• Reed Johnson

    Braves make moves with magic number down to 6

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    With their magic number whittled down to 6 games, the Atlanta Braves welcome back familiar faces and have high hopes for the return of others as they head home to Turner Field to face the under .500 San Diego Padres for the weekend series.

    In the first game of the weekend series, the Braves will send to the mound David Hale who was called up during the last series. Hale has pitched 9 innings over 5 games since being called up and has a 3.00 ERA. In 22 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Hale had a record of 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA. His minor league appearances have, for the most part, been starts, though he has been utilized as a reliever thus far. This will be his first big league start.

    The Braves made numerous moves and received news about injured players during the Miami series. The Braves activated Reed Johnson who had been on the disabled list since July 28th with a pesky Achilles injury. Also, the Braves called up catching prospect Christian Bethancourt during the 4-game set with Miami. This season for Double-A Mississippi, Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games. Bethancourt has been hailed as the replacement for Brian McCann as he enters free agency this coming offseason. The Braves also have reliever Jordan Walden back who has survived yet another injury this season. His return will take some of the pressure of Luis Avilan who has not been as sharp since his consecutive scoreless streak ceased.

    As the team arrives back in Atlanta, the Braves will get to see Jason Heyward taking batting practice for the first time Friday. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, is hopeful to be in playing shape in time for a few games at the end of September prior to the playoffs. Heyward’s absence has been felt as the Braves have juggled playing time between B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, the now injured Justin Upton and call-ups from Triple-A Gwinnett. Clearly, having Heyward back will be hugely important to postseason success.

    Paul Maholm, who had experienced elbow discomfort dating back 2 starts when he pitched against the Mets, had an MRI on his pitching elbow that revealed inflammation, but no structural damage. The Braves are hopeful that he will make his next start as scheduled. This recent issue seems to indicate that Maholm won’t be the 4th arm in the starting rotation for the playoffs. Like Maholm, Brandon Beachy underwent an MRI that revealed continued inflammation of his repaired elbow. Beachy returned from Tommy John surgery to make 5 starts before being shut down with elbow discomfort. At this point, it would seem most likely that Beachy will sit out the remainder of the season and start anew at spring training.

    With just over two weeks to go, the Braves are in great shape with an 88-58 (.603) record. They currently trail only the surging Boston Red Sox in wins. Their record stands as the best record in the National League. Their 11-game lead on the Washington Nationals with the Nats on the schedule after the Padres will likely put the Nats’ last flicker of hope out for 2013. The Braves must continue to push themselves in the final days as home field advantage based on the best record in the league will be highly advantageous.

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

    Braves split interleague series, gear up for Nats

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    In an unusual interleague series that began north of the border and concluded in Atlanta, the Braves took one game in Toronto and one game at home, splitting the series with the Blue Jays.

    Game 1 (Toronto):

    Perhaps the only highlight of the Blue Jays rout of the Braves to begin the series was the 2-run blast by Evan Gattis who continues to impress all of Major League Baseball with his power and versatility.

    Tim Hudson has been terrible on the road of late, but his road woes are not all of the story. He has allowed 19 earned runs over his last 19 2/3 innings pitched.

    Young Cory Rasmus came out of the bullpen in the 7th and something happened that hasn’t happened since 2010–he faced his older brother Colby. The last time this happened in MLB was in 2010 when Jeff and Jered Weaver faced each other. It was not a sharp outing for Cory who gave up 3 runs in 2 innings.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 3 8 1
    Blue Jays 0 2 2 0 0 2 3 0 x 9 11 0

    W: Buehrle (2-3) L: Hudson (4-4)

    Game 2 (Toronto):

    Brian McCann is back and there is no denying that when he is right, he is one of the best hitting catchers in the big leagues. McCann had his first multi-homer game of the 2013 season at the Rogers Centre. It was the 9th multi-homer game of his career. His second homer of the game game in the 10th inning and proved to be the winning run of the game for Atlanta. McCann’s 2 homers were not the only for the Braves. Gattis and Schafer also went yard. Gattis and McCann had swapped duties in game 2–one catching and the other serving as designated hitter.

