(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Pittsburgh – Happy Labor Day, folks. Greetings from a gorgeous afternoon in a lovely setting, atop PNC Park looking out over the Allegheny River and downtown Pittsburgh and the Braves trying to get back on track after losing two of three in Florida.
This is a good team to do it against. The Braves are 5-1 against the Pirates this season, including 2-1 at PNC Park.
The Braves need to take advantage of playing a team that’s down, and actually has the dreaded “X” by its name already in the standings, having been eliminated already from postseason play, along with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Pirates have lost seven of their last 10. They are a significantly better team at home – the Pirates are 31-38 at home this season, compared to 14-53 on the road – but the Braves need to rise above that. With Tommy Hanson going today against left Brian Burres, Tim Hudson tomorrow night vs. James McDonald and Derek Lowe vs. Zach Duke on Wednesday, maybe now is the time to think sweep.
Bobby Cox’s mantra is always win every series, but the Braves could use more than that, with the Phillies hot on their tails and the Cardinals coming into Atlanta this weekend.
The Braves won’t face Jeff Karstens today, he of the 3-10 record and 4.88 ERA, because he was scratched with arm fatigue. Instead they get lefty Burres who is making his first start since facing the Braves on May 29 in Atlanta, when he allowed four runs in five innings of a 6-3 loss to the Braves, including Jason Heyward’s 10th home run of the year.
Burres was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis after that start. Since his return to Pittsburgh, he’s made four relief appearances, allowing six runs and nine hits in four innings. Burres is 2-3 with a 5.66 ERA as a starter this year.
Hanson will look to continue the good work he did one start ago when he one-hit the Mets for seven innings of a 4-1 win on Wednesday.
Lovely day for the Braves to get back on track, and a good time to do it. The Phillies host the Marlins for a doubleheader today, which means should the Braves lose and the Phillies sweep, the Braves could find themselves in second place.
Lowe is a go
Lowe just wrapped up his bullpen session, threw for about five minutes and reported he felt “really good,” continuing the positive vibes he felt Sunday in Florida after playing catch for the first time in five days.
The hop in Lowe’s step is back and that’s good news for the Braves a) because they weren’t sure what they were going to do if he couldn’t go, given Kenshin Kawakami’s struggles on Friday in his place and b) get a load of Lowe’s record against the Pirates. He’s 9-0 in nine career starts against them, with a 2.76 ERA against them.
The bullpen was the first he’d thrown in three weeks, and Lowe (who’s been diagnosed with a bone chip in his elbow) said he threw all his pitches and without any of that numbness in his right arm that had him shaking his hand during his last outing Aug. 29 vs. the Marlins.
“The only thing now is in between innings, that’s the only thing you can’t reenact,” Lowe said. “But with heat packs there’s all kinds of stuff you can do.”
Lowe said the bone chip first showed up on an X-ray a month ago, and they did the MRI last Thursday to make sure it wasn’t resting on a ligament. But he’s been reassured that he can’t injure it worse by throwing and he continues to see improvement after a cortisone shot and skipping the first start of his career.
More bullpen help on the way
The Gwinnett Braves close out their season this afternoon in Charlotte, which means relievers Cristhian Martinez and Craig Kimbrel will join the Braves tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Both have proven valuable arms in the Braves bullpen, and the Braves could use them after Sunday’s 10-inning game in Florida and in the midst of a stretch which sees the Braves play 20 straight games before a Sept. 16 off day.
On deck dangers
Word on the Marlins’ Logan Morrison who took an Emilio Bonifacio foul ball in the cheek yesterday in the on deck circle is that he is OK, made the trip with the Marlins to Philadelphia and hopes he can return to the lineup today. That wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Braves, who wouldn’t mind seeing him do the damage he did on the Braves last weekend to the Marlins.
1. Omar Infante 2B
2. Jason Heyward RF
3. Martin Prado 3B
4. Derrek Lee 1B
5. Matt Diaz LF
6. Alex Gonzalez SS
7. David Ross C
8. Nate McLouth CF
9. Tommy Hanson P
Cox on McLouth getting back-to-back starts: “He’s around familiar surroundings…He hit two bullets (Sunday, including being robbed of a grand slam by Cameron Maybin). His at-bats are real good right now.”
As you know McLouth spent parts of five years playing for the Pirates, including his 2008 All-Star team. Rick Ankiel has also struggled against lefties, going 4-for-14 (.167) with 14 strikeouts.
OK, got to file. Happy Birthday to Derrek Lee, who turns 35 today.