• Ben Sheets

    Braves drop series to Dodgers, look to gain ground vs Nats

    Going into the series with the Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves were 4 games behind the division-leading Washington Nationals. Going into the 3-game set with Washington, the Braves are now 5 games behind the Nats.

    For whatever reason, the Atlanta bats just didn’t come through against the Dodgers. On Saturday night, the Braves went a ridiculous 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Sunday they only put 3 hits on the board. As streaky as this team is, perhaps it is no surprise that their offense is streaky, too.

    Ben Sheets had a fairly rough outing, the worst of his short stint with the Braves. It certainly could have been worse, though. Sheets became the 6th pitcher to ever allow 4 homers on 4 hits (with at least 6 innings pitched). The home runs Sheets allowed were enough for the Dodgers to get by the offensively challenged Braves.

    The story of Mike Minor’s season remains one of poor run support. Mike Minor’s line Sunday afternoon: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 pitches (64 for strikes). He pitched a great game, but received only 3 hits from his offense. Since the all-star break, Minor has been fantastic. He has a 2.23 ERA, with 31 strikeouts, 31 hits surrendered and only 4 home runs allowed in 44 2/3 innings. Yet, Minor’s record since the all-star break? 2 and 5. Minor just can’t catch a break.

    The line scores from each of the 3 games against Los Angeles, including the Civil Rights Game:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 R H E
    Dodgers 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 3 9 1
    Braves 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 4 10 1

    W: Venters (5-3 ) L: League (0-6)

    Game 2 (Civil Rights Game):

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

    W: Harang (9-7) L: Sheets (4-3) SV: Jansen (25)

    Game 3:

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

    W: Billingsley (10-9) L: Minor (6-10)

    KEY SERIES AGAINST DIVISION-LEADING NATS BEGINS…

    Monday: Hudson (12-4, 3.59) vs. Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38)

    Tuesday: Maholm (11-7, 3.39) vs. Strasburg (14-5, 2.91)

    Wednesday: Medlen (4-1, 2.03) vs. Detwiler (7-5, 3.25)

    Some interesting stats for the upcoming series: Tim Hudson has won each of his last 6 decisions, and the team is 8-0 in his last 8 starts dating back to July 6th. Additionally, Huddy is 8-1 with a 4.01 ERA in the 12 games he has started following a Braves loss this season. He has come through big time for the Braves when they have most needed a win. Atlanta is 10-2 in those games Hudson has started on the heels of a loss.

    Kris Medlen is solidifying his place in the rotation. His 3-0 record with a 1.05 ERA in four starts since moving from the bullpen is going to be hard to ignore when the Braves are ready to return to a 5-man rotation. Medlen’s outing Wednesday will likely determine once and for all that he belongs in the rotation and will be there well into the playoffs.

    The Nationals have won 12 of their last 15 games and a remarkable 22 of their last 29 games. By comparison, the Braves are 28-12 since July 5th.

    The Braves and Nationals get underway tonight at 7:05 (EST) and will be the featured MLB.TV free game.

    Before you go, have a listen to the latest Southern Fried Baseball podcast where Kent Covington talks about Atlanta’s 6-man rotation.

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

    Braves roll past Mets, welcome first place Giants

    SS Paul Janish made his Braves debut over the weekend

    Fresh off a sweep of the rival Phillies, the Braves went into the All-Star break knowing that they would continue to contend in the National League East. The questions about starting pitching and the injury to shortstop Andrelton Simmons were partially answered over the weekend as the Braves swept the New York Mets.

    Beginning Friday night, the Braves plugged Jack Wilson in at shortstop in the place of Andrelton Simmons. However, Wilson left the game with a dislocated finger and the Braves were forced to utilize super utility man Martin Prado at short. Going forward, Prado would be needed in left field, the impossibility of platooning Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz there evident, and Frank Wren began looking for available shortstops who could fill in until Simmons comes off the disabled list. Wren found the answer in Paul Janish of the Cincinnati Reds organization. Janish was traded for Triple-A pitcher Todd Redmond on Saturday.

    Friday night’s game showcased a team that has been streaky when key players are missing from the lineup. This time the Braves were without catcher Brian McCann who was paternity leave for the birth of his son. David Ross, the best backup catcher in the league, stepped into McCann’s place and belted a 3-run home run in the 3rd inning off Chris Young. Jason Heyward came through with an RBI and stolen base, continuing the hot streak he began began in the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break. And Craig Kimbrel, the best and most consistent closer in the game, notched his 26th save as the Braves beat the Mets 7-5.