    It just wasn’t Maholm’s night. In the 1st inning of the game, he had very little command of his fastball and was unable to hit his spots. For a pitcher like Maholm, who simply doesn’t have the velocity to blow it by batters, there was no hiding how poorly his pitches were and the hard-hitting Blue Jays capitalized. Maholm’s 1st inning behind him, he did settle in. When he handed the game over to the bullpen, Avilan, Gearrin and Kimbrel were able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless. This was a good sign for the bullpen that has struggled since the loss of O’Flaherty and was a sign of things to come in game 3 when they picked up Kris Medlen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Braves 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 7 12 1
    Blue Jays 4 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 12 2

    W: Gearrin (2-1) L: Weber (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (16)

    Game 1 (Atlanta):

    The Braves recorded their 7th shutout loss of the 2013 season. Strikeouts were once again an issue for the offense. The Braves have now struck out at least 10 times in 24 of their first 52 games. The Braves have an amazing record of 29-6 when they record at least 1 homer. They are 2-15 on the season when a home run isn’t recorded.

    After Medlen was hit by the line drive, the bullpen was solid. For perhaps the first time since the loss of O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgery, the ‘pen was able to buckle down, work together and get the Braves through the remainder of the game scoreless. Though the Braves didn’t get the win, this loss fell on the shoulders of the offense and not the ‘pen.

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

    W: Perez (1-0) L: Medlen (1-6) SV: Janssen (11)

    Game 2 (Atlanta):

    Prior to the final game against the Blue Jays, the Braves announced that they had designated Juan Francisco (3B) for assignment to make room on the roster for relief pitcher Alex Wood. Francisco will now either be traded, claimed off of waivers or released. Francisco went 3-for-30 with 14 K’s in his last 11 games with the Braves. In that time, he did not record an RBI. For the season, he was batting .241 with 5 homers and a whopping 43 strikeouts. He had a terrible average of .159 in May.

    The Braves required an extra arm in the bullpen for the final game of the series after the ‘pen had to step in and pitch 7 innings after Medlen was hit by a line drive in the first game in Atlanta. The Braves purchased the contract of Alex Wood from the Mississippi Braves. Wood faced the minimum in a scoreless 9th inning. He was called up less than 24 hours before making his first big league start in Atlanta.

    Mike Minor continued a great start to the season with another solid outing. Minor pitched 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 of them earned, no walks and 5 strikeouts.

    Simmons had committed five errors in the 92 career games he’d played entering Friday. He’s committed 3 in the 7 games that have followed. Simmons went 43 games w/o an error but now has three in 7 games, this one opening door for three runs in the sixth. Tied up 3-3

    Two offensive highlights from the game came from Reed Johnson and Ramiro Pena. Johnson belted his 1st home run as a Brave. His 2-run homer was his 5th career pinch hit homer. Pena had a career-high 4 RBIs in the game as he started in the place of the resting Dan Uggla.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3 7 1
    Braves 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 2 x 11 16 1

    W: Minor (7-2) L: Dickey (4-7)


    Following the split series with the Blue Jays and the Nationals’ loss to the Orioles, the Braves have a 5 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East.

    Despite the loss, the first game of the split-series in Atlanta was a good sign for Atlanta’s bullpen. Carpenter, who Braves’ fans haven’t seen much of, pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief. He could very well become the long man in the ‘pen in the absence of Cristhian Martinez. If he can be a reliable arm for Fredi Gonzalez to turn to in tight spots, that will surely help with the bullpen situation. Jordan Walden appears healthy. He hit 97 mph on the strikeout that ended the 8th inning. His velocity returning, without the prior soreness, puts him in a good position to be the setup man for Craig Kimbrel.

