Talking Heyward, Venters, Kawakami, Otis Redding….

It’s not supposed to look anywhere this easy for a 20-year-old in the major leagues, much less for a rookie who had only 208 plate appearances above Class A before this season.

Jason Heyward began today as the National League leader in on base-plus-slugging percentage with a .991 mark, just ahead of Philadelphia slugger Jayson Werth.

[Blogmeister addendum, 12:24 a.m.: After homering and doubling Saturday night, Heyward's league-best OPS climbed to 1.011, ahead of Josh Willingham (.973), Werth (.968) and  Joey Votto (.961) entering Sunday's games. OK, now back to our original blog written just before Saturday's game...]

Get out of this kid's way. Heyward is National League OPS leader entering Saturday.

Get out of this kid's way. Heyward is National League OPS leader entering Saturday.

Consider that Werth’s .990 OPS before Saturday was 111 points higher than the career-best OPS that the veteran posted last season, when Werth made the All-Star team and finished 17th in the MVP balloting.

Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley … all of them have OPS totals lower then the Braves’ phenom right fielder, folks. All of those players are All-Stars, and it seems increasingly obvious that Heyward belongs on the NL All-Star team.

He would be the first non-Japanese rookie outfielder to make the NL All-Star team since Tim Raines in 1981.

When I asked him this afternoon, Heyward said he isn’t thinking about the possibility.

“No, not yet,” he said. “Right now it’s not really a thing to focus on for me. When it’s time to think about that, if it happens, then it’ll be time to think about it. Right now we’re playing really well as a team, and that’s the focus for me.”

Here’s what the focused Henry County High grad – to think, he was playing high school games three years ago – has done lately, at a time when a lot of people figured that teams might have figured out how to get him out and Heyward might be going through a rough patch.

Since April 28, the day that Bobby Cox sat him for one game and said Heyward needed to get a little more aggressive and stop taking so many pitchers, he hit .354 (28-for-79) with 13 extra-base hits (five homers), 19 RBIs, 16 walks, nine strikeouts and a .475 OBP and .671 slugging percentage (1.146 OPS) before Saturday.

The Braves were 17-7 in those 24 games, including 13 games with Heyward in his new No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he’s one of the largest and most imposing 2-hole hitters in recent memory.

He’s 6-feet-5 and 245 pounds, but Heyward has fit in quite nicely hitting between Martin Prado and Chipper Jones since Prado was bumped from the second spot to leadoff to solve the Braves’ problems at the top of the order.

I mentioned to him today that it seems to be working out for him, hitting second.

Phillies' Jayson Werth was one point behind Heyward in NL's OPS rankings before Saturday.

Phillies' Jayson Werth was one point behind Heyward in NL's OPS rankings before Saturday.

“It’s working out for <em>us,</em> for sure,” Heyward said. “Martin gets on base, and I’m able to either move a runner or draw a walk, whatever. They don’t want to put me on, also, with Chipper coming up behind me, then it gets going. So everybody’s feeding off each other.”

Heyward hit .359 with six homers and an .846 slugging percentage in just 39 at-bats from the sixth position in the lineup, but you won’t hear him suggest, complain or insinuate in any way that he belongs at some spot other than where he’s hitting.

Complaining or second-guessing his manager, that’s not something you’re going to hear from Heyward. Bat him second, bat him seventh, he’ll say he’s just glad to be in any lineup.

Besides, he said he’s not been asked to, nor felt a need to, adjust to the 2-hole.

“I haven’t changed anything,” he said. “I haven’t had to. Just like Martin, he hasn’t had to change anything in the leadoff spot, because he’s not a guy who swings big or anything like that. He has a short swing that’s quick. He can hit a ball out of the ballpark, yeah, but he can turn on a pitch or he can hit a very good pitch by a pitcher and hit it down the right-field line.

“As I said, I haven’t had to do any adjusting or changing. It’s just, take it as it comes.”

Barring some significant change in performance between now and the selection of All-Star reserves — assuming he’s not voted in as a starter – Heyward being left off the NL All-Star roster would be the most glarings snub imaginable.

And I can’t imagine Phillies (and NL All-Star) manager Charlie Manuel doing it, either. He’s seen plenty of Heyward, and Manuel will surely get a glowing report when he asks Bobby Cox about Heyward, if he even feels obligated to ask.

By that I mean, Manuel would probably just look at the numbers and realize this kid has been one of the league’s best players in the first quarter of the season. Again, a lot could happen in the next few weeks. Barring a big change, however, the numbers speak for themselves.

Before Saturday, Heyward was batting .295 with a team-high nine home runs and ranked second in the league in on-base percentage (.422), third in slugging percentage (.568), sixth in RBIs (35) and seventh in home-run frequency at one every 16.2 at-bats.

So what would he think about being named to the National League All-Star team as a rookie?

“It’s an honor, for anybody to be selected to an All-Star team, things like that,” he said. “So when that time comes in the season, you say that’s the time for this. And when that second half kicks in, let’s go get to the playoffs.”

That’s it for now. All you’re going to get from the kid about the All-Star possibility, because he’s got work to do.

♣ Wagner says Venters has best stuff: So I’m talking to Billy Wagner the other day about all the characters and varied personalities in the Braves’ bullpen for a story I wrote for the Sunday AJC, and he starts talking about Jonny Venters.

You talk to Wagner for any length of time about Braves pitchers, and he’ll bring up Venters, a rookie lefty whose career is off to an impressive start.

Wagner, the 38-year-old lefty closer who plans to retire after the season, said he’s getting some of his greatest enjoyment this year out of helping other Braves relievers including rookies Craig Kimbrel and Venters.

I get the impression Wagner would like to see what he could do with Venters’ stuff and his own wisdom, just for a week or two. He really likes Venters, his attitude and his talent, the whole package. Wagner smiles thinking about how Venters doesn’t yet understand just how good he is and can be.

Wagner says rookie lefty Venters has best stuff of any Braves reliever.

Wagner says rookie lefty Venters has best stuff of any Braves reliever.

“Johnny Venters, if you watch him warm up, you’d laugh,” Wagner said, “because he’s throwing sinkers like this [Wagner spreads arms to show the severe movement on Venters' pitches]. And if you’d watch [Venters' expression] you’d think it was a ball every time he throws it. And it’s hilarious, because you’re going, dang, Jonny, if you could only see what I’m seeing. Because he’s got far and away the best stuff in the bullpen.

“Him, Jesse Chavez … they’re unbelievable to watch. You’re sitting there going, man, that must be nice.”

Chavez still has a way to go to consistently harness his repertoire.

Venters, though, is a 25-year-old rookie who looks like a dynamic talent ready for anything. He’s been seriously good in most of his 14 relief appearances, posting an 0.95 ERA that ranked sixth among NL relievers, and a .175 opponents’ average that ranked eighth.

In his last eight games, Venters has allowed five hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts in 9-1/3 scoreless innings. He has 10 strikeouts in his last eight innings, including back-to-back strikeouts for the final outs in Friday night’s win against Pittsburgh, after coming back following a 70-minute rain delay in the middle of his ninth-inning appearance.

Venters threw some inside to stay loose during the delay, then, once play resumed, he needed just two minutes to strike out two batters and end the game.

Right-handers have a .195 average and .340 OBP against Venters, while lefties have hit just .136 (3-for-22) with three walks, eight strikeouts and a .269 OBP off him.

With runners on base, he’s limited opponents to a .138 average (4-for-29).

When Bobby Cox raved about Venters’ “super sinker” at the beginning of spring training, we sort of smiled and figured it was Cox maybe overstating the rookie’s talent just a little bit.

From what we’ve seen since then, he wasn’t.

♣ K.K. vs. Maholm on Sunday: Why is it not surprising that with Kenshin Kawakami starting the series finale Sunday for the Braves,  he drew Pirates lefty Paul Maholm. I mean, Maholm has a 1.33 ERA in four career starts against the Braves, including two starts last season when he allowed eight hits and no earned runs in 14 innings.

