Lake Buena Dark Star, Fla. – After seeing the Braves drop two out of three over the weekend, figured I better get back to town before the coveted Grapefruit League title is frittered away like a Mets division title in September. Oy!
No, but seriously … spring training moves to another level this week as teams get back the rest of their World Baseball Classic players and we start to see lineups that look a lot like ones that we’ll be seeing when the season begins.
Before I forget, wanted to recommend the new movie, I Love You, Man, that I saw Monday when morning rain put a damper on my ride-to-Daytona motorcycle plans. If you like Wedding Crashers/40-Year-Old Virgin/Knocked Up, you’ll like this.
Duplicitous? OK, fine
We also saw Duplicity, with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, on Saturday back in Atlanta. Liked it a lot, but it has so many plot twists that you might find yourself distracted a few times wondering what just happened or what it meant. But anyway, Ms. Roberts is quite fetching and has great chemistry with Owen, while Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are spectacular as ruthless, rival CEOs.
I’d give I Love You, Man a B-plus or A-minus, and Duplicity a solid B.
Where were we? Oh, yes: The Braves could get Chipper Jones back from his oblique strain for tonight’s game against the Pirates. We’re posting this blog early, and we’ll give you an update on Chipper this afternoon.
Garret Anderson could also make his Grapefruit League debut later this week. At that point, we should get a better idea of the batting order that Bobby Cox plans to run out on regular basis, or at least the middle of that order.
However, until we find out if Josh Anderson is going to get the center-field job, we’re obviously not going to know about the leadoff position. So with a dozen days until the season opener, still some important decisions to be made.
I think we know where the majority of you stand on the CF job — most of you seem to be saying you want the center fielder, whoever that is, who makes the Braves better right now, regardless of any possible ancillary sort of ramifications, i.e. options, future arb eligibility, etc.
But I’ll ask once more: who do you think will
be the the opening-day center fielder, and who do you think will be the opening-day leadoff man?
How ’bout the Nos. 3-5 hitters?
That’s not an easy answer, is it? Do you think Jeff Francoeur has made that decision more difficult because of the good contact he’s made all spring, even if the power has been lacking most of the way?
And what about left field? Diaz has had a hell of a spring. But if G. Anderson is healthy, do you think spring results change anything in terms of how Cox intends to use them, be it a platoon or Anderson playing more an every-day role?
– With their grip on the prestigious Grapefruit League crown beginning to slip
, the Braves get back their best two hitters (Chipper and Brian McCann
) just in time to reboot this Grapefruit title run after Monday’s off day.
Despite the long trip back from the WBC semifinals in L.A. on Monday, I’m not going to be surprised if McCann is back in the Atlanta lineup tonight. That’s because Javier Vazquez
, one of the new starters he’s had very little chance to work with, is starting tonight against the Pitt Pirate.
is scheduled to start Wednesday night against Washington over at Viera, after Kawakami missed his last start with “shoulder fatigue.” Dave Ross might catch Kawakami, if Cox is planning to use him as the pitcher’s personal catcher this season (no announcement has been made yet).
— Something was sent to me promoting the new Bill James Gold Mine 2009
, a book that has smart, original essays, statistical profiles, and unique tidbits of information like these Braves items:
♦ Buddy Carlyle was a reliever in 2008 after primarily starting in 2007. He threw his cut fastball 19 percent of the time in 2008 (as opposed to 6 percent in 2007) while pretty much ditching the curve. The changes seemed to work: His groundball rate rose from 32 to 44 percent and his ERA dropped from 5.21 to 3.59.
♦ Chipper Jones hit twelve home runs to center field last year; only Ryan Howard hit more. It was also more than Jones hit to left and right fields combined.
♦ Braves rookie Charlie Morton didn’t put up impressive numbers (4-8 with a 6.15 ERA), but he also didn’t get any favors from the schedule. Twelve of his 15 starts came against teams that finished with a winning record, including five starts against teams that ultimately made the playoffs.
♦ When Kelly Johnson’s plate appearances lasted three pitches or less, he batted almost 200 points higher than when they were longer than three pitches.
♦ 58.2 percent of Yunel Escobar’s batted balls were groundballs. Only Derek Jeter had a higher percentage (58.3 percent).
That’s good stuff.
Speaking of Escobar (yes, my transitions are sharp, ready to go north)
, I had a bunch of quotes about Yunel Escobar that didn’t make it in the story I wrote about him last week, because of space limitations.
• 2B Kelly Johnson on Escobar’s defense
: “I think the thing that stands out about him is just that, it seems like he is positioned in the right place all the time. He has to be, because he gets to a lot of balls I don’t expect him to. And it’s not like he just comes across as real quick kind of shortstop, an all fast-twitch [muscle] kind of player. So he must be thinking a lot more than some people might give him credit for, because it seems like he’s always at the right spot at the right time… He’s got that arm, if you can just stop the ball you can throw anybody out. He doesn’t try to do too much. He plays the position right.”
•1B Casey Kotchman on Escobar and that cannon arm:
“He’s got obviously a plus-plus arm over there, and he can get rid of the ball quickly, too. He throws a ball at times that look like it might be short, but it carries. That’s obviously a big attribute to have over there at short, because he can get balls in the hole and guys are out…. Yunel, he just has to play, and the more he plays, the more he’ll be able to just show people how good he is and how good he can be.”
• GM Frank Wren on Escobar’s toning things down a bit:
“I think he’s making a concentrated effort. It’s a whole cultural difference. If you watch the Cuban national team take infield, it’s like watching the Harlem Globetrotters warm up for a basketball game. They’re throwing balls behind the back — it’s entertainment. That’s probably the truest form of expression that you can have in that country, is to stand out playing baseball. I’ve always understood that, just from a standpoint of a number of Cuban players I’ve been associated with, really beginning with Livan [Hernandez]….
“There’s a period of adjustment. It doesn’t all happen the first year. Over the course of two or three years, they get more and more comfortable playing the game in a different style…. It’s just the way he grew up playing. I’ve never thought it was malicious or intended to offend anyone. It’s just the way they play in Cuba….
• Wren on what separates Escobar:
“He has strength. That’s one of the things that’s a little different. You think of shortstops being guys who have to hit in the top or bottom of the lineup. He has strength to hit in different spots in the order.”
• Wren on Escobar’s reaction to offseason trade rumors:
“I had discussions with his representative along the way during the process, and I think they were able to convey to him and make him understand you just can’t believe everything that’s going on.”
• Marlins special asst. Tony Perez on Escobar:
“He’s a good all-around player. He’s a good fielder, got a good arm, good hitter… He’s got good bat control. He uses the whole field. I can see him hitting second or even third, if you don’t have that powerhouse [type of] lineup. He can hit anywhere.”
• Perez on Escobar being a Cuban position player in majors:
“He knows about the guys coming out of Cuba — most of the guys who have success here [in the majors] are pitchers. Hitters, position players, you don’t have too many, like him and a few other guys. Some guys come up and play for a while and disappear. He knows he wants to play here, he wants to stay. It’s not easy being a position player coming out of Cuba and play here. Pitchers are different.”
• Perez on Escobar’s response to friend Brayan Pena being traded last summer:
“Last year I was talking to both of them before a game. We were talking about Cuba. They were good friends. But I don’t think it’s going to be any trouble [for Escobar to get past the Pena trade]. He knows why he’s here. If you don’t do a job, you’re going back to the minors, or whatever. They know how it works here. You can be a good friend, but you’ve got a job to do. I think he understands that.
”You miss the guy you grew up with, but he can call him on the phone all the time and talk about it, see how they’re doing. I don’t think it’s going to bother him at all.”
• Bullpen coach Eddie Perez on Escobar’s talent:
“He can do everything. He can run, he can do all that stuff, but he’s afraid to do stuff sometimes because he doesn’t know when it’s [OK] to do it. But he’s learning. He’s going to be one of our leaders in the next couple of years. He’s still learning, and hopefully one day he can be the leader here.”
• Hitting coach Terry Pendelton on Escobar’s ability:
“Once he settles down, I think he’ll be a .300 hitter in this league. Very talented kid who loves to work, loves to play. He’s going to do whatever it takes to improve his game every day. As a hitting coach, I love it because there’s one thing he will not do — he will not stop working to get better… He understands the opportunity that he has, and he’s going to make the best of it every day. And that’s why he comes out here with a joy, and fired-up pride, and yelling and screaming, because he appreciates the opportunity.”
• Pendleton on Escobar’s future:
“He’s going to be a better player. I don’t know if he can get any stronger, because he’s strong as an ox now. But he’s going to learn more as he goes along. He’s going to learn pitching as he goes along, learn how they approach him and what he needs to do to be effective. And defensively, he’s going to learn hitters and how to play them. So he’s going to get better as a ballplayer, because he wants to. He really works hard to do so.
“He is [good already]. He can play.
• Pendleton on Escobar’s drive to win:
“That’s what he shows up for every day. He loves playing the game, and he loves to win. That’s what he shows up for every day, to win. So whatever it takes to win, he’ll do. He will do.”
•LF Matt Diaz on Escobar’s defense:
“Oh, playing defense behind him gets me excited. I’m going to field a ground ball, to take a knee and flip it in, and all of a sudden he’s making a backhanded play and throwing a guy out at first. Playing defense behind him, it’s amazing to watch his range. I’ve never seen a shortstop with that much range.”
• Manager Bobby Cox on Escobar:
“He plays hard. He does want to win. He goes hard all the time.”
Braves have day games Thursday and Friday at Dark Star, which means we’ll get to watch all the Sweet 16 games those nights in a proper environment. However, Mark Bowman’s Dayton and West Virginia teams have been eliminated, from what I hear.
If the Jayhawks get past Michigan State, the Braves play Sunday at Lakeland, which means KU’s Disney curse won’t be a factor. (For those unaware, when I watch KU play an NCAA tourney game while I’m on Disney property or within sight of said property, i.e. the Ale House or Buffalo Wild Wings locations next to Disney World, Bill Self and my Jayhawks are doomed through no fault of their own.
“SMELL OF COFFEE” by Greg Brown
Bouffant hairdo, ne’er-do-well
Warm the car up, perfume smell
Work is there when love is gone
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn
Pheasant clucking, ice cold dew
Backseat shotgun, frosty slough
Chevy coughing, let’s move on
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn
Hey there, Benny, is this your home?
Railroad cinders, styrofoam
Train a-comin’, where’s Lost John?
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn
Blue blue window, factory
Big bad boss man can’t find me
Boxes piled up, paycheck gone
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn
Woman works and man does too
Yellow paper, same old news
Forty years to cross the lawn
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn