(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in today for David O’Brien.)
Hello strangers! And I’m not just saying that because y’all are weird (smile)…I’m back from a week long vacation and ready to see if I remember how to type, blog, tweet, report, write, interview and take in a little baseball.
We’ve got a good bit going on today around the ol’ Braves – and heck, even without them playing yesterday we were all over them with stories in the paper today – about the world’s greatest usher Walter Banks, Viv’s feature on Omar Infante, Bradley’s column on the trading deadline, a story on Jonny Venters/Bobby Cox suspensions, and oh yeah, an advance box for the Padres series.
Nate McLouth is expected to return today. He wrapped up his minor league rehabilitation stint with the Gwinnett Braves on Sunday and Jordan Schafer returned to center field last night in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
That leaves the Braves 10 games before the July 31 trading deadline to see what they’re dealing with at center field, how McLouth has recovered from his June 9 concussion, and what they want to do, if anything, at that position.
McLouth hit .258 (8-for-31) in seven games with Class AAA Gwinnett and by all accounts has made some adjustments to cut down on the upper cut in his swing. He struck out only three times in those 31 at-bats, so that’s a good sign.
Gregor Blanco will likely say his goodbyes today and head back for Gwinnett. He’s done some nice things for the Braves in McLouth’s absence, hitting .310 (18-for-58) in 35 games with a double, a triple, three RBIs and nine runs scored. He’s shown the Braves he can be someone they can count on when rosters expand.
Before we get away from Gwinnett, take a look at Mike Minor’s numbers after another good start last night: he’s 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in three starts since his call-up to Triple-A, giving up only four earned runs in 18 2/3 innings. He’s walked six and struck out 20. He also pitched a perfect inning in the Futures Game.
Judging by the numbers, it seems he’s gotten better against better competition, or maybe he’s helped by having better defense behind him. I know he’s been mentioned as potential trade fodder. I have a hard time seeing the Braves giving up the first round prospect in a deal, when he’s so close to being major league ready, but we’ll have to see how this plays out.
Freddie Freeman also has two home runs in his last three games and has raised his batting average for the year to .291 by hitting .318 in June and .333 so far in July. I’m not sure you start the clock on him with a September call-up, but the Braves might be tempted if he keeps this up.
We should find out today if the Braves plan to appeal Venters’ four-game suspension for hitting Prince Fielder, and the answer is likely yes, if for no other reason than to stall a little.
With the Padres and their pitching staff in town, the Braves won’t have much room for error this series, and it doesn’t help that Eric O’Flaherty is on the DL. O’Flaherty is not eligible to come off until the day before the Braves travel to Washington for a three-game series July 27.
So an appeal would buy some time and might get the suspension knocked down to two or three games.
Venters has proven a valuable piece of this bullpen. Among rookie relievers with at least 30 appearances in the majors, Venters is first in ERA (1.28), opponents’ batting average (.172) and strikeouts (43).
Cox will serve his one-game suspension today – there’s no formal appeal process for manager.
NL West-leading Padres
The Braves are looking to get back on their winning-series track against the team they trail by only one-half game for the best record in the National League. (The Padres are 54-37 to lead the NL West and the Braves are 54-38 to lead the NL East. The Padres have been the surprise leader in the NL West since April 20 and manager Bud Black was just rewarded with a contract extension Monday.)
Jair Jurrjens would like a little redemption tonight against the team that embarrassed him pretty good in a 17-2 loss on April 12 in San Diego. Jurrjens gave up a career-high eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in that game, but was also battling shoulder soreness left over from spring training.
(He’d allowed only two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings in his other two career starts against the Padres.)
Now three starts into his return from missing two months with a hamstring injury, Jurrjens is healthy and pitching like the ace he’s been the last two seasons.
Jurrjens is 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in his three starts back, and he was dominant in a 2-1 win Thursday against the Brewers. He went 6 2/3 innings, for the longest outing of the three since his return, and broke the 90-pitch mark for the first time in that span (91). I’m sure he’ll be trying to go even deeper tonight.
The Braves face Wade LeBlanc, who besides having one of my great family names for a first name, is having a nice year in his first full season in the Padres rotation. The University of Alabama product has stumbled a bit lately though, going 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in his past four starts.
He’ll face the Braves for the first time tonight, while becoming the fourth consecutive left-hander they’ve faced and fifth in the last six games, going back to Johan Santana in New York before the All-Star break. The Braves are still under .500 against left-handers at 15-16, and 1-3 against left-handed starters over their past five games.
The Braves will avoid hard-throwing 22-year-old ace Mat Latos, who is on the disabled list with a strained oblique (and perhaps simply to buy a little rest), and not set to return until Saturday against the Pirates.
Pitching is why the Padres are here. Their starters are tied for second in the NL with a 3.50 ERA and their bullpen leads the NL with a 2.79 ERA. Offensively, not so much. The Padres’ .253 team batting average is 14th in the league.
With the off day Monday and an extra day to rest his hamstring, I’d expect Chipper Jones to be back in the lineup tonight but I’ll let you know when I get to the ballpark. Meantime, I’m posting this blog!