• Exclusives

    Braves win opening series, welcome Cubs

    After a long winter, a busy offseason of deals and a productive Spring Training, the Braves opened the 2013 season with a win against an old National League East foe. The Braves took two of three games from the Phillies in the opening series of the season.

    Before Philadelphia pitted their $144 million man Cole Hamels against veteran ace Tim Hudson on Opening Day, Braves fans were treated with the opening pitch being lobbed across the plate by future Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones. It was just as surreal for Chipper as it was for the thousands of Braves fans who have not seen an Opening Day without Chipper in uniform and in the lineup in nearly two decades.

    Highlights from the three-game series against the Phils include: Evan Gattis homering in his first big league at-bat, going yard off Roy Halladay; Justin Upton went deep twice during the series, including on Opening Day; Paul Maholm pitched a gem in his 5 2/3 innings of work in game 2, getting through his outing without allowing a run; Jason Heyward put on a defensive clinic with solid defense in each start, especially in game 3 when he laid out to rob Ben Revere of a hit; and, Craig Kimbrel put his spring struggles behind him by getting a save under his belt in his first chance Opening Day.

    However, the first series of the 2013 season was not without a few hiccups. As can be expected right out of the gate, not all bats were up to par and not all pitchers had found their groove. BJ Upton had a whopping 7 strikeouts in 11 at-bats during the series. Whether the older of the Upton brothers was trying too hard in his first 3 games with his new club or not, Upton seemed to really be reaching at the plate. In addition to all those K’s, BJ didn’t record a walk. Among pitchers, Kris Medlen struggled in his first start of the season, seemingly without control in the first portion of game 3. His line doesn’t reflect how lost he seemed at times, as he only gave up 6 hits in 5 innings pitched. Catcher Gerald Laird walked to the mound several times in Medlen’s start, appearing to attempt to calm Medlen and get his game back on track. Medlen pitched out of numerous dicey situations. In 1/3 of an inning, Cristhian Martinez gave up 2 runs off 3 hits in his relief appearance Wednesday. Like Medlen, Martinez struggled during Spring Training with command of the strike zone. Neither pitcher has quite turned the page on a rocky spring.

    Line scores from the opening series:

    Game 1

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

    W: Avilan (1-0, 0.00 ) L: Hamels (0-1, 9.00) SV: Kimbrel (1)

    Game 2

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

    W: Maholm (1-0, 0.00) L: Halladay (0-1, 13.50)

    Game 3

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

    W: Lee (1-0, 0.00) L: Medlen (0-1, 3.60) SV: Papelbon (1)

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    BRAVES WELCOME CUBS FOR 3-GAME WEEKEND SERIES…

    Friday: Feldman (0.0, -.–) vs. Minor (0-0, -.–)

    Saturday: Villaneuva (0.0, -.–) vs. Teheran (0-0, -.–)

    Sunday: Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) vs. Hudson (0-0, 6.23)

    Saturday will mark the 2013 debut of Julio Teheran who had a dominant spring and looks to solidify his place permanently in the Braves lineup quickly. Teheran really stepped up this spring without any competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

    Similar to Teheran, Mike Minor had a solid spring and came away from the Grapefruit League with something he greatly needed–confidence. The Braves would love to see the confident lefty that appeared in the second-half of the 2012 season and then again this spring. Minor is every bit as talented and capable as starters Maholm, Medlen and Hudson. With a confident Minor and a revived Teheran, the Braves pitching staff is just as difficult for hitters from the first rotation spot through the fifth.

    Going forward, we will likely see a continuation of the platoon manager Fredi Gonzalez has created with Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson at third base. In 6 at-bats, Johnson has thus far recorded 2 hits, 1 of them a double, and a walk. Francisco has 1 hit in 4 at-bats. Both have a strikeout. This platoon is offensively matched and both have been solid on defense, Francisco even better than advertised. By using this platoon, Fredi can always count on having a solid bat on the bench that he can count on–a bat that has previously been in the hands of Eric Hinske or Brooks Conrad. This will be essential to bench efficiency until Brian McCann and Paul Janish return from the DL.

    Also going forward, we know now that the MRI on Jonny Venters’ pitching elbow was inconclusive, but he has been ordered by Dr. James Andrews to rest that elbow for an entire month. Without Venters in the ‘pen, Gearrin, Walden and Avilan will really have to step up. A time table for Jonny’s return has not yet been established.

    With the Cubs in town, the Braves will continue to work out the early season kinks. They will hope for signs of life from BJ Upton, a successful 2013 debut for Julio Teheran, a continued display confidence by Mike Minor and for Andrelton Simmons to break out and show the league why he was the talk of the World Baseball Classic.

    The Braves and Cubs get underway at 7:30 p.m. (EST) tonight.

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

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