    Saturday, the Braves once again sent Martin Prado out to shortstop, proving again the value of his versatility. Tommy Hanson, who had previously been a force for the Braves and the most consistent starter, struggled early and often. Josh Thole and Ike Davis helped the Mets secure 9 hits and 6 earned runs off Tommy. Throughout the second game of the series, the Braves battled every step of the way as a group. Hits from Freddie Freeman and Eric Hinske fueled the offense, but it was Jason Heyward coming through in the clutch with a 2-out single that hammered the Mets’ bullpen in the 3-run 8th inning. Chipper was not one of the Braves to get a hit, snapping his 14-game hitting streak. The Braves ‘pen held that lead with the untouchable performance of closer Kimbrel, giving him his 27th save on the season and the team an 8-7 victory.

    RHP Ben Sheet's first start as a Brave exceeded expectations

    While neither of the starters Friday nor Saturday night took a win, Sunday’s starter was a complete unknown. Unknown in the sense that when Ben Sheets was signed by the Braves just before the All-Star break, the Braves had absolutely no idea what they would be getting from him. He was a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing and if Sunday’s outing is any indication, the Braves may have just struck gold.

    Prior to Sunday’s game, the Braves made numerous moves including brining in Paul Janish from Cincinnati, a trade made on Saturday; Jack Wilson was sent to the 15-day DL and Randall Delgado was sent back to Gwinnett; and, the Braves purchased the contract of RHP Ben Sheets prior to his first start since July 19, 2010 for the Oakland Athletics.

    For having missed all of the 2011 season to Tommy John surgery, Ben Sheets looked sharp out of the gate Sunday. In his first start in nearly two years, the big right hander threw 6 scoreless innings and allowed only 2 hits. It was a remarkable feat for a guy who didn’t know if he would ever pitch again and for a Braves’ GM who took on the right hander without any guarantee that Sheets would in fact bring something to the team. With 88 pitches, Sheets notched 5 strikeouts and gave up only 1 walk.

    The Braves roughed up Johan Santana in the 5th inning and the Mets were never able to come back from the 6 runs the Braves tagged on the board then. Quietly, amid the hot bat of Jason Heyward and the consistency of Martin Prado and Michael Bourn, Freddie Freeman is producing in big ways. His 3-run home run with 2 outs off Santana was just another example of how important Freeman is to the lineup. When healthy, Freeman can easily carry this offense.

    The bullpen shut down the Mets after Sheets’ departure, securing a 6-1 win over the Mets and the 3-game sweep.

    FIRST PLACE GIANTS ARRIVE AT THE TED…

    Tuesday: Zito (7-6, 4.01) vs. Jurrjens (3-2, 4.97)

    Wednesday: Vogelsong (7-4, 2.36) vs. Minor (5-6, 5.97)

    Thursday: Bumgarner (11-5, 3.15) vs. Hudson (7-4, 3.80)

    Beginning the series against the Giants, the Braves are 2 1/2 games behind the first place Washington Nationals in the NL East. Scraping out a couple of wins against the dominant Giants would put the Braves in great shape to overtake the Nationals in the NL East this weekend when the Braves head to D.C.

    Braves’ pitching will be essential to wins this series with the pitching-dominant Giants in town. Jurrjens will take the mound with a 3-0 record and 2.13 ERA in 4 starts since he was recalled from Gwinnett. This is the Jair Jurrjens the Braves need and whatever happened at Gwinnett seems to have turned Jurrjens around. Returning to form and continuing to remind the Braves why he has been successful for them in the past is important to the second-half for Atlanta. While Zito has been better than expected for the Giants, Atlanta’s offense getting to him early could open the door for another win for JJ.

    One more note on Braves pitching during the S.F. series: Mike Minor has won the rotation spot for the time being with Delgado being sent to Triple-A. Minor must continue to pitch effectively, giving the Braves quality starts, if he hopes to stay in the rotation for the duration. While the Giants are known for their pitching, the pop of Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera is something that Minor and his battery mate McCann will have to be ever cognizant of. Minor cannot let the long ball get him. Avoiding walks and home runs will spell success for Minor and will ensure his confidence does not take a drumming.

    The Atlanta Braves are riding a 7-game winning streak as the Giants roll into town, proving once again that the most consistent thing about the Braves this season is, well, their inconsistency. Atlanta has been one of the most, if not the most, streaky teams in baseball in 2012.

    The Braves welcome the Giants tonight at 7:10 (EST).

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

    Braves rotation could soon look very different

    RHP Randall Delgado could soon be replaced in ATL rotation

    Prior to the start of the season, we posted a piece here at BravesWire titled “Not one, but TWO Braves rotations” highlighting the apparent depth of the Braves pitching staff. It appeared at the time that the Braves had enough Big League or Big League-ready arms to fill TWO Major League starting rotations.

    How things have changed.

    Jair Jurrjens spent much of the season at Triple-A, Gwinnett trying to iron out his problems, and while he is now back in Atlanta, he remains on the bubble.

    Meanwhile, Brandon Beachy and RH prospect Arodys Vizcaino (who was slated for the bullpen but could have started) are both recovering from season-ending ligament replacement “Tommy John” surgery.