    The Braves are in a precarious situation with B.J. Upton as he attempts to get himself right. BJ Upton is batting .148/.236/.252. We’re a third through the season and he has just 8 RBI. In game 2 in Atlanta, B.J. Upton was quite obviously frustrations when he threw his bat and his helmet striking out for the second time in as many at bats in the game. He had been held out of the lineup for several games as he worked with hitting coaches Walker and Fletcher to try to get his swing right. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he is on the right track. B.J. Upton is qualified worst in the National League in strikeouts with 1 K for every 2.9 plate appearances. In a strange twist, Jordan Schafer, who was a huge disappointment to the Braves in his first stint with the team, has been one of Atlanta’s hottest hitters. In addition to his surprising offense, he has been a solid defender in the outfield with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

    The big stories of May have come via the younger guys on the roster. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran’s combined in May to go 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in their combined 10 starts. Between them they had 55 strikeouts in 69 innings. Rookie Evan Gattis had 17 hits, 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 62 plate appearances in May. He has a .298 batting average with one day left of May. Chris Johnson, who becomes the everyday third baseman with Juan Francisco DFA’d, had 14 hits, 5 RBIs and a .304 average in 50 plate appearances in May. And quietly, Freddie Freeman has had a torrid May. In 114 plate appearances, he has 32 hits, 19 RBIs, a .305 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.

    Beginning today and going through Sunday is the Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend at Turner Field. The event pays tribute to the rich heritage in the Atlanta area and includes a Champions of Justice Discussion Panel today, focusing on the role of sports in civil rights. Saturday’s game will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and will again feature the Atlanta Black Crackers throwback uniforms that the Braves sported earlier in the season. The Nationals will wear the uniform of the Homestead Grays.

    Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend will feature Strasburg (3-5, 2.49) vs. Teheran (3-1, 3.67) Friday night. Saturday night’s game appearing nationally on FOX will feature Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90) vs. Hudson (4-4, 5.37). Sunday afternoon’s finale will feature Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. Maholm (6-4, 3.74).

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

    Braves’ remaining trade and free agent options

    With the loss of Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves were left with a major vacancy in their lineup—one they may not fully compensate for this winter alone. Replacing a future Hall-of-Famer, after all, is a difficult task. Gone too, presumably, is fleet-footed leadoff man Michael Bourn.

    Newly acquired slugger BJ Upton figures to take Chipper’s place somewhere in the middle of the Braves’ lineup. In inking Upton to a 5-year contract, Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren closed the deal with their top free agent target fairly quickly, filling the right-handed power hitter role. The hole atop the batting order, however, remains.

    If the Braves are able to score a capable leadoff hitter, it will make life easier on Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez, but that quest is proving difficult. Wren and Co. do, however, have a plethora of ways to sort out their lineup for the 2012 campaign.

    Given Martin Prado’s ability to play a multitude of positions, we may see him slide over to third base and take Chipper’s spot on the field. This would give the Braves the opportunity to go after someone to play in left: a position that is much easier to fill than 3B.

    The Braves could patch up the empty LF position from within, which would be the simplest and most cost-efficient way to go about this. If Wren chooses to go with players already in the system, we’ll probably see some sort of a platoon like we did when Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske manned LF during the 2011 season. Not the most inspiring option, but an option it is.

    In a platoon, we could see Jose Constanza and Reed Johnson splitting time, as each bat from a different side of the plate. Prospect Evan Gattis is another possibility, and could see time in the big leagues this year regardless of what the starting lineup shapes up to be. Now 26 years old and no longer a kid by baseball standards, Gattis and his powerful swing could be ready to make the jump to Turner Field, and perhaps become a valuable player for the Braves off the bench. He currently has 13 home runs in the Winter League and is turning some heads.

    Of course, all this left field talk could be moot if Juan Francisco steps up and shows enough improvement to take over at 3B (which would keep Prado in left).  Francisco hit for a .234 average last season in 192 at-bats. At times, however, he did display the big-time power that attracted the Braves to him in the first place. Though Fransisco, like Gattis, is tearing up the Winter League, I wouldn’t bet rent money on his earning a starting role.

    Ideally, given the choices from within, the Braves will bring in a new starter from the outside. With the winter meetings done with, Frank Wren may have missed his best opportunity to land a new LF; however, that doesn’t mean his search is done.

    There are plenty of feasible options to choose from—both via free agency and the trade market.

    One player who could be had via trade is Emilio Bonifacio. While he was part of the blockbuster deal that sent most of Miami’s foundation to Toronto, the Blue Jays may be looking to free up some space in their budget after acquiring R.A. Dickey.

    Bonifacio hit just .258 but had a .330 on-base percentage in an injury-plagued 2012 season in which he played in just 64. In 2011, when he was healthy, he batted .296 and finished with a .360 OBP in 152 games. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Bonifacio would be a significant upgrade in the lineup over the likes of Francisco and Johnson.

    Cody Ross, who batted .267 last year and hit 22 home runs, was on Atlanta’s radar. However, he has reportedly agreed to a deal with the DBacks.

    Someone else the Braves could go after, even if it may be a long shot, is Josh Willingham. The 33-year-old veteran is currently signed by the Twins, but the Braves might have the assets necessary to make a trade happen (if Minnesota is willing, of course).

    Willingham hit 35 home runs last season with a .260 average. Throw him into Atlanta’s lineup along with Heyward, Upton, McCann, Uggla and Freeman, and we’re looking at perhaps one of the best power-hitting teams in baseball.

    Other than the aforementioned players, there are other alternatives out there…

    Arizona’s Jason Kubel is a nice power bat, but he hits left handed, and if the Braves opt for adding more power (rather than a leadoff man), they would like to add it from the right side of the plate.

    Colorado’s Dexter Fowler is available for the right price, but the “right price”, as defined by the Rockies’ brass, borders on the absurd.

    Nick Swisher is still on the market, but has likely priced himself out of Atlanta’s plans.

    And there are likely other names about which the Braves have inquired, who we haven’t even thought about.

    If a deal can’t be struck before Spring Training, there’s always the trade deadline next summer. The Braves can get by with the playing they have now for the first two-thirds of the season; the playoffs, on the other hand, might be a different story.


    What Maholm & Johnson to ATL means for the Braves

    Paul Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA over has past 7 starts.

    One week after a trade with the Chicago Cubs for RHP Ryan Dempster fell through, Braves General Manager Frank Wren brokered another deal with the Cubs. This one held up.

    The Braves have acquired left-handed starting pitcher Paul Maholm and veteran outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs for RHP prospect Arodys Vizcaino and triple-A RHP Jay Chapman.

    The 30-year-old Maholm is the centerpiece of this deal. He is 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA so far this year. As solid as those numbers are, he’s been even better of late. He is 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his past six starts (with one relief appearance in between). He will join a resurgent Braves rotation that has already been given a lift with the addition of Ben Sheets and the improved performance of Mike Minor. Along with Minor, the addition of Maholm means the Braves rotation will feature two lefties for the first time since 2008.

    Reed Johnson is hitting .333 vs left-handed pitching

    Paul Maholm is earning 4.25 million this season, and Atlanta reportedly got an undisclosed sum of cash from the Cubs in the deal. The Braves will have a 6.5 million dollar club option on Maholm for 2013.

    Reed Johnson is a 35-year-old veteran outfielder, who is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Johnson is batting .302 this year in 169 at-bats. Perhaps more importantly for the Braves, he’s hitting .333 with a .922 OPS vs left-handed pitching. And that’s no fluke. Johnson has not hit below .300 vs LHP since 2005.

    Johnson is earning 1.15 million dollars this year and will be a free agent at season’s end.

    Related: Frank Wren quotes on trade

    The Braves surrendered a top quality arm in the person of Arodys Vizcaino, but given that he projects to be a “power reliever”, as Wren put it, he figured to serve as nothing more than a middle-reliever in Atlanta. Jay Chapman is talented, but thought of as nothing more than a mid-level prospect within the Braves organization.

    With this trade, the Braves satisfy two needs in one deal. Their starting rotation is now complete, and they can keep RHP Kris Medlen in the bullpen, where we serves an important role. Also, the left-handed-heavy Braves offense adds a quality right-handed bat known for punishing southpaws. And Wren managed to swing this deal without giving up Randall Delgado (who was rumored to be included in the ill-fated Ryan Dempster trade) or any other prized starting pitching prospects.

    This appears to be an excellent low-cost, high reward exchange for the Braves, which should put them in a stronger position to compete for the NL East pennant. And this move will certainly strengthen their hand heading into October, should the Braves earn a postseason berth.

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