• spring training

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    Braves wrap-up spring training, head north

    Atlanta wrapped up exhibition play in the Grapefruit League Thursday with another pitching gem. Their 20-15 record is only the third time since the Braves moved to Atlanta that they have won 20 games in Spring Training, having done so previously in 1994 and 2009.

    The Braves had a successful spring due in part to the crushing offense of winter acquisition Justin Upton, rookie Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons. Braves pitching continued to display the kind of dominance they are known for with the phenomenal spring performance of Julio Teheran, multiple scoreless innings pitched by Paul Maholm, continued consistency of Eric O’Flaherty and convincing big league relief work by Cory Gearrin. And if Grapefruit League action is any indication, the Braves will put impressive defense on display with each outing of the 2013 season, led by the dynamic shortstop Andrelton Simmons and rounded out by the speedy outfield of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.

    Before a recap of the big story lines of the week, here are the final exhibition game scores from the Grapefruit League (3/24-3/28):

    Opponent Score
    Nationals 9-3 (L)
    Mets 7-4 (L)
    Tigers 6-5 (W)
    Nationals (SS) 11-2 (L)
    Astros (SS) 2-0 (W)

    The biggest story of the week is that Evan Gattis has made the Opening Day roster as Atlanta’s second catcher alongside Gerald Laird. The 26-year-old hit .368 with 21 hits, 5 doubles, 6 homers and 16 RBI this spring. His defense was better than advertised, putting him way ahead of catching prospect Christian Bethancourt and defensive specialist Matt Pagnozzi. While he was thought to be competing for the temporary backup catcher job in Brian McCann’s absence, Manager Fredi Gonzalez has indicated that Gattis and Laird could wind up splitting time behind the plate for the time being.

    The Braves could get 20+ homeruns from 7 positions this season. The leadoff spot is supposed to be the one place in this Atlanta lineup where opposing pitchers can turn for shelter from all the thunder. But they might be safe there either.  Braves’ leadoff man, Andrelton Simmons, has shown pop this spring with 5 home runs in just 59 at-bats between his Grapefruit League and World Baseball Classic play. He finished the spring with a .288 average including 5 doubles to match his homers. Simmons thrived this spring on the world stage, returning to the Braves with an important experience under his belt and a hot bat.

    In pitching news, Jonny Venters left Tuesday’s game with what the Braves were categorizing as an elbow sprain. Venters said he didn’t hear a pop in his pitching elbow as he did prior to his “Tommy John” surgery in 2006, but the team is taking no chances with the very elbow that flared up often last season. Following the Easter holiday, Venters will see Dr. James Andrews. Venters will likely start the season on the DL, leaving open only 2 roster spots for relievers. Those spots should be given to Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro, both relievers out of options. Since the 2011 season, Venters has not been as consistent and durable. His 8.10 ERA in 6 2/3 innings this spring was worrisome before the elbow sprain. As others have noted, it would be more problematic for the Braves going into Opening Day if Eric O’Flaherty were injured.

    While Venters’ injury may have been the pitching story of the week, the pitching story of Spring Training was hands down the performance of Julio Teheran. In 6 games (26 innings pitched), the rookie Teheran recorded a ridiculous 1.04 ERA with 35 strikeouts. He has thrived this spring in the atmosphere of no competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. This is the Julio Teheran the Braves expected going into Spring Training in 2012, but this spring they weren’t confronted with disappointment. Without Randall Delgado in the queue before him, now is Teheran’s time to shine and if this spring is the model, he will be a potent back-of-the-rotation starter.

    Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson may have struggled early on in the Grapefruit League, but they ended exhibition play straightened out and ready for the regular season. Maholm’s last two starts were absolute gems. Maholm finished Spring Training with a 4-1 record and an impressive 1.53 ERA. His 20 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings pitched were much better than the Braves expected. Maholm’s zero home runs allowed this spring is one of the more amazing pitching stats of the entire team. Given how he struggled with the home run at times after joining the Braves last summer, this is a great sign going into the season. Maholm more than earned his number 2 spot in the rotation this spring.

    The schedule for Opening Week is as follows:

    Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
    March 30th
    @ Mississippi Braves
    3:05 p.m.
    Opening Day
    vs. Phillies
    7:10 p.m.
    April 3rd
    vs. Phillies
    7:10 p.m.
    April 4th
    vs. Phillies
    7:10 p.m.
    April 5th
    vs. Cubs
    7:30 p.m.
    April 6th
    vs. Cubs
    7:10 p.m.

