KISSIMMEE - I’ve got the press box to myself at the moment, as I get a head start on my blog from the Astros camp in Kissimmee. This is a place we’ve come so much over the years it almost feels like home.
I can look out over the field – great view here, from the press box, you’re really low; it might be an old park but they’ve renovated it nicely – and lots of spring training memories come to mind.
I remember when Greg Maddux got hit on the toe here the last start before the season started. Pitched through it somehow and I think he got on a serious roll to start the season despite it. Think I recall watching Mark Wohlers try to do his thing here, when things were wobbly.
Seeing Billy Wagner and his 100 mph fastball here, back when he was a redneck pitching for a Southern team – hey, it fit better. For some reason, I always kind of feel at home around the Astros. I think their organization is run similarly to the Braves. Same kind of atmosphere, professionally, and maybe it’s has something to do with the cities, and the people, being so similar. Course Houston takes humid to a whole new level. Plane lands in Houston and the windows are fogging up.
Or hey, maybe we’re just so dang familiar with the Astros from all those Division Series games. The killer Bees. Etc.
Anyway, I’ll get on with it. It’s getaway day for me. I hand the baton back to David O’Brien at the end of the day, so you guys can go back to feeling right with the world, with his photo and his words on the page. I appreciate the hospitality this week!
Today we’ve got Rafael Soriano scheduled to pitch his spring opener. (Derek Lowe to start.) Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I saw Soriano pitch in a game. Just more like waiting in the dugout for him to come back from a bullpen session, testing his elbow and saying things went OK, not great.
You hope for his sake the ulnar nerve transposition surgery did the trick. Last year had to be frustrating for him – 14 innings all season. And really I think it compounded how things looked for him because of how reserved he is with the media and the language barrier. Hard to be compassionate with someone when you can’t tell where he’s coming from, you know?
He’s taken his share of heat on this blog. And he’s making a lot of money, so the frustration is understandable. But this is a pivotal guy for the Braves. If they can get him going healthy, it would be a big lift. Remember him in 2007? He made 71 appearances, got nine saves in 12 opportunities. He had 70 strikeouts in 72 innings and an opponents’ batting average of .181.
It will be interesting to see what he has today. I’ll keep you posted.
FIRST CUTS: Braves announced their first round of cuts today. Rafael Cruz, Emiliano Fruto and Juan Perez were all reassigned to minor league camp. Anthony Lerew was released. That’s interesting given that the Braves had out-righted Lerew to make room on the 40-man roster for Glavine and he’d cleared waivers and accepted a AAA assignment. I’ll try to find out more, but basically I just don’t think Lerew was in the Braves plans.
And let me talk about Jason Heyward for just a second. Watching Heyward this spring, and the balls jump off his bat, you think slugger. Every time he’s at the plate, it seems like there’s the chance he’ll go deep – at least in intrasquad games anyway, where he’s taken both Jair Jurrjens and Kenshin Kawakami well over the fences.
I was just thinking, recalling a story I did on Heyward last summer when he was in Rome, where he was hitting for average and not much power yet (He hit 11 homers in 120 games for Rome last year, batting .323). And I recall comments from the Braves brass like “If he stays within himself, the power will come.”
Well, holy smokes, the power is here. Eh? Maybe he’s just physically growing into that 6-4, 220 frame of his. And at 19, there’s more room to grow.
Here’s Frank Wren’s take on it, when I posed it to him this morning:
“Most young players, you’d prefer them to be a good hitter before they’re a power hitter,” Wren said. “Most of the time if you get the power stroke before the hitting stroke, sometimes the hitting stroke never comes. He has a good idea what he wants to do at the plate, (and this is) his natural progression, with some help.”
Wren pointed to the work minor league hitting coordinator Leon Roberts did with him in instructional league.
“Leon Roberts spent a lot of time with him this fall, helping him understand how to get some balls elevated,” Wren said. “He really hit a lot of hard line drives last year and how he could get a little more into it, a little more elevation in some of his swings. And I’m not talking about an uppercut, I’m talking about a little more elevation that would allow his power to start showing, and I think we’re seeing the results of that.”
Heyward said he’s about 10 pounds heavier this year than last season, he said. He also thinks he’s progressing mentally.
“I’m just getting more repetition, getting more comfortable with my ability,” Heyward said. “I’m not thinking too much, playing baseball and having a great time and letting what I worked on in the offseason help me.”
Bobby Cox was doing an interview with XM Radio this morning and said he thought Garret Anderson would be out two to three weeks, maybe longer. When it was over, I followed up with Cox about that. He said: “could be shorter too.” They just don’t know. I guess the take-home message is regardless of how many weeks – two, three – the Braves figure on getting Anderson back in time for Opening Day and that’s the key.
I went over the Astros clubhouse and tried to get a dose of Mike Hampton for you guys. Some of you, between bashing him, remember he’s funny, right? But between his lunch, and then a team meeting, all I got was a quick hello. But I tried. Fair enough?
There were a couple other familiar faces in that clubhouse: Russ Ortiz and Chad Paronto.
Josh Anderson CF
Matt Diaz LF
Kelly Johnson 2B
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Omar Infante SS
Martin Prado 3B
David Ross C
Derek Lowe P
Kaz Matsui 2B
Michael Bourn CF
Lance Berkman 1B
Carlos Lee LF
Hunter Pence RF
Jason Smith SS
Aaron Boone 3B
JR Towles C
Brian Moehler P