(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien.)
Hey, hey, hey! No dateline to write just now. Got a newly-made scorebook waiting on me at Kinko’s and getting ready to drive down to Turner Field for the first of two exhibition games at The Ted: Braves vs. Twins.
It’s here, people. Two more exhibition games in the next 36 hours or so, weather-permitting – Wednesday could be ugly – and Opening Day is upon us.
I’m sure the players and coaches really benefitted from having the rainout last night to get back from Orlando and situated, now the idea is to get a couple at-bats/innings tonight and tomorrow and get on to Washington for Thursday’s opener without incident.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he’ll throw all seven relievers tonight for the bullpen, so they can get their tune-up, and have a day off before the opener. Then he’ll pitch both Brandon Beachy and Rodrigo Lopez three to four innings apiece on Wednesday.
Tonight’s lineup will probably be the Opening Day lineup with an at-bat or two for each guy, then the night off. It will be nice to see them all together after the hodge-podge of spring. I think we’ll all have a better idea of the potential the Braves have working here. Tonight’s lineup is what the Opening Day lineup will look like except for the DH….1. Prado LF, 2. McLouth CF, 3. Jones 3B, 4. McCann DH, 5. Uggla 2B, 6. Heyward RF, 7. Gonzalez SS, 8. Freeman 1B, 9. Ross C. Cristhian Martinez will start tonight.
Unlike in past years when today was the day manager Bobby Cox announced cuts, Gonzalez set his team on Sunday in Florida. Brandon Hicks and Matt Young claimed the final two roster spots and Cristhian Martinez won the last bullpen spot over Scott Proctor as the long man.
The only question at this point is making sure Jair Jurrjens is still in good shape after throwing a bullpen session yesterday. He felt no pain doing light throwing on Sunday. He’ll probably be staying back and throwing in a minor league game later in the week and if all goes well, be ready to start Wednesday, April 6, in Milwaukee. Beachy will be on regular rest to pitch in Jurrjens’ original spot on Monday in Milwaukee.
I have a story coming out on Opening Day about Freddie Freeman, and it’s a lot about the maturing he’s had to do off the field with the death of his mother. There were a few things I didn’t have room to work into the story I thought I’d throw in here (along with my shameless tease).
When I asked Freeman a week or so ago about his power, and how everybody around the Braves seems confident he has such a good approach at the plate that his power will come, he gave me a funny answer – one you’d probably like to hear from the guy who’s about to become your everyday first baseman.
“I didn’t know hitting 18 home runs in 120 games is not having power,” Freeman said…and gave it his infectious laugh.
So the competitive edge was showing there. Good for him.
Freeman was referring to his Triple-A numbers last year, when he hit 18 home runs in 124 games for Gwinnett. You figure he could play another 30-35 games this year as a 21-year-old in the big leagues.
“I definitely put on more weight and I’m hitting the ball a lot harder,” Freeman said. “We’ll see what this season has in store.”
What Frank Wren and company mean when they say that about Freeman, though, is that they’re happy to see him not getting pull-happy for the sake of trying to add instant power.
“I think his approach is what sets him apart from a lot of other guys,” Wren said. “He’s a guy that will take what the pitcher gives him. If he gives him a ball to pull, he’ll pull it. He’ll also drive a ball up the left center field gap or down the left field corner. Those are the guys that are the most dangerous as hitters and have the best chance to be successful at a young age.”
Freeman has hit two home runs in 71 at-bats this spring. The only other Brave with more than one is Chipper Jones (four).
“I think we’ve seen that this spring he’s sprayed balls all over the place and he’s starting to get a feel for when to turn on balls,” Wren said of Freeman. “That’s always the last thing to come and that’s not something we’re going to rush.”
The Sports Illustrated preview edition is coming out Wednesday (it’s featuring a Gary Smith cover story about the Phillies rotation, by the way, which ought to be a great read). They’re picking the Braves to finish second to the Phillies in the NL East with an 89-73 record. Here are some of the Braves they mentioned prominently:
- Jason Heyward is the NL East’s best bet to win the MVP
- Freddie Freeman is the NL East’s “Rookie to Watch”
- Best Case Scenario: Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are the new Nasty Boys, Chipper Jones and Martin Prado stay healthy, and the Braves challenge Philly for the NL East title.
- Worst Case Scenario: Freddie Freeman is sent back to the minors, Derek Lowe repeats his first-half performance of a year ago rather than his second half, and the Braves fall into a wild-card dogfight.
New MLB concussion policy
Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the Players’ Association, announced a new policy today about how to handle player concussions that will go in effect for the 2011 season.
From what I know of the subject, the Braves already do baseline testing on all their players, and as we saw with Nate McLouth last season, are careful not to rush players back to the field. But with everything going on in football and with some major injuries in recent years to baseball players like Corey Koskie and Ryan Church, it was appropriate to see MLB take action.
Some of the most interesting developments center around the creation of a 7-day disabled list for concussed players, and that clubs must submit a “Return to Play” form to the medical director of MLB to have a concussed player cleared to return, before any kind of game – in the minors, extended spring or majors.
Here’s how the key components were broken down in the press release from MLB:
• Mandatory baseline neuropsychological testing requirements for players and umpires during Spring Training, or when a player joins a club during the season, formalizing a process that most individual Clubs follow;
• Protocols for evaluating players and umpires for a possible concussion, including during incidents typically associated with a high risk, such as being hit in the head a by a pitched, batted or thrown ball or by a bat; being in a collision with a player, umpire or fixed object; or any time when the head or neck of a player or an umpire is forcibly rotated;
• The establishment of a seven-day disabled list for concussions, which will aim to allow concussions to clear, prevent players from returning prematurely and give clubs a full complement of players in one’s absence; any player on the seven-day DL for more than 14 days will automatically and retroactively be transferred to the 15-day DL, effective with the first day of the initial placement, and with the prior 14 days applying to the initial 15-day maximum term; implemented on a trial basis for the 2011 season;
• Protocols for clearing a concussed player or umpire to return to activity; prior to the time that a concussed player is permitted to play in any game (including Major League, Minor League or extended Spring Training games), the Club must submit a “Return to Play” form to MLB’s Medical Director; submission of the form is required irrespective of whether the player was placed on the Disabled List.
Raising funds for Japanese relief
Kenshin Kawakami got it started a couple of weeks ago with his $50,000 donation toward relief efforts for the earthquake and tsunami in his native Japan. The Braves have donated $5,000 as well and now are joining with Japan-America Society of Georgia and the American Red Cross to raise additional funds.
Members of JASG will be at Monument Grove at Turner Field for these two exhibition games against the Twins, collecting donations. They’ll be back for the home-opening weekend against the Phillies, April 8-10. Fans can also contribute through the American Red Cross by going to braves.com/donate.
Contributions will also include any donations made to the Atlanta Braves foundation until April 30.