Cincinnati – Well, I for one, think the off day yesterday came at a good time. And I’m not just saying that because it gave me a chance to eat dinner with a cousin I bumped into who just happened to be in town on business. (Hey, all the way from Arizona!)
Everybody got to cool down, shake off the bad taste from Baltimore and take a deep breath. Chipper Jones got an extra day to take some swings and try to get right at the plate, Bobby Cox got a chance to treat some Braves staffers to dinner at Morton’s.
And Yunel Escobar, well….Escobar had might rather the Braves play the Reds last night, so he wouldn’t have another day to think about getting benched Sunday in Baltimore for his accumulation of mental mistakes. Gosh, isn’t that like getting sent to your room and having to wait, not just until dinner, but on into the next day to come out?
It’ll be interesting to see how Escobar responds to this, but I imagine he’ll use it as the wakeup call that it was. I’m sure he’s had talks by now with coaches like Chino Cadahia and Eddie Perez, some veterans on the team, maybe Mike Gonzalez, to get himself in the right frame of mind.
I mean, this is a guy with a lot of enthusiasm for the game. And you hate to see that diluted. I know the Braves wanted to see him temper some of on-the-field antics, particularly his reactions to umpires, and for the most part, I think Escobar is doing that. And really, I think his love for the game is refreshing, where a lot of players are more buttoned-down about it. Not that they love it less, but it’s just not in their nature to show it so demonstratively.
Just Sunday, before the game, in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards, I watched Esocbar tell stories in Spanish to a group of his Latin teammates, Gregor Blanco, Manny Acosta, Barbaro Canizares. He was acting things out with his hands, letting his voice rise and fall, using a lot of emotion and expression.
I could tell it was about baseball because of his gestures, and I knew I was missing something good.
I asked Eddie what they were talking about. Perez didn’t want to take too much time away from listening to tell me so he just said quickly that Escobar was telling stories about playing for Cuba. Times like those, I have to wonder why the heck I took Latin.
But my point is, Escobar is not aloof, he cares, and I’d bet he wants to get it right.
Quick Smoltz update
I heard John Smoltz on the Dan Patrick show a little while ago, basically confirming that he’d face the Braves on June 28 in Atlanta (not next weekend in Boston): “Yeah, it looks that way,” when Patrick asked him if he’d be facing the Braves in his second start back.
Smoltz was a little vague about exactly when his next rehab start would be – “tomorrow or Thursday” for Pawtucket and his first start for the Red Sox “Tuesday or Wednesday of next week” at Washington, but we here at the Braves/MIB should be counting on Smoltz pitching at Turner Field on June 28.
As for the DP show, Mr. Richmond is a big fan, and he told me I should say something about a passion bucket. So in the context of this blog, I’d say Escobar’s passion bucket is full.
(Since I wrote the blog this morning, the Red Sox have announced Smoltz will make his first start for them on Thursday June 25 against the Nationals, which would mean he WON’T face the Braves this weekend or next.)
Little Red Machine
Anyway, on to the Reds, who host the Braves for the next three games. These guys are on a four-game losing streak with a lot of the same problems as the Braves. Their pitching has been good – their 3.89 ERA is fourth in the National League – their offense abysmal – their .256 batting average is 15th in the league.
Willy Tavares is on an 0-for-32 streak and was dropped from the leadoff spot. Joey Votto, their star first baseman who was putting up an MVP-caliber start (.357 batting average, .464 on-base percentage, 33 RBIs in 38 games), is out with stress-related issues, something he and the club are keeping close to the vest.
Redan graduate Brandon Phillips, who leads the Reds in batting average (.273) and RBIs (43) and OPS (.835), just got fined by Reds manager Dusty Baker for failing to heed (and to apparently look for) a take sign when he had a 3-0 count Saturday against former Brave Kyle Davies. Davies, now pitching for the Royals, had just walked the two batters ahead of him, and Phillips proceeded to pop out to strand two runners in the loss.
We get a nice pitching match-up today with Jair Jurrjens vs. Aaron Harang. The Braves haven’t faced Harang since 2007, but he is 1-2 against them with a 3.48 ERA.
I’d say keep an eye on Braves catcher David Ross, who is coming off a two-homer day Sunday in Baltimore. He’s hitting .333 (3-for-9) against his former team this year, with a double, a homer and two RBIs.
When I was going back over my scoreboard from the weekend and recording some things, I got a closer look at Kris Medlen’s pitch breakdown from Sunday. You guys might have already seen it, but it popped out at me (I should have made a point of it Sunday but was focusing on writing the Escobar stuff) but Medlen threw 81 pitches in his four innings in relief, and only 39 for strikes (42 for balls, by higher math). He walked five, which we knew, gave up a homer, and allowed four runs.
Coming in for mop-up duty is something that I’m sure is totally foreign to Medlen, a prospect his whole minor league career, and difficult, given the uncertainty of when he’ll be pitching and long breaks in between. But somehow Medlen needs to take advantage of the mound time he gets here lately to see if he can’t lock down and get back to the guy who was pounding the strike zone in spring training.
Maddux drawing a crowd
Just an FYI for those of you who bought tickets to attend the Braves Hall of Fame luncheon honoring Greg Maddux on July 17. The Braves have decided to move it from the 755 Club at Turner Field to the Omni Hotel at the CNN center because of the overwhelming response to tickets.
Tickets are still for sale, though, if you call 404-614-2310.
More from the Great American Ballpark later on….