    The biggest worries the Braves face as Opening Day approaches have less to do with injuries than the simple question of how players will perform. Will Justin Upton live up to the hype and his potential? Can Julio Teheran replicate what he has done this spring in the regular season? Can Mike Minor maintain the confidence he has displayed this spring? Will Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen be different pitchers once the regular season begins or will their spring struggles carry with them? What can the Braves expect from Dan Uggla? And who will be the Braves third baseman in the post-Chipper era?

    Surely the question surrounding Craig Kimbrel will be washed away as he finds himself amid the familiar pressure of closing a regular season game. However, you can’t blame Braves fans for worrying a bit when in his final Grapefruit League appearance against the Astros Thursday he walked 2 and hit another in the first 3 batters he saw in the 6th inning. In limited appearances due to his World Baseball Classic play, Kimbrel racked up a 5.63 ERA in 8 innings. With 7 strikeouts in those outings, there is likely far less to worry about than his outing against the Astros would have you believe. The most consistent closer in baseball since his Rookie of the Year season will be just fine.

    Like Kimbrel, Medlen will settle in as the season gets underway. Will Medlen repeat the torrid pace he set last season when he moved into the rotation? Highly unlikely, but no pitcher, no matter how good, can maintain that kind of pace. Medlen’s 7.23 ERA this spring will be wiped clean come Monday. That is, after all, the beauty of spring stats.

    The final two questions the Braves have are a bit more complicated. Who will replace Chipper at third base? Nobody can ever replace Chipper. His heir-apparent, Martin Prado, now gone to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade wouldn’t have even been able to truly replace Chipper. Going into the season, it is now apparent that Fredi Gonzalez will go with a platoon of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson with Francisco having a slight edge over Johnson for the majority of the playing time. Francisco’s dominance against left-handed pitching will determine how the platoon balances out. However, there is no arguing against Chris Johnson’s skill set with his superior defense and .381 batting average this spring. While nobody can replace Chipper, the Braves are not leaving the base in incompetent hands.

    What the Braves can expect from Dan Uggla is anyone’s guess. The second baseman barely hit the Mendoza line, ending Spring Training with a .200 average. His 25 strikeouts in 75 at-bats are more than worrisome, even for the strikeout-prone Uggla. It is especially concerning that he had only 3 walks. His frequent walks often attempted to balance out his strikeouts and that just wasn’t the case this spring. After his career best .287 with the Marlins, the Braves took a huge chance on Uggla and he has underperformed since joining the team. The Braves really need him to improve on his .233 and .220 in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

    The story of the 2013 season, as it was throughout Spring Training, will be how the key trades and pieces of the roster puzzle perform. There is no doubting that the Braves put together a quality club. The only question remaining is will they live up to all the potential.

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

    Braves spring training report: Week- 3

    The Braves wrapped up week 3 of exhibition play at spring training this week, going 4-3 with a convincing win with a split squad against the Yankees Saturday.

    This week’s scores (3/10-3/16)

    Opponent Score
    Marlins 10-2 (L)
    Nationals 7-2 (W)
    Cardinals 12-3 (W)
    Marlins 2-1 (W)
    Cardinals 5-3 (L)
    Mets 5-2 (L)
    Yankees (SS) 4-0 (W)

    This week, as the roster was pared down, the final roster decisions were aligning. With his opposite field hitting and improved defense, Juan Francisco looks to be the Opening Day recipient of a slight majority of playing time at third base. Francisco is continuing the strong offseason he began playing in the Dominican Winter League where he hit .307 with 9 homers and 29 RBIs in 34 games. This Spring, Francisco is hitting .311 with 14 hits in 16 games. He does, however, have 14 strikeouts to match those 14 hits, a stat that was addressed here at BravesWire by Darren Schienbein early in the week. For as often as Roadrunner strikes out, he gets his walks and will get his hits. The tradeoff is certainly worth it.