    Kris Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to stretch his arm out and nearly joined the Atlanta rotation, but his services remain critical to a Braves bullpen that has not been nearly as dominant as expected.

    RH prospect JJ Hoover was traded to the Reds for 3B Juan Fransisco.

    Top-rated phenom Julio Teheran hasn’t looked as Big League-ready as most thought he would at the half-way point of the ‘12 season.

    Mike Minor and Randall Delgado remain in the Braves rotation, but while both have looked great at times, they’ve also had their share of horrendous starts. Their youthful unreliability is forgivable, given their age and inexperience, but the Braves need more consistency in their rotation if they hope to make a postseason run.

    This team has fallen victim to a remarkable degree of misfortune in the pitching department this year. And with that in mind, I must say something I never could have envisioned myself saying just 4 months ago…

    The Braves need pitching.

    This is a realization the Braves front office came to weeks—perhaps even months—ago, and the process of trying to strengthen this beleaguered Atlanta pitching staff is well underway.

    The Braves made their first move to that end a week ago, when they signed former All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets.  While, officially, the agreement with Sheets was of the minor league variety, the Braves fully expect Sheets to join the Big League rotation soon.

    Sheets will turn 34 years old later this month. He has pitched 9 seasons in the big leagues, including 5 straight years (2004-2008) with a sub-4.00 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a 4-time All-Star (2001, ’04, ’07 and ’08).  After undergoing season-ending “Tommy John” surgery in 2010, he sat out the entire 2011 season and the first half of the ’12 season. He’s healthy now, and by all reports, his velocity and overall “stuff” looks pretty good.

    Sheets made his first uniformed start in nearly two years Wednesday for the Braves Double-A affiliate, Mississippi. He threw 74 pitches over 5 innings. He allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and struck out 6 batters. He looked rusty through the first 2 frames, understandably, but rebounded with 3 scoreless innings. Atlanta Braves Manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was encouraged by Sheet’s outing, noting “He touched 93 mph, good breaking ball; threw well. He’s going on to his next start.”

    Ben Sheets is expected to join that Atlanta starting rotation, replacing either Mike Minor or—more likely—Randall Delgado, sometime after the All-Star Break.

    But the Braves aren’t stopping there. They’re still very much interested in trading for a proven quality starting pitcher. Top candidates include Milwaukee’s Zach Greinke, Minnesota’s Fransisco Liriano, and Ryan Dempster & Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs.

    The top starting pitching prize on the trade market is, without a doubt, Zach Greinke, and the Braves are believed to be serious suitors for his services. Let’s suppose, for the sake of conversation, the Braves were to land Greinke. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from a rotation of: Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Delgado … to a rotation of: Greinke, Hudson, Hanson, Sheets, Jurrjens. Quite a difference, huh?

    With Sheets apparently on his way up soon and the Braves hip-deep in the starting pitching trade market, there is a better than average chance that this Braves rotation will look quite different by month’s end.

    Braves ink RHP Ben Sheets to minor league deal

    Prior to Sunday’s series finale vs the Nationals at Turner Field, Braves broadcasters and fans alike saw something unexpected… a gentleman with a #30 “Sheets” jersey throwing in the Braves bullpen. Moments later, word came down that the Braves had signed veteran starting pitcher Ben Sheets to a minor league deal.

    Sheets will turn 34 years old later this month. He has pitched 9 seasons in the big leagues, including 5 straight years (2004-2008) with a sub-4.00 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2004, Sheets set a franchise record by striking out 18 batters against the Braves. He is a 4-time All-Star (2001, ’04, ’07 and ’08).

    After losing the 2009 season to injury, Sheets signed a one-year 10 million dollar deal with the A’s to pitch in Oakland in 2010. He made 20 starts for the A’s before undergoing season-ending “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery. He sat out the entire 2011 season and the first half of the ’12 season.

    Recently, Sheets threw for scouts of 5 Major League teams, including the Braves, on the Georgia Tech campus. It is not clear if he received any other offers, but the Braves were evidently intrigued enough by what they saw to extend a minor league offer to Sheets.

    MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that Sheets will start for Braves Double-A affiliate Mississippi on Wednesday. It will be his first uniformed start since July 19, 2010.

    And according to Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, David O’Brien, Braves General Manager Frank Wren has stated that Sheets could join the Braves’ big league rotation within 4 weeks.

    Ben Sheets represents something of a penny stock for the Braves. It is doubtful that the team is banking on the veteran hurler to return to All-Star Milwaukee form. However, if his velocity has fully returned since his recovery from the “Tommy John” procedure, the potential remains for Sheets to be an effective Major League pitcher. And while the terms of his contract have not been made public as of this writing, given the fact that he was signed to a minor league deal, it would appear that the Braves have very little to lose by taking a chance on Sheets.

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