Kawakami takes an 0-7 record into Sunday's start, unimaginable back in his Japan League glory days.

Kawakami takes an 0-7 record into Sunday's start, unimaginable back in his Japan League glory days.

Not much room for error, in other words.

Exactly the type of situation Kawakami seems to be in for most of his starts, right? He’s the antithesis of Derek Lowe and has been for two years. Lowe has ranked among the NL run-support leaders for two seasons, and Kawakami has ranked among the bottom five in the league in run support over that period.

Kawakami will take an 0-7 record and 4.93 ERA into the matchup against Maholm (3-4, 3.98 ERA). Kawakami has a 2.25 ERA in his past two starts, having allowing five hits in six scoreless innings against Cincinnati on May 19 (he got no decision in the 5-4 Braves win) and three runs in six innings of a 6-4 loss at Florida on Tuesday.

The Braves have scored four runs or more while Lowe’s been in games in 23 of his 45 starts over two seasons, including Friday’s win. For Kawakami, the Braves have scored two runs or fewer while he’s been in 23 of 34 starts over two seasons.

Alright, game’s about to start. Let’s close with some classic soul from the great Otis Redding of Macon, Ga. You can listen to the song here.

071210_otisredding_hmed4phmedium

“YOU DON’T MISS YOUR WATER” by William Bell

In the beginning

You really loved me, oh

I was too blind

I could not see, now

But now that you left me

OOH, how I cried out, I keep crying

You don’t miss your water

‘Till your well are undried

I kept you crying

Sad and blue, oh my, oh

I was a playboy

I just wouldn’t be true

But now that you left me

Good Lord, how I cried, I keep crying, I keep crying

Ooh, I’ve been miss my water

No I never miss my water

‘Till my well are undried

I sit here and wonder

How in the world this could be, my, oh my

I never thought, oh, I never thought

You ever leave me

But now that you left me

Good Lord, good Lord, how I cried out

You don’t miss your water

You don’t miss your water

‘Till your well are undried

Ooh, You don’t miss your water, oh

You don’t miss your water

‘Till your well are undried

I miss my water

I keep missing my water

I keep missing my water

And I want my water

I need my water

I love my water

And I want my water

And I’am little destined now

And I’am little destined now

I want my water

I need wanting my water…

3,237 comments Add your comment

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:09 pm

Good crowds keep on coming to “The Ted” it seems. I really love that.

Louder the better IMO.

How’s the crowd looking tonight DOB?

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

May 29th, 2010
7:09 pm

Now I’ll go back and read.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:10 pm

Let’s Go Bravos!!!! :D

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:11 pm

Thanks for the new Blog, Chief!

Brave4life I want him to be feeling really good against the upcoming series against the Phils.

Yeah. I want him feeling better period.

IB

May 29th, 2010
7:12 pm

A win tonight would be refreshing. Meds has deserved a win for awhile now

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:12 pm

Colin I got mine in Pittsburgh

Sweet! What year?

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:12 pm

Good stuff about Heyward and Venters. Especially like hearing the Venters info – I like that dude.

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:13 pm

great work DOB …thanks !

Runnin

May 29th, 2010
7:14 pm

FOund it! This blog is not up on the main page in the blog spot yet.

Matt

May 29th, 2010
7:14 pm

How the hell do you miss that???

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:14 pm

HE WAS OUT BY THREE MILES!!!

Holy crud…

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:14 pm

PICKED OFF.

What kinda cock-a-mami call on McCutchen was that???

The guy still hasn’t touched the base.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:15 pm

Sorry I have to say it.

That was my first – first comment EVER.

Not that anyone cares but I had to say something. It was eating me up inside.

cabravesfan

May 29th, 2010
7:15 pm

That really might be the worst call I have ever seen

Mixxo

May 29th, 2010
7:16 pm

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

May 29th, 2010
7:16 pm

Can’t wait to see more of Venters.