    Evan Gattis continued to impress with his bat this week, proving that he could very well be the backup catcher to Gerald Laird in Brian McCann’s absence. Freddie Freeman hit a monster of a home run at Champion Stadium against the Mets, reminding Braves fans that Freeman has 30 HR power. A healthy Freeman, vision in tact, will only add to the impressive lineup the Braves have built for 2013. This lineup can and will hit for power, but they will also hit for average–something each player has been working toward in their young careers. The Spring Training lineup has yet to see the return of Andrelton Simmons who remains with the Netherlands World Baseball Classic team as it advances to the semifinals in San Francisco. Simmons has flourished in the WBC, an experience just as important to his growth and preparation for the season as Spring Training would have been. The Braves are likely to have him back for at least the final week of exhibition play in Florida, if not a bit more.

    The biggest story lines this week involve pitching.

    Kris Medlen was solid in his start against the Marlins on Wednesday, but was forced to leave the game after 4 2/3 innings because he was hit not once, but twice with comebackers on the mound. Medlen said he was fine after leaving the game, his removal was only precautionary. Medlen has only improved this Spring with locating his pitches and has expanded his pitch selection. His confidence with his curve ball is improving and while his velocity will top out at about 93 mph since returning from Tommy John surgery, his command is perhaps the best of the team’s rotation.

    Paul Maholm was lights out against the Yankees yesterday, throwing 6 scoreless innings. Perhaps the Braves should play the Yankees every Sunday. Mike Minor threw a gem against the Bronx Bombers last Sunday. Maholm has slowly returned to the form we saw when he joined the Braves at the trade deadline last season. His is truly the story of two Springs. Early on he had little command and now he is in perfect control of his game. Maholm has improved his ERA to 2.33 in 19 1/3 innings. Additionally, Maholm has not given up a home run this Spring.

    Tim Hudson came back from a horrendous start to throw a quality outing Friday. Huddy bounced back from that awful Sunday start when he gave up 9 hits and 5 runs in 6 innings against the Marlins. On Friday, Hudson threw an equal number of innings–6–this time only giving up 2 runs on 5 hits. This Spring has shown Hudson’s velocity to be down from previous years. The 37-year-old continues to say that his pitches are not the quality he expects of himself, leaving some wondering if this could be Tim’s final year pitching. Hudson has always said he wants to finish out his career with the Braves.

    The once steady bullpen is more in question this Spring than manager Fredi Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren would like. Jonny Venters has had absolutely no command of his fastball. In the same game that saw Medlen hit twice, Venters entered and walked four straight batters. In addition to those four walks, Venters had a wild pitch that handed the Marlins a run. This was Venters’ second outing in a row where he allowed a run in a mere inning of work.

    Reliever Eric O’Flaherty made a strong debut, returning to the Braves ‘pen for the first time this Spring to throw a scoreless inning against the Cardinals. O’Flaherty’s return to form will be important for a ‘pen that is questioning the command of Venters and the health of Jordan Walden. Walden, acquired in the Tommy Hanson trade, has been out for nearly a month with a bulging disc in his back. Walden threw batting practice on Saturday after two solid bullpen sessions. His return to Atlanta’s bullpen may happen as soon as this week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves call up J.R. Graham at some point this season. Graham has been dominant this Spring, allowing no runs and only 6 hits in his 9 innings of work. His dominance is good news for the Braves as they’ve watched other members of the ‘pen, like long-man Cristhian Martinez really struggle. Martinez has racked up a 6.48 ERA in 8 1/3 innings.

    The Braves continue exhibition play today against the Mets. Atlanta is currently 4th in the Grapefruit League standings behind the Rockies, Padres and Cardinals (no National League East teams) with 12 wins and 11 losses.

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

    Braves Grapefruit League report: Week- 2

    The Braves wrapped up their second week of exhibition play on Saturday with a “W”, bringing their Grapefruit League record to 5 of 8.

    This week’s scores (3/2-3/9, SS is split squad):

    Opponent Score
    Astros 6-5 (L)
    Tigers 6-1 (W)
    Mets 4-2 (W)
    Yankees 2-0 (W)
    Tigers 9-2 (L)
    Astros (SS) 14-9 (W)
    Blue Jays (SS) 7-1 (L)
    Yankees 2-1 (W)

    Slowly the roster picture is coming into focus for Manager Fredi Gonzalez and mastermind GM Frank Wren. There are, however, some interesting story lines that have yet to meet their conclusion.

