Archive for February, 2010

The Man In Black could’ve written a song about Heyward

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – I’m sure there are probably better places to be on  Johnny Cash’s birthday than here at a ballpark in Florida, but there aren’t many. Bccause it’s niiiice out. It was 40 degrees this morning, but it’s already 60 with brilliant sun and no wind.

The Braves are taking batting practice right now – spring training is like Groundhog Day right now, until the games start Tuesday — here at Dark Star Park (aka Champion Stadium at ESPN Is-Taking-Over-The-World Sports Complex).

Before we go any further, gotta share something Bobby Cox said this morning. ESPN had some sort of grand renaming ceremony here last night, lots of big-name athletes and coaches, and TV people covering it like it was actual news. Anyway, a certain former Gators football coach took part. As did the Braves manager, who’d never really met Steve Spurrier before last night.

How’d last night go, Bobby?

As much as Cox wanted to hate him....

As much as Cox wanted to hate him….

“Good,” he said. “I like Steve Spurrier now.”

Come …

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Cox doesn’t buy Chipper retirement talk

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Chipper Jones has said it more than once, but with all due respect, Braves manager Bobby Cox isn’t buying it.

Jones said late in his career-worst 2009 season that if he struggled to a similar degree in 2010, he would retire. This despite a three-year, $42 million contract extension signed one year ago, which starts this season and runs through 2012.

Cox was asked what he had thought about Jones’ comments late last season, which the former National League MVP reiterated recently.

“I never took them to heart at all,” Cox said Thursday. “He’ll play three more years, and play good.”

Jones has insisted he would forgo the money left on his contract and “ride off into the sunset” if he could no longer play the game at a high level.

Among switch-hittesrs, he ranks second with a .307 career average and third with 426 home runs. He needs 55 RBIs to reach 1,500 and 28 doubles for 500.

Jones hit a career-best .364 for his first batting title in 2008, then saw …

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Call them the Jason Heyward Nets

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – When manager Bobby Cox said that the Braves will probably install nets to protect cars from Jason Heyward’s prodigious batting-practice home runs, reporters thought he was kidding.

He was not kidding.

“I’m serious,” Cox said Thursday at Champion Stadium. “Smashing too many cars.”

Heyward has created a buzz that’s transcended Braves camp and spread throughout baseball, with tales of the 20-year-old outfield prospect’s hitting exploits becoming the stuff of blog- and Twitter-fueled legend.

As Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno could attest, this is not myth. This stuff is happening — Manno has an $3,400 estimate for repairs as proof.

That’s how much it’ll cost to fix a shattered sunroof on the car, which was parked in a small team-officials lot beyond right field Tuesday. Heyward has pulled numerous balls to — and even over – the parking lot this week.

That particular ball crashed through the roof, an estimated 440 feet from home plate. …

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Amiable Matty D’s ready for whatever role

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Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – After a winter of rumors that the Braves might sign Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon or one of a half-dozen others to play left field, those guys aren’t here. And Matt Diaz is.

Who’d have thunk it five years ago, that Diaz would still be here? That he’d become not just The Survivor, but one of the more popular members of the Braves with fans and teammates alike.

(Speaking of popular — or not — I should point out that my day began with AJC columnist Jeff Schultz staggering into the living room of the MIB Blog annex headquarters, wearing what appeared to be pajama pants, asking to borrow shampoo. “I’ll just put some on my head,” he said.)

Now where were we? Oh, yes, Matt Diaz, who came to the Braves in largely overlooked trade for minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez a week before Christmas in 2005. When the trade went down, they were both obscure.

If someone knows what ol’ Ricardo is doing these days, let us know.

Diaz? Since he came to the Braves he’s …

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Chavez more than just a warm body

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – If you thought Frank Wren screwed up when he traded closer Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay for reliever Jesse Chavez at the December Winter Meetings, well, you weren’t alone.

Plenty of critics thought the Braves GM should’ve waited a bit, rather than taking the best offer he got before leaving the meetings in Indianapolis. The numbing December weather in downtown Indy can make a man do desperate things, right?

Wren defended the deal at that time and said Chavez was far more than the any-warm-body some were portraying. In fact, Wren said, the Braves and their scouts really liked Chavez and believed he could play a big role in their revamped bullpen.