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:16 pm

Upon further review, that was one of the worst umpire’s calls on the bases that I’ve seen this year. Awful

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:17 pm

For a Saturday night, this isn’t a good crowd. But the threat of rain had to have kept a lot of people away, I’d imagine.

Matt

May 29th, 2010
7:18 pm

Let’s go Medlen!!!

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

May 29th, 2010
7:18 pm

Drugged-up, drunk umps? Wouldn’t surprise me.

Mixxo

May 29th, 2010
7:18 pm

OK Kris, settle down now.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:19 pm

I’m okay pitching around Jones here

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:20 pm

DOB: For a Saturday night, this isn’t a good crowd. But the threat of rain had to have kept a lot of people away, I’d imagine.

Weird. It’s sounds louder than usually…maybe they have the mic’s in a different spot or something. Crowd is loud.

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:20 pm

big K for Kris !

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:20 pm

Golly, the kid’s got some kinda changeup.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:20 pm

I’m okay pitching around Jones here

…or striking him out 8O

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:21 pm

you got this Meds

BravesFanChris25

May 29th, 2010
7:21 pm

That was definitely a pick off. Ump missed it badly, obviously.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:21 pm

WAY TO GO KRIS!!!!

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:22 pm

Carved Doumit up…first pitch back door curve, filthy change, good changeup off the plate away to get him out.

Mixxo

May 29th, 2010
7:22 pm

Attaboy Kris!

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:22 pm

good work Kris !!!

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:23 pm

I wish Meds had a slider along with that nasty change up

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:24 pm

Threw a nice breaking ball first pitch to Doumit, but you’re right…it’s not really a weapon for him. If he could develop a breaking ball he has confidence in to get righties, he could be dominant.

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:24 pm

Nova Scotia: it’s not a puny crowd, and yes, the ones here are lively. it’s a loud crowd, for the size.

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:24 pm

But it’s felt different here in the past couple of homestands. Much more energy, crowd responding to team’s performance. Tough to stay enthused when the team’s lackluster, but they’ve given folks something to get excited about recently.

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:25 pm

Let’s get a good start again today…love when they get an early lead and can play loose the rest of the game.

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:26 pm

Bobby Crosby is playing first base?

is30303

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

thanks for the Venters comments by Billy. Is it just me or does Wagner seem like a nice guy – didn’t really care for him when he was with Philies, Mets and Houston . . . tired of seeing him strike out our boys.

Mixxo

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

Oh Baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

JASON !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

Man, I thought he hit it farther than that. I’ll take it.

JC from DR

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

Take that you frikkin’ Pirates! :D

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

The Kid comes through

BravesFanChris25

May 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

Can you say Rookie Of The Year? :)

Steve McP

May 29th, 2010
7:28 pm

Good to read the stuff about Heyward, there should be an enquiry if he does not make the all-star team (even more so as he just blasted another homer)

How long is it since a 20 year old was on the all-star team?

JasonInFL

May 29th, 2010
7:28 pm

Since a lot of you wished me congrats, thought I would let you know that my son–Tristan Dean–arrived Thursday morning at 7:59AM. He weighed 9 lbs 1 oz. We are all home and doing well. Again, thanks to all of you who wished our family well.

And, the Braves won on his b-day, now they need to win on his first day home!

cabravesfan

May 29th, 2010
7:28 pm

Anyone else getting bored by Jason? I mean, please! Wake me when he does something special! ;)

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:28 pm

Chipper be heatin’ up !

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:28 pm

Jason Heyward might be the biggest superstar athlete in Atlanta before he’d old enough to drink.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

Way to go Chip. Let’s get hot.

We need you.

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

Sweet! A rally…

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

I thought Heyward got more of that one. I was disappointed with how short a HR it was. ;-)

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

cabraves

love the sarcasm

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

The Speedster

J-Hey

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

Chipper might be getting himself back on track

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

Get it, old man!

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

The old man still has wheels

BravesFanChris25

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

Chipper is FAST >_> :)

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

Haha! Go Chipper, go!