    Both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson have proven to be serviceable at the hot corner and both potential third basemen have stepped it up with their offense. Francisco is hitting .333 this spring while Johnson is hitting .345.  A big surprise has been Francisco’s focus on using the entire field. His opposite field homer this week may give him the edge on offense by a slight margin. While their numbers are comparable at the dish, Francisco appears to be slightly more sound than Johnson on defense. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson and Francisco splitting time at 3B, if for no other reason than the fact that neither has been able to pull significantly ahead in the third base competition thus far.

    Joey Terdoslavich, Tyler Pastornicky and Jordan Schafer are really making a case for a spot on the bench. All three have shown the kind of versatility at the plate that a manager needs in a bench bat.  Joey Terdoslavich had a down year in the minors, hitting a mere .240, but his .481 this Spring may give him a fighting chance to make Fredi’s Opening Day roster. Schafer, the former–and current–Brave, is showing signs that his offensive collapse in his final year in Atlanta and with the Houston Astros may be behind him. Schafer hit .167 in his final games with the Braves, after overcoming a wrist injury that banished him from the big leagues for 2 years. His .281 this Spring is precisely what Frank Wren was hoping for when he signed the center fielder this offseason.

    Minor league catcher/left fielder Evan Gattis has not disappointed so far this spring. His much-praised bat has been everything everyone expected it to be and his defense behind the plate has been better than advertised. Gattis reminds of another up-and-coming catcher in the American League, Jesus Montero. Montero’s bat was what first impressed the Yankees and then the Mariners, but once in the big leagues, his defense turned out to be much better than advertised. The Braves want to take advantage of Gattis’ bat and were willing to wait for his defense to solidify, but if the last week is any indication, Gattis is ready to be the backup to Gerald Laird behind the plate for Opening Day. Gattis’ .423 average is second only to the .481 avg of Joey Terdoslavich, and Gattis leads all Braves hitters with a 1.218 OPS (on-base% + slugging%).

    While we’re on the topic of catching, Brian McCann took batting practice yesterday, his first on-field BP with his teammates since offseason shoulder surgery. Mac won’t be ready for Opening Day, but the Braves are confident that Laird can handle the pitching staff in his stead.

    A scary moment happened early in the week when Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch off the back of his neck, just below the edge of his batting helmet. Uggla was hit by a pitch during the 2012 season, suffering a concussion. After being hit this week, he was given a concussion test and it was negative. The pitch may have done more damage to the ball than himself. That trip to first base was one of a few this week. Uggla does seem to be turning it around at the plate. That is a good sign given the horrendous start to his spring. He remains just over the Mendoza line with a batting average of .212.

    Pitching should be ahead of hitting at this point in the spring. And handful of Braves’ hurlers already appear ready for Opening Day, but a few others may be glad it’s still a few weeks away.  Kris Medlen joined veteran starters Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in the ‘not sharp’ category. The trio has struggled with their command thus far. None of this is of great concern, though, given that we’re only two weeks into exhibition play. All three have the big league experience to be on track by the time the regular season begins. Young Mike Minor is the one pitcher from last year’s rotation who has been solid this Spring. Minor has 1 win in 3 games (9 innings pitched) and is holding a 2.00 ERA. In his latest outing against the Yankees, Minor pitched 4 shutout innings.

    The best pitching stories this Spring come from the lesser-known Braves who have spent the majority of their time in the minors. Cory Gearrin has quietly made the case that he deserves a spot in the bullpen. In 5 innings pitched, Gearrin has 6 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed a run. This will prove important given the uncertainty surrounding Jordan Walden who apparently has a bulging disc in his back and has been treated for that with an epidural steroid injection. And the best news in pitching is that Julio Teheran has developed a nasty sinker to round out his repertoire. In 9 innings pitched, Teheran has 12 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA. Teheran may finally be the pitcher the Braves hoped he would be when he was called up last season. Teheran’s maturity will make for a formidable rotation before and after Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery midseason.

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

    Braves open Spring Training exhibition games

    Most baseball fans look forward to a few key dates. They can spout off the date that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. They can tell you when Opening Day is and who their team will be playing. And, diehard fans know exactly when Spring Training exhibition games began. That date was yesterday. The Braves opened exhibition play against the Detroit Tigers.

