(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Afternoon, denizens, and welcome to the second half of your Braves baseball season. Well, not second half, exactly, but the next 74 games.
We’re giving DOB a day to catch his breath from his trip to St. Louis, and Denver, and Chicago, and we’ll be bringing you Derek Lowe tonight vs. Oliver Perez and the Mets.
And oh yeah, we have Jeff Francoeur taking right field for the visiting team. Bizarre.
As if we weren’t disoriented enough after three days away from the Braves (and for some of us, more like almost two weeks, amazingly), we have this awaiting us a Turner Field.
On a personal level, I can say I’m very sorry to see Jeff go. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever been around in a clubhouse. Upbeat, friendly, thoughtful, honest, and as nice a guy as you’ll ever see. He managed to seem normal, in light of all his fame and success, and that’s a credit to him.
I hope for his sake the change of scenery brings him good things in New York, and he continues making adjustments and getting his career turned in the right direction.
So now that leaves us a little more than two weeks to go before the trading deadline and the Braves have already traded for hitters in two of their least productive spots on the field – center and right. And they’ve got a scorching hot hitter at second base now in Martin Prado. And surely super utility man Omar Infante will be back in the swing before long – I’ll check on the latest.
And yet, I ask, is it enough?
These next two weeks will tell – if the Braves can continue to get by without a whole lot of pop in their lineup, if they can make up for it by putting together the timely hits, and late in games, to win the one-run games. Or if they figure it’ll be time to upgrade maybe at first base or left field for the sake of adding a bigger bat.
Or, dare we say, sell off some pieces. Though it’d be a shocker if that’s the way it goes.
Having had three days of nothing going on, I’m sure you guys have hashed these things around quite a bit. Shoot, a couple of analysis pieces for print and I’m ready to move onto something else. Let’s get some games to talk about. In the meantime, let me throw an oddball stat out at you and get on to another topic that’s been on my mind: Greg Maddux.
Chipper Jones played more games in the first half (77) than Yunel Escobar (73). Jones has also played more than Casey Kotchman (73) and Garret Anderson (67) and Kelly Johnson (68). The only Braves’ every day player that had him beat was Francoeur (82) and well, we know what happened there.
Actually, Chipper is on pace to play in 142 games, which would be his highest total since 2003. Course, now I’ve surely jinxed him. But that’s something that just kind of crept up on us, no?
There’s been so much ado about Francoeur and Johnson’s lack of production, did we forget to notice that there just hasn’t been much complaining about Jones and his nagging injuries and creaky old body? Well, we offer a kudos to Jones for keeping it, literally, together.
This might be hard to believe, but after writing a story, a Q and A and a collection of his accomplishments for tomorrow’s paper (tune in), I still have a more to say before the Braves honor Maddux tomorrow. (Hall-of-Fame luncheon is soldout – snooze, you lose – and the pre-game ceremony tomorrow night is at 7:31 p.m. when they retire his number. Hey, wait, is that at 7:31 because of his number?)
Anyway, I had a long conversation with Maddux last week, and some of his thoughts were almost too technical for what the boss folks wanted for the newspaper, but I thought the bloggers might appreciate it.
If you’re not a Maddux person, I warn you, you might want to just skip it and spare me complaints about writing too much about a guy who doesn’t play for the Braves anymore. But in this case, pardon me, I think it’s appropriate.
This is Maddux talking about two of his biggest influences 1) his high school pitching coach the late Ralph Medar, a former major league scout who held open practices for high school, college and minor league players in Las Vegas. And 2) Dick Pole, his former pitching coach with the Cubs, who is now with the Reds. Pole coached Maddux in the minors and majors.
“When I was first learning how to pitch, I never had a pitching coach who knew how to throw the ball,” Maddux said. “Mr. Medar taught me all the basics and laid down the foundation of what was in store for me. Dick cleaned me up a little bit when I needed it and actually taught me how to pitch, how to manage the game. Dick made me aware of how to pitch behind, how to pitch with a lead, how to pitch in a tie game, how to pitch when you’re tired. He taught me how to be a complete pitcher, not just a brain dead heaver.”
I asked him if there were keys he still went back to late in his career that came from Medar.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Maddux said. “Like my stride, how to throw my changeup, how to take my hand out of my glove, the basics. Where to start, where to hold your hands out of the stretch. Things like that. Any time you’re struggling you always revert back to the first thing you learned as a pitcher, and that was always Mr. Medar.”
It might be where your foot lands? I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It might be where to set your hands before you start, how to take it out of your glove, how to pick your leg up. I always put the webbing of the glove next to my chin and just put them (his elbows, I presume) straight out. Always tried to keep my right elbow a little bit closer to my ribcage.”
Maddux on Pole’s teaching him an appreciation for the groundball out:
“You’re going to get your strikeouts on accident,” Maddux said. “You throw so many pitches, you’re going to get your share of punchies. But I never really went for a strikeout until two strikes. I think you see a lot of pitchers trying to strike somebody out when the count is 1-0. That’s pretty hard to do.”
I’d talked to Pole, when I was in Cincinnati for the Reds-Braves and he told me, in spite of what he taught Maddux about strikeouts, Maddux couldn’t help but kid him when he got to 3,000 strikeouts for his career.
Maddux remembered kidding Pole about other numbers too.
“It was always kind of a fun thing we had going,” Maddux said. “I think I ended up giving him something like my 300th homer I gave up too. It was one of those home runs at Wrigley they threw back on the field and it was 300, or some really ridiculously high number. I wrote on it ‘To Dickie, thanks for teaching me how to give up 300 homers.’ That was pretty good.”
OK, a couple more: his former teammates had told me a lot about the guts Maddux showed on the mound, the willingness to go inside, even with his changeup. So I asked him about that:
“A changeup inside is not dangerous at all if he’s looking in,” Maddux said. “Best pitch you can throw. That’s how I look at it. I looked at it as safe. A lot of times they see balls in certain areas, it makes them react quick. If they see it away they stay back, if they see it in, they’re quick, so if you’re facing the hitter that you think sees that way or reacts that way, to me that’s safest pitch to throw.”
I think I translate that as they’re gearing up to hit the fastball in, so their timing is off when he comes in with his changeup. Let me know if I didn’t follow him right, eh?
And finally, after all these years, going back to 1999 when Eddie Perez told me Maddux called a game for Bruce Chen from the dugout, I got him to talk about that. He never wanted to admit it when he was playing, even though guys like Brad Penny, who threw seven shutout innings on a game Maddux called for him with the Dodgers, had talked about it.
“Everybody needs help on the mound,” Maddux said. “Dick Pole used to call my pitches for me from the dugout. And I understood how that helped me and how that gave me the confidence to throw that pitch. There are times when hey, guy needs help on the mound, help him out.”
Was it fun, I asked, because it kept him so into the game?
“It was stressful,” he said. “I tell you what, it made you watch the game a whole different way. You don’t see from the dugout as good as you see from the mound. So you found yourself running up between innings watching the video from the last inning. Maybe it’s not looking the same way from the mound as it is from the dugout.”
Was it stressful because it’s his outs, not yours?
“Not really,” Maddux said. “It’s his decision to do it.”
True enough. OK off to the ballyard. Let’s get this thing rolling.