Well, guess what? It’s only the first week of camp, but anyone who’s watched Chavez would jhave to agree that Wren wasn’t full of it. This 26-year-old right-hander can really pitch, and it’s easy to see why the Braves expect him to be a cog in an upgraded bullpen.

“That Chavez — whew – he is good,” new closer …

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Wren: Schafer still big part of Braves’ future

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Jordan Schafer, here listening to hitting coach Terry Pendleton, has been told to pull back in order to be ready for the long haul and avoid any setbacks after hand surgery.

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Patience and taking it easy, these aren’t things that come naturally for young Jordan Schafer.

But he knows that’s how it needs to be this spring. So he’ll do it.  Or try.

The Braves center fielder is regaining strength in his surgically repaired left hand, and the team doesn’t  want him pushing too hard in an effort to impress during spring training. No need for that. Not this time.

Schafer was instructed not to do any hitting Wednesday, so he didn’t.

“His hand is weak,” manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s having — not a setback – he’s just sore from starting out again. It’s going to be a process for him just about all spring.

“We want him to be ready for the season, whatever it takes.”

Ready for a long season, as opposed to ready for opening day against the Chicago Cubs. Barring …

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Jurrjens progressing, Schafer “a process”

Dark Star, Fla. – Just watched an impressive batting-practice session pitched by what I believe will be the Braves’ opening-day starter, Tim Hudson, and now watching what appears to be the younger, slimmer brother of Braves left-hander Eric O’Flaherty.

Doesn't it look like Saito and K.K. are lining up a putt?

Doesn't it look like Saito and K.K. are lining up a putt? (Phil Skinner/AJC)

Actually it’s O’Flaherty. Dropped a lot of weight in the offseason, and he really does look several years younger because of it. The face, you know? How some guys (or girls) lose 5-10 pounds and a disproportionate amount of it seems to have come off their cheeks and neck? No? I should get more sleep? OK, noted.

Anyway …

Hey, take this as a good early omen for the Braves if you want to: Two days in a row, I woke to rain and completely socked-in, nasty conditions here. Only to see the rain cease in plenty of time for the field to dry and the Braves to have batting practice on the main ‘yard here at ESPN Wide World of Family Fun Sports Entertainment …

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Braves sign journeyman catcher J.R. House

The Braves added minor-league depth by signing catcher/corner infielder J.R. House, a name that football fans might recall.

The 30-year-old journeyman was a high school quarterback sensation in West Virginia in the late 1990s, then a power-hitting prospect with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But he’s never had success beyond the Class AAA level, or much opportunity.

In 10 minor league seasons, House has a .302 career average, 117 homers and a .838 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). But he’s had 10 hits (three home runs) in just 60 at-bats in the majors with Pittsburgh, Houston and Baltimore.

House spent the 2009 season with the Royals’ AAA Omaha affiliate, batting a career-worst .251 with nine homers and 53 RBIs in 505 at-bats.

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With Glaus, health has been only question

385 –  New Braves first baseman Troy Glaus had at least 385 at-bats in eight of the past 11 seasons, and in each of those eight seasons he produced at least 20 home runs and 60 walks.

500 — Glaus had at least 500 at-bats in seven of the past 11 seasons, and in each of those seven seasons he had at least 27 home runs and 79 RBI, including six seasons with at least 97 RBIs.

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Glaus at 1B, slimmer Prado at 2B, Diory out

Lake Buena Vista, Fla – With Troy Glaus at first base, Chipper Jones said any throw that’s too high for Glaus to reach will be a “well-earned error.”

Glaus is 6 feet 5.

A former Gold Glove third baseman, Glaus has played only six games at first base in his entire career. But when the 33-year-old took ground balls Tuesday in the Braves’ first full-squad workout, he didn’t look at all out of position.

“He looked smooth,” manager Bobby Cox said.

“Troy’s a good athlete,”  Jones said “There’s some footwork issues that are probably going to have to get worked on. But it’s not like he’s completely unfamiliar with it. He does have a little bit of experience over there, and he came up in an organization [Angels] that’s very big on working on the fundamentals, so I’m sure he was taught well.

“The guy’s a Gold Glover over there at third. Excellent third baseman. I have no doubt in my mind that he will make the transition seem easy. You’re a good defender at a corner position, I think …

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