    Thursday’s game against the Tigers was manager Fredi Gonzalez’ first time to tinker with his offseason-improved lineup. We will surely see the same lineup regularly throughout the 2013 season:

    1-Simmons (SS)
    2-Heyward (RF)
    3-J. Upton (LF)
    4-Freeman (1B)
    5-B. Upton (CF)
    6-Uggla (2B)
    7-Francisco (3B)
    8-Laird (C)
    9-DeWitt (DH)

    The only changes we are likely to see, other than the lack of designated hitter in the National League, is a platoon situation at third base with Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson. Fredi has said he will give each a shot to earn the spot, but with Francisco’s limited options, a platoon is a good scenario for both players as they step into a position that had been filled for 19 seasons by the now retired Chipper Jones. Chris Johnson offers the added versatility of backing up Freddie Freeman at first base if needed.

    While Spring Training games don’t necessarily mean much, it is a great time for the organization to gauge exactly what they have. For the Braves, it is a time to see how their new lineup will work and which players will best fit in their bullpen. Although it doesn’t mean much, the Braves had a pretty decent game despite losing it to the Tigers.

    The linescore for yesterday’s game:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Atlanta 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 0
    Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 6 0

     

    As is usually the case, the bats are a bit slower to come around in Spring Training than the pitching. With the exception of Ryan Butcher in the 8th inning, Atlanta’s arms seemed solid. Tim Hudson was sharp, a great sight for fans and the organization who didn’t have Hudson back from spine surgery in time for Spring Training in 2012, and Craig Kimbrel reminded us why his stuff makes him the best closer in baseball right now. Avilan, Gearrin, Martinez and Hughes all pitched well in limited work.

    Something else that Spring Training games offer is an opportunity for the fans to get to know the young guys that are in the minors, guys who we often don’t see much of unless we live near a minor league park. Yesterday Braves fans heard the name Ramiro Pena for the first time in a game. He was signed to a minor league contract in the offseason. Parraz, Cunningham, Mejia and Pagnozzi aren’t exactly household names, but they have been around Atlanta’s organization for longer than Pena. An old name is back again, Jordan Schafer signed a contract with the Braves in the offseason and returned to their lineup yesterday. His role as of now is unknown, though he would offer a bench bat and a backup for centerfielder BJ Upton. Tyler Pastornicky and Chris Johnson were replacements in yesterday’s game. Pastornicky’s role will continue to be similar to what it was when he lost the everyday position last season–backup infielder. Finally, Joey Terdoslavich made a splash with his pinch hit homer in the 9th inning. Terdoslavich has had limited time to introduce himself to Braves fans, but that shouldn’t last long. His bat continues to improve and Spring Training is just the venue to showcase that.

    Today the Braves visit the Yankees at Lake Buena Vista. The game gets underway at 1:05 p.m. (EST) and will be available with GameDay audio as well as on 680 AM, 93.7 FM and the Braves Radio Network. The first televised game for the Braves will be February 28th on the MLB Network.

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

    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.

     

     

    SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL RADIO (3-14-12): Should you be worried about Braves’ slow start?

    In this spring edition of Southern Fried Baseball radio, BravesWire’s Kent Covington talks about the Braves’ struggles so far this spring and answers the question “should I be worried?”

    NOTE: This was recorded on 3-13-12, before any Braves players had as many as 30 at-bats.  

    (Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)

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

    Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedBasballATL and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

    Braves start slow. Everyone panic!! On second thought, don’t.

    By Andrew Hirsh

    The Atlanta Braves have stumbled out of the gate this Spring Training, opening up their Grapefruit League schedule with an underwhelming 1-9 record, currently the worst in the MLB.

    Dan Uggla is one of the few Braves off to a fast start: .313, 1 HR in 16 AB's)

    It may feel natural to look at the numbers—both of the team and of individuals—and begin to worry about what it could mean moving forward. This is the first live baseball we’ve seen since October, after all. As fans we’ve missed the sport and wish to care about the games we’re watching.

    That being said, there’s no reason to put much stock (if any) in the final scores of Spring Training contests, especially those this early.

    Different priorities mean different results

    Both the players and the coaches have different prerogatives at this juncture than they will come April, and finishing with more runs than the opposing team simply isn’t important right now.

    Pitchers, for example, are generally more concerned with fine-tuning their mechanics and experimenting with new pitches than maintaining low ERAs. Hitters could be altering their swings to see what works and what doesn’t. Every player, regardless of their position, is shaking off the rust and going through their own routine to prepare mentally and physically for the regular season. And through that process, a lot of kinks need to be worked out.

