Dark Star, Fla. – Good morning from Lake Buena Vista, where the temp’s already in the 70s and the sun is shining as Braves players filter in from the parking lot beyond left field here at Champion Stadium.
It’s 10 a.m. The fellas were given a rare morning to sleep in after the overnight trip to Jupiter, which nearly the entire team made.
Just now I was transcribing some interviews I did in Jupiter this weekend, and while Tony Perez is speaking in his distinct Cuban accent, he’s nearly drowned out by Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” that was blasting on the stadium speakers in the background as we talked by the batting cage. The beauty of baseball’s melting pot never ceases to make me smile.
Anyway, about today’s game… The Astros are busing the 12 or so miles over from their spring compound to take on the Bravos today here at Disneyopolis, with Derek Lowe facing former Braves prospect Jose Capellan.
Believe it or not, Capellan and another couple of former Braves you might be familiar with, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz, have been the Astros’ best pitchers this spring. Which probably ain’t saying much, considering the Astros are 1-13-2 in Grapefruit League play.
They haven’t won a game in March. That’s not a typo.
Not coincidentally, the ‘Stros are bringing over their entire lineup today. They want this game, folks.
The Braves are coming off a 2-1 loss against the Cardinals yesterday that snapped a 10-game winning streak, including eight Grapefruit League wins in that stretch.
Granted, these results will be forgotten in a few weeks when the teams play a game that actually counts. But it’s still worth noting when you’ve had the kind of streaks and skids that the Braves and Astros, respectively, have been on these past two or three weeks.
You don’t want to get too excited about winning most of your games in spring training, but you do get concerned if your team loses almost every game. Even if Roy Oswalt and a few others are away for the World Baseball Classic.
Speaking of the WBC, yesterday’s Braves loss was the first since Chipper Jones and Brian McCann left camp to join the U.S. team for the WBC. And on the same day the Braves’ winning streak ended, the U.S. got pounded by the Puerto Ricans, mercy-ruled 11-1 in seven innings, for God’s sake, in a second-round game at typically three-quarters-empty Dolphin Stadium.
On a bright note for the Braves, Javier Vazquez pitched for Puerto Rico and stuck it to the U.S. The man was dealing, folks. If you saw the game or highlights, you know what I’m talking about.
And even if you’d be disappointed to see the Americans fall short of the final round, hey, at least Vazquez helped move them one loss from sending Chipper and Mac back to Braves camp.
Alright, gotta get down to the clubhouse for a while. Braves may or may not be announcing their first round of roster cuts today, but either way, we’re not expecting any of the premier prospects to be among those shipped out.
OK, I’m back now. Big day for bullpen:
Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano are both scheduled to pitch an inning today for the Braves, only the second Grapefruit League appearance for Soriano and third for Moylan.
The surgically repaired relievers are obviously major players in the Braves’ planned bullpen, and they could be the difference in turning a decent ‘pen into an exceptional one.
Moylan, who’s pitched each of the past two Sundays, joked that he’s on the NFL schedule. He told me this morning he believes he’ll be ready for opening day. He’s who’s less than 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery.
Moylan threw two side sessions without incident since last Sunday’s appearance. The Aussie will fly to the Bahamas tomorrow to get his visa. (It’s a complicate explanation, but those who were around the blog last year remember he had to do the same thing then. You have to get your work visa stamped in a foreign country, and his paperwork wasn’t ready before he left Australia after Christmas, or something like that.)
When I asked Soriano if he thinks he’ll be ready for opening day, he said in his low grumble: “Yeah, I think so.” His surgically repaired elbow presumably hasn’t caused any problems yet this spring, or he hasn’t said it has. His lingering upper respiratory infection, or whatever he had, has been better since they gave him some sort of inhaler, which he showed me and tossed into his locker.
Gold Glove at first base?
Four different first basemen in the past five years have won National Gold Gloves, which got me wondering whether Casey Kotchman
could possibly become the fifth different winner in six seasons.
Possible, but not real likely.
Because as much as the award is supposed to be for defense, and as much as Kotchman’s D might be as good as any NL 1B (especially now that Mark Teixeira
is out of the league), the coaches and managers who vote on the award often lean heavily in favor of guys who also put up big offensive numbers.
Now that San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez
has won one (last year), we can probably expect him to win more. He’s very good defensively, on top of being a beast with the bat: In his three full seasons in the bigs, he has 90 homers, 106 doubles and 301 RBIs, and also top-20 finishes in the MVP balloting in ‘07 and ‘08.
Others who’ve won the NL Gold Glove at 1B the past six seasons: Derrek Lee (2005 and 2007), Todd Helton (2004) and Albert Pujols (2006).
In the 11 years before that revolving door of winners, the award was dominated by Helton (2001-02), J.T. Snow (1997-2000) and Mark Grace (1992-93 and 1995-96), with Jeff Bagwell (1994) the only other winner in that long stretch.
If Teixeira, a two-time AL winner, had spent more than one full season in the NL, it’s a good bet he’d have won a Gold Glove or two over here. Dude’s extremely smooth around the bag.
But watching Kotchman, it doesn’t look like the Braves lost much at all on the defensive side with that trade.
“Tex might have a little more movement,” infield coach Glenn Hubbard said. “But Kotch looks very similar. He’s solid.”
I asked Bobby Cox if he thought Kotchman was a Gold-Glove caliber player.
“I think you have to put him in that class,” Cox said. “He’s real good. And he’s swinging the bat, too.”
GM Frank Wren said, “No question about it, he can really play first base.”
Hubbard went on to discuss the Braves’ overall defensive strength and deep pitching staff, the biggest reasons that so many in the organization, including players and team officials, are optimistic about this team’s chances to contend for a postseason berth after a three-year absence.
Wren was commenting on Kotchman’s defense when he expanded the subject.
“That’s one of the things that we really feel so good about with our club, is an outstanding defensive infield,” the GM said. “And with the number of sinkerball guys we have in our rotation, especially when Huddy comes back, that’s important.”
Tim Hudson could be back sometime in August, a year after having Tommy John surgery. The Braves hold a $12 million option on his contract for 2010, with a $1 mill buyout if they don’t pick it up. Hudson has the right to veto it.
Almost forgot to tell you, pitcher Charlie Morton has been long-tossing for the past week and said he’s not had any issues with his strained oblique. He hopes to get on the mound in the next few days — “ASAP,” he said — and resume preparations for the season. He’s anxious to get going again.
1. Kaz Matsui, 2B
2. Hunter Pence, RF
3. Lance Berkman, 1B
4. Carlos Lee, LF
5. Miguel Tejada, SS
6. Geoff Blum, 3B
7. Darin Erstad, CF
8. Humberto Quintero, C
9. Jose Capellan, RH
1. Jordan Schafer
2. Yunel Escobar
3. Kelly Johnson, 2B
4. Matt Diaz, LF
5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
6. Freddie Freeman, 1B
7. Martin Prado, 3B
8. David Ross, C
9. Derek Lowe, RH
We’ll close things out with a song for Sunday morning….
“SINK HOLE” by Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers)
I’ve always been a religious man, I ‘ve always been a religious man
but I met the banker and it felt like sin, he turned my bailout down
The Banker Man, he let into me, let into me, let into me
The Banker Man, he let into me and spread my name around
He thinks I ain’t got a lick of sense cause I talk slow and my money’s spent
Now, I ain’t the type to hold it against, but he better stay off my farm
Cause it was my Daddy’s and his Daddy’s before
and his Daddy’s before and his Daddy’s before
Five generations and an unlocked door and a loaded burglar alarm.
Lots of pictures of my purdy family, lots of pictures of my purdy family
lots of pictures of my purdy family in the house where I was born.
House has stood through five tornadoes,
Droughts, floods, and five tornadoes.
I’d rather wrastle an alligator than to face the Banker’s scorn
Cause he won’t even look me in the eye
He just takes my land and apologize,
with pen, paper, and a friendly smile, he says the deed is done.
The sound you hear is my Daddy spinning, The sound you hear is my Daddy spinning
The sound you hear is my Daddy spinning over what the Banker done.
Like to invite him for some pot roast beef and mashed potatoes and sweet tea
follow it up with some banana pudding and a walk around the farm
Show him the view from McGee Town Hill
Let him stand in my shoes and see how it feels
to lose the last thing on earth that’s real
I’d rather lose my legs and arms
Bury his body in the old sink hole Bury his body in the old sink hole
Bury his body in the old sink hole under cold November sky
Then damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
Damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
Damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
and look the Preacher in the eye