(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Washington – So it’s a good night to have Tim Hudson going to the post for the Braves and plenty of denizens, worried about this rough stretch the Braves are in the midst of.
The NL East lead is down to 3 1/2 games and the Braves could use a win to hold off the Phillies, who are riding a six-game winning streak. This is as close as the Phillies have been since the end of their three-game series against the Braves in Philadelphia July 5-7 where the Braves left up by three games.
The Braves have got the right guy going tonight in Hudson. He’s 9-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 15 starts against the Nationals for his career. He’s allowed them only two earned runs in 14 innings over two starts this season.
On the other side, the Braves should know what they’re getting tonight in Livan Hernandez. How’s 28 career starts against the Braves since 1996, not even including the postseason? And with Livan’s rubber arm, we don’t foresee any last-minute scratches like we got last night with Stephen Strasburg (shoulder inflammation).
Before anybody gets too comfortable though, Hernandez is coming off a complete game in his last outing against the Reds. And in his past four starts against the Braves this season and last, he’s 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA.
McLouth in the minors – will it work?
So is there a chance, a real chance, that Nate McLouth gets things turned around down there? When he acknowledges his timing and swing have been off pretty much since the first week of spring training?
McLouth said yesterday he wanted to treat this trip to Gwinnett like Kelly Johnson did last year during his Triple-A stint. Johnson lost his second base starting job to Martin Prado last year after hitting .214 in 68 games and was put on the disabled list with wrist problems. He went to Gwinnett to rehab for three weeks. He hit .308 (16-for-52) in 13 games down there, with two doubles, two triples, three homers and 16 RBIs.
When Johnson returned, he improved to hit .261 (18-for-69) in 38 games. He was a part-time player by then, though, and on his way to being non-tendered at the end of the season.
Unlike Prado last year, though, the Braves don’t have a clear answer in center field, and while they might find something at the trading deadline, it would seem their options are limited at this point.
Here’s what Frank Wren said yesterday when asked what effect the McLouth move would have on the Braves actions on the trade deadline:
“It doesn’t really affect anything,” Wren said. “We’re continuing to look for ways to improve our club in whatever they might be.”
When asked if he was continuing to lean toward filling holes internally, he said: “Yes I think we’re still looking at a very limited pool of players that really fit what we’re looking to do and we’ve got a good ball club. We’ve got a first-place ball club so it has to be someone that clearly improves us, not just an add for add’s sake.”
Heyward an option at center
By the way, I checked with Wren, Bobby Cox and Jason Heyward yesterday and all three say they are comfortable with Heyward playing center field if need be. Brent Clevlen can play center, so can Omar Infante. Gregor Blanco could return three days from now, if the Braves choose to go that route. (Wren said yesterday that wasn’t a definite.) But they’ve got Jason as an option too.
I’m not saying that means the Braves will definitely run out and get another corner outfielder by Saturday, but it does mean it’s not out of the realm to see Heyward in center field.
“Jason could go there,” Wren said. “There’s a variety of people who could play center field if we get in a pinch.”
“No,” he said. “There are fewer walls to run into.”
Heyward said he’d be comfortable out there.
“Center field is the first outfield position I ever played,” he said.
He said he played about 20 games in center field last year in the minors.
Jones on McLouth’s defense
With McLouth being sent down, Chipper Jones raised the point yesterday that not only has McLouth struggled offensively, but defensively as well.
“The biggest difference I saw was in his defense, to be honest with you,” Jones said. “Not only did he seem timid offensively, at times he seemed timid on defense. Center field is not a place where you can be timid. You’ve got to be aggressive; you’ve got to come get balls. You’ve got to throw to bases. You’ve got to be a force out there.”
Jones doesn’t mince words, does he? That’s not to say he’s not pulling for McLouth.
“You’re always loyal to the guys you broke camp with and it’s hard to say bye for however long it may be to a guy you’ve been in the trenches with all year,” Jones said. “But the higher ups felt there needed to be a change and they made it, so now we’ve got to adjust. Bottom line is we’ve got to focus and win games.”
He also said this:
“We’re all pulling for Nate. He’s a great guy and we all love him to death, but we all go through periods where we struggle and his has gone on for a really long time. I think it’s going to be good for him to go down and get some reps without being under the microscope.”
Resop, Freeman updates
Chris Resop pitched a nice outing in his third rehab start last night for Triple-A Gwinnett. He pitched five no-hit innings, walking two and striking out six. He’s somebody the Braves would like to drum up trade interest in, but that might not be easy.
Resop is a wildcard. He’s had a great Triple-A season, but in only two innings in the majors, he pulled his oblique muscle and gave up five runs on five hits. At the very least, he’s proven he’s healthy now.
His agent B.B. Abbott said today he doesn’t think the Braves know yet what their plans are for Resop. He presumes something will happen either at the trading deadline or shortly thereafter. Resop might make one more rehab start Sunday but otherwise he would expect a move on that front soon.
If the Braves send him to the minors, he’d have to clear waivers. Even if he clears waivers, he could declare for free agency and probably would.
And oh by the way, Freddie Freeman continues his tear. He hit another home run last night to give him homers in back-to-back games and six this month. He is hitting .290 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs in 92 games on the year.
Would the Braves be tempted to call Freeman up in September and start his arbitration clock? Good question. It’s looking more and more like he’ll be ready to take over the first base spot next season. Do you take a chance on throwing him in the middle of a pennant race for his first major league taste? Risk messing with his confidence going into next year?
Troy Glaus has cooled off since his hot three-week stretch. Since June 13, he has gone 18-for-109 (.165) with one home run and 11 RBIs in 32 games. He struck out three times last night and is 2-for-14 on this road trip.
Well, somehow or other I’ve managed to babble for another long blog. I’ll have more from the ballpark this afternoon, perhaps a verdict on Jonny Venters’ appeal.