    This approach may not pay off immediately, but it almost always benefits the players in the long run.

    Minor leaguers greatly affect Spring Training outcomes

    Perhaps the most obvious reason we shouldn’t put much stock in these games is the personnel on the field: Many of the players we’ve seen thus far are minor leaguers that are a year or more away from the big leagues. While they won’t be suiting up with the Braves this season, exposing these up-and-comers to MLB-quality competition is a once a year opportunity, and taking advantage of this time is imperative for every organization to properly develop their prospects.

    Martin Prado is also hitting well this spring, boasting a .368 avg. in 19 AB's.

    For managers, mixing in minor leaguers with the big boys is a common practice and vital element of these games. Brian McCann is going to be one of the best at catchers in baseball regardless of the amount of work he gets in during the month of March; but for prospects Christian Bethencourt and Evan Gattis, gaining experience catching and hitting major league pitching can play a big part in their progress as professionals.

    Figuring out who is ready for the Major Leagues and who isn’t is also important, and seeing some of these kids struggle is equally as vital as seeing others succeed. The weak performances of some of the Braves’ top pitching prospects—namely Julio Teheran—is disconcerting, but understanding now that they may not be ready to take the mound at Turner Field can prevent future troubles.

    Wins now don’t equal wins later

    Something else that’s important to keep in mind is the weak correlation between Spring Training success and regular season success. Last year, five teams that finished with 90 or more wins had a losing record in Spring Training. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who went on to become the National League West Champions, had more than twice as many losses in March than wins.

    The Braves may not look sharp, but it’s far from time to push the panic button, or even consider it. Once April draws closer, Fredi Gonzalez will begin to write lineups that resemble those we’ll see over the next seven months, and prospects that need time to work their game will be sent down to the appropriate level of the minor leagues.

    For now, we need to sit back, relax and enjoy stress-free games. And if a particular game may not go the way we want, remember that there’s a lot of baseball left to be played before opening day.

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

    Braves fall in Grapefruit debut, Minor shines

    By Jim Pratt

    LHP, Mike Minor

    Even though the Braves fell to the Tigers 2-0 Saturday in their Grapefruit League debut, the bid for the final rotation spot hit the ground running with Mike Minor taking the mound in game one.  He got off to a quick start striking out the side in order in the first inning, including Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera swinging on a strike three changeup.

    With second baseman Dan Uggla playing a shallow right field, newly acquired Prince Fielder singled up the middle to start the second inning. After walking Brandon Inge with two outs, Minor got Brandon Laird to fly out to left field to get out of the inning unscathed.

    Along with tossing two scoreless innings, Minor finished the day allowing one hit, a walk and struck out three batters on 37 pitches, 21 of those for strikes.

    The offense needed a Jordan Parraz single to right field to start the eighth inning to end a no-hit bid by the Tiger pitching staff led by starter Doug Fister.

    Reliever AnthonyVarvaro took the loss after giving up a third inning lead-off homerun to outfielder Jerad Head. Other pitchers used by the Braves on Saturday included Arodys Vizcaino, Cristhian Martinez, Adam Russell, Dusty Hughes, Eric Cordier and Zeke Spruill.

    MORE NEWS …

    • Saturday’s starting lineup: 1.Bourn (CF) 2.Prado (LF) 3.Chipper (3B) 4.McCann (C) 5.Uggla (2B) 6.Hinske (1B) 7.Heyward (RF) 8.Diaz (DH) 9.Pastornicky (SS)
    • Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are both scheduled to pitch two innings on Sunday against the Tigers in Lakeland, FL.
    • Freddie Freeman took live batting practice before the game Saturday. He told David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constituion, “I let it loose and I feel great” and that he didn’t even think about the knee. Also, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports Freeman could be cleared for to take infield within the next two days.
    • Tommy Hanson took the ImPACT concussion test again Saturday and early indications are he will throw live batting practice on Sunday if eligible.

    By the way, the Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. 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.

    SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL RADIO — Spring Preview

    In a special pre-spring edition of Southern Fried Baseball radio, Kent Covington breaks down the Braves’ winter that was and sizes up the possibilities for this team in 2012.  Can the offense rebound from a dismal ’11 showing? How good is the Braves pitching staff?

    (NOTE: Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)

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

    Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedBasballATL and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire