(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Hey I get called up from low Class A to the majors in a matter of 24 hours! OK, maybe not quite the same deal. But I spent the last two days in Rome, visiting some old friends from Macon who now work in Rome – always great to see – and getting to know first round pick Mike Minor.
I think you guys are going to like him. And I’ll get to that in a minute. But first off, I should set up the weekend series with the Florida Marlins in town. The Fish are tied with the Braves in second place in the NL East, 6 ½ games behind the Phillies, and one of several threats in the wildcard.
The Marlins have been swinging some hot bats too. Until their 4-1 loss to the Astros last night, the Marlins had put up double-digit hits in 15 consecutive games. That’s the longest stretch since the St. Louis Browns had one of 15 games in 1937, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The major league record was 18 consecutive games, held by the 1922 St. Louis Browns and the 1925 Cleveland Indians.
I love ol’ baseball stats on things like this. Doesn’t work in football, now does it?
The Marlins went only 9-6 over that stretch of 15 games, despite raising their team batting average from .258 to .267, because of some poor pitching. In those 15 games, the Marlins’ ERA was 5.01.
Just looking at starting pitchers’ ERAs for this series, you’d think the Braves have the advantage, plus the fact that they don’t have to face Josh Johnson.
Anibal Sanchez (who’s coming off shoulder surgery) has a 5.55 ERA, Chris Volstad is at 4.61 ERA, Ricky Nolasco is 5.22 ERA. The only Braves starter in the series with an ERA anywhere close to that is Sunday’s starter Derek Lowe who’s now at 4.45 after the Tuesday night eight-run mess. This will be a big start for Lowe Sunday to try to regroup. No doubt about that.
And this is how my ADD mind works, and I’m free to let it loose while freestylin on the blog. I was talking to John Smoltz the other day for a story about his signing with St. Louis and he told me he watched that Braves game Tuesday night and really felt for Lowe.
“I saw myself in that one inning,” Smoltz said. “He didn’t pitch that bad but didn’t get one out.”
Smoltz said he felt like he just needed a break, something to turn for him. He brought up his 1991 season.
“When I was 2-11, my break was the All-Star break,” said Smoltz who went 2-11 with a 5.16 ERA before the All-Star break that year and 12-2 with a 2.63 ERA after the break. “I think I’m going to do the same thing now, just unfortunately with another club.”
He was excited about joining the Cardinals, but he made a point to say how hard it was for him to turn down Fredi Gonzalez and the Marlins. From what I’ve read on our notes group, the Marlins were interested in Smoltz as a starter, which would have been right up his alley.
But I have to wonder if part of the reason he chose the Cardinals over the Marlins was so he wouldn’t have to deal with the Braves quite so much. Smoltz is making his first start for the Cardinals on Sunday. If he’d done that with the Marlins, he would have been pitching against the Braves. He didn’t want that kind of pressure when he was first coming back with the Red Sox, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want it now. He needs to get his feet underneath him.
He could still face the Braves when they travel to St. Louis on Sept. 11-13, but by then he might be in the bullpen. I think the Cardinals are planning on starting Smoltz two or three times and then might move him into a setup role.
From what the talking heads said about his last game against the Yankees, I figured it was his slider that was off, not breaking like normal, and I asked Smoltz about that. He said no, his biggest problem was location on his fastball, which is still 92-94 mph.
He said his splitter was not as effective but his slider was OK. He’s made an adjustment to correct the heel of his back foot coming off the rubber and thinks that will help with location on all his pitches.
I think most all of us want to see him do well and not remember that long face we saw in the dugout at Yankee Stadium. That’s not the John we know.
By the way, I thought it was very cute how many times Smoltz brought up his new wife Kathryn during our conservation. I had heard Smoltz was very much in love, like a high schooler about his bride, but it was fun to hear for myself. (This is how you might be able to tell DOB is not writing this blog, in case you haven’t figured that out by now. We have some warm fuzzies for the ladies.)
Smoltz said his wife went with him to Georgia Tech for his second bullpen session and he wanted to stay out there long enough to get some things figured out. That wound up being about 150 pitches, including warm-ups. Or in his words, “long enough for my wife to get sunburned.”
Gosh, I’ve babbled on a ton, but I have a few things I want to say about left-hander Mike Minor, who looked impressive last night in Rome, facing six batters and retiring them all in his professional debut. He hit 91 mph on the gun with his fastball, about what he was touted to have, and threw first-pitch strikes to each of the six hitters when he hadn’t pitched in a game since June 1. We’d also heard about that control.
He’s a smart kid and seems to take pitching very seriously, from all accounts. He’s been getting pitching lessons since he was 12, his dad told me, and seems to have a good understanding of how to attack hitters, that it’s not all about blowing fastballs by people, that it’s about upsetting timing and being able to locate pitches within the strike zone.
He’s got some confidence to him, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. He was telling me about adding a curveball back to his repertoire last summer. He’d thrown one in high school but when he got to Vanderbilt they wanted him to throw a slider. Now he throws both. But I asked if he added that before he faced Cuba and beat them twice for the USA National Team and he said yes, about a week before.
“I threw it a lot because it kept them off-balance,” Minor said. “I threw a lot of those and changeups because they’re a fastball hitting team. 1-0, 2-0 they’re hacking, swinging as hard as they can. Dump an easy curveball in there. They wouldn’t swing at it.”
A couple of other things I didn’t have room for in my story and I just have to mention here: Minor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, Tenn (yes, named for a certain town in NC where some random university is located), population 1000, and played at a high school with about 80 in his graduating class. The competition wasn’t that great, but you have to appreciate this little stat: he gave up one earned run his entire senior season.
But he lost in the state championship game his senior year after giving up something like two unearned runs. And the opposing pitcher was another guy named Drew Hayes, who ended up being his roommate at Vanderbilt after Hayes transferred in as a sophomore.
“I didn’t talk to him for the first month because I was still bitter about it,” Minor said. “Then I finally gave in, and we ended up being like best friends. We still talk almost every day.”
Minor is a naturally gifted athlete who played high school basketball as well. His dad told me he was always just trying to keep up with his older brothers. He’s one of seven kids. (Wow.) His dad told me Minor was on a skateboard at 18 months. Huh? I asked it again, and he said yes, 18 months.
Anyway, Minor has got probably three more starts with Rome – and I doubt he’ll be back, so take him in when you can – and he’s going to the Arizona Fall League. So they’ll be plenty more to see and hear of him in the coming weeks.
I exchanged a few texts with Jordan Schafer this morning and he said his wrist is “good so far.” He got out of his cast last week and started swinging a bat on Monday. He was going to test his wrist swinging for a few days before he decided if it might still need surgery.
He was to get out on the field today and take batting practice with Class AAA Gwinnett. Perhaps a September call-up is still in order. We shall see. More from the park this afternoon.