31b05e4b-0e07-42ee-ac1a-dd833f06b541&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Braves talk it out' >Video: Braves talk it out</a>

    Jair Jurrjens, who is adjusting to a new knee brace and shoe insert, needs more repetition to get comfortable. So does Tommy Hanson, who is behind the curve after missing time with a mild concussion. That’s not a problem yet. They both have several more starts between now and opening day.

    By the way… veteran ace, Tim Hudson, is progressing well in his rehabilitation from back surgery and could return sooner than many expected (perhaps the third week of April).

    Meanwhile, two key members of Atlanta’s bullpen, closer Craig Kimbrel and the versatile Kris Medlen, have been lights out this spring.

    Eric O’Flaherty (6.75) and Johnny Venters (4.50) are sporting unattractive ERA’s, but the sample size is very small and their “stuff” is crisp. Simply shaking off the rust.

    Bullpen candidates Cory Gearrin and Christhian Martinez have been brilliant thus far. One earned run has scored in their 13 combined innings of work.

    Many likely members of the Braves 25-man roster still have plenty of room for improvement. That’s okay. That’s what the remaining 2-1/2 weeks of spring training are for. But based on what they’ve seen in recent days, the Braves have to be pleased with where they are right now.

    By the way, if you haven’t heard our mid-spring 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.