(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
WASHINGTON – Well as I start typing this I’m actually not quite in DC yet. We were a little late leaving the ATL this morning so figured time to start blogging on the plane. Before we get into Michael Bourn and his debut tonight with the Braves, a little something interesting about this flight into DC.
The pilot just announced that we were carrying two fallen airmen on our flight. And he explained further. That they were two U.S. pilots downed in World War II, found off the island of New Guinea, I believe. There’s an army captain in dress blues sitting right in front of me who is here to escort them to Washington, where they’ll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
A little patriotic way to begin the Braves-Nationals series, yes? No fallen comrade left behind.
OK so where were we? Mr. Bourn. The newest Brave, and a dynamic baserunner and center fielder who will give us an indication here in these coming weeks of what can happen when you take the team with the third-fewest stolen bases in the National League and put the league-leader in stolen bases at the top of the order.
In a phrase: watch him go?
Bourn leads the NL with 39 stolen bases. The rest of the Braves have combined for 42. And 15 of those were from outgoing center fielder Jordan