BamaDude @ CowCollege AL

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

SB for HOSS !!!!

is30303

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

chipper!!!!!! i didn’t know he can still run. and i mean not just to second base. . . i mean just generally run . . . he may throw out a hip or something

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

No Roger Dorn speed there

JC from DR

May 29th, 2010
7:30 pm

Nice steal by Hunter Walker!

Mixxo

May 29th, 2010
7:31 pm

Chipper’s “smart fast.”

is30303

May 29th, 2010
7:31 pm

remember when andruw came up as a rookie and two years later was a 20sb – 30hr guy with 270 average? ah the things that might have been. . .

Brian from SC

May 29th, 2010
7:32 pm

Chipper hasn’t been fast for quite a few years, but he’s always been a plus baserunner.

cabravesfan

May 29th, 2010
7:32 pm

Brave4life -

It’s a gift…or so I’ve been told :)

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:32 pm

Just need a line driver esco

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:33 pm

nice play by the ball boy

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:34 pm

I hope Escobar does not ruin the rally.

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

I stand corrected.

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

Trey

The kid will turn it around, trust me

Snickerz

May 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

If Chipper and Heyward’s spots in the order were reversed, presumably the score would be 2-0, no?

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

still got the lead, lets build off of it

JasonInFL

May 29th, 2010
7:36 pm

Oh…and Jason Heyward is pretty good.

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:36 pm

Wow, we had a chance to do some major damage. Why is Escobar batting fifth and Cabrera batting sixth?

JC from DR

May 29th, 2010
7:36 pm

Hey Melky, dont be so patient!

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:36 pm

Brave4life, we have all been saying that all season, but nothing has really improved from him. Escobar is a rally killer.

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:38 pm

Medlen is definitely throwing a lot of pitches this game, hopefully he settles down.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:39 pm

Kris got hit hard there – glad he’s okay

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:39 pm

Trey

The kid is not striking out much, the balls that he hits are just hit right to the fielder

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:39 pm

Ouch. That had to burn or hurt or, more likely, both. Medlen took a line drive off his side, but he’s staying in game after brief visit from Cox and the trainer.

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:39 pm

Yeah, let’s not have Kris hurt now, too.

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:40 pm

He has got to start hitting them where they ain’t.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:40 pm

How about Huff getting drilled in the head by A-Rod last night??? That was scary stuff.

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:40 pm

TennesseePaul

May 29th, 2010
7:40 pm

He would be the first non-Japanese rookie to make the NL All-Star team since Tim Raines in 1981

More qualifiers needed. Pujols made the 2001 NL All-Star team as a rookie. He is not Japanese.

JuneBaby

May 29th, 2010
7:40 pm

DOB…, i don’t know where you got your lyric sheet from, but it’s wrong. It’s not “well undried”, it’s “well runs dry”, and this song is made famous by William Bell, not Otis Redding. but they were both Stax artists

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:41 pm

DP TROY GLAUS! Nice.

That ball was smoked

Brave4life

May 29th, 2010
7:41 pm

Nice, that helps a ton

BravesFanChris25

May 29th, 2010
7:41 pm

Nice DP :)

Atta boy Troy!

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

May 29th, 2010
7:41 pm

Beautiful, Troy!

David O'Brien

May 29th, 2010
7:41 pm

For a big dude, Glaus really does (still) have excellent reflexes.

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:42 pm

Reminds me of our other big first baseman, Galarraga. He had great reflex.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

Okay is it just me – or are the Pirates really rockin some balls from Medlen???

Colin

May 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

gotta love early runs :D !!! to bad I missed it being a good friend.

Nova Scotia Steve

May 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

Trey – The ‘ol Big Cat. I miss that guy. Loved watching his time in Atlanta

Colin

May 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

Chipper got a hit and stole a base..so this is what love feels like :)

Trey

May 29th, 2010
7:44 pm

Nova Scotia Steve, Medlen is really throwing a lot out there. More than he should, but I am feeling he will settle down.

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