(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
CINCINNATI – So here we are with a long Sunday afternoon to kill before the Braves play on Sunday night baseball for the fourth, and I believe final, time this year.
The Braves are 2-1 in those games, with both victories going to Jair Jurrjens – on May 8 in Philadelphia over Cole Hamels 5-2 and on May 29 against these Reds at Turner Field, Jurrjens over Johnny Cueto 2-1.
Tim Hudson took a 6-4 loss to R.A. Dickey and the Mets on June 5 in the only other Sunday night game, back when Carlos Beltran was giving the Braves headaches, not ideas….(hm.)
(I’m not expecting anything to happen today, but once the Braves get home from this trip, you figure those talks could heat up. Maybe the Braves hold out hope the price comes down a bit, but if they’re going to beat out the Phillies and Giants to Beltran, it seems they’ll have some thinking to do about whether they’re willing to part with a Mike Minor, when they’re also very protective of prized pitching prospects Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado.)
Tonight it’s the young Brandon Beachy on the mound against guess who? Dontrelle Willis. This is Beachy’s first time pitching in a Sunday night game, but we all know he’s faced stakes much higher than this in his major league debut last September in Philadelphia.
Beachy has never faced the Reds. And he’s looking for a little redemption after his last start in Coors Field. Beachy gave up a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings in that game and struggled with the effectiveness of his slider. He was also going on 10 days’ rest including the All-Star break. You figure he’ll be a good bit sharper tonight.
And Willis? The former Florida Marlin with the high leg kick and the wide smile will be facing the Braves for only the second time since 2007, his last year with the Marlins. The Braves faced him once last season when he was with the Diamondbacks and got him for two runs in four innings and drew six walks.
Willis has made only 29 starts since 2007, battling command and health problems. The Reds signed him coming into spring training this year and sent him to Triple-A Louisville.
They called him up July 10 and he’s made two starts for the Reds – both on the road – and both losses by the Reds. Willis gave up two runs in six innings in a no-decision at Milwaukee and two runs in 4 2/3 innings in a loss at Pittsburgh. He walked four batters in that first outing and only one in the second.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was the Marlins manager Willis’ last year in Florida. And watching the two of them interact the past two days during batting practice, it’s pretty clear they’ve got a great relationship.
And from what you know about Willis, it’s hard to imagine him not getting along with someone. The gregarious “D-train” is now sporting a Mohawk, which he showed off to Gonzalez and explained he had to do it for his kids.
“We need more guys like him in the game,” Gonzalez said.
(By the way, I just looked it up and Willis is only 29. Imagine that! He was 21 when he was first called up.)
Chipper Jones is playing his second rehab game today in Rome – a 2 p.m. start. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk last night at DH in Rome, saying afterward “boy was I rusty” in a text message. But the knee held up well and he’s back in Rome’s lineup at third base today.
If all goes well, the Braves will re-evaluate tomorrow and possibly activate him for the start of the Pirates series. Today was his first day eligible to come off the DL.
When the Braves get him back, it’ll be the first time they’ve had their regular lineup today since mid-May. That’s about when Jason Heyward went down with his right shoulder problems and then Martin Prado got a staph infection just before Heyward returned. Prado came back after the All-Star break, just after Jones underwent his arthroscopic knee surgery.
Our esteemed AJC colleague Chris Vivlamore is up in Rome today keeping tabs on Chipper and will be tweeting and updating with a blog when the game is over. Keep an eye out for that.
Center fielder Jordan Schafer, meanwhile, is still waiting for the swelling in that jammed third finger on his left hand to go down. He hit some in the indoor cage yesterday and didn’t feel good enough to hit out on the field. He might see more improvement today, but Gonzalez indicated yesterday with the left-handed Willis going today he’ll probably give Schafer at least another day.
101-degree heat, and I’m not talking about the weather
One thing that I wanted to mention in the blog yesterday and just kind of got loss was the Braves’ impressions of the smoking left arm of Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman.
The Braves faced him for the first time Friday night, when he came out of the bullpen and made quick work of Heyward, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Eric Hinske.
“He’s got an all right arm,” Hinske said when I asked about Chapman, then he chuckled.
“You see him good,” Hinske said. “He just throws 102, 101 whatever it was. He probably has the best arm I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a 101 mph fastball before. Maybe (Tigers reliever Joel) Zumaya threw me one once maybe. He’s just easy too. It’s not max effort delivery and the ball gets in there, definitely a lot quicker than other pitchers. It cuts about (2-3 inches).”
Hinske popped up on a slider after seeing four straight fastballs from Chapman, 99, 99. 97 and 101.
“To hit his fastball, you almost have to start when he’s like right here (making his shoulder turn) because you won’t have a chance to catch up with his fastball,” Hinske said. “He threw the slider to me over the plate. I saw it well but it’s just a 90 mph slider. Usually the fastball is 90 and slider is 83. You’ve got pick a side and start early. You have to relax. No tension at all. You’ve just got to try to drop the barrel on the ball because he’s going to supply all the power. He’s tough, he’s real tough.”
This and that
Minor league shortstop Tyler Pastornicky has been tearing it up in Triple-A Gwinnett since his call-up from Mississippi. In four games, he’s gone 8-for-19 (.421) with three RBIs and four runs scored. He had a three-hit night on Friday night. Last night’s Gwinnett game in Norfolk was rained out so they’ll be playing a DH tonight. If he keeps this up, Pastornicky could put himself in position for a possible September call-up.
Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and executive Pat Gillick who enter the Hall of Fame today. I never saw Blyleven pitch, but I think we all know Alomar is the best second baseman of this era. He was fun to watch.
More from the park later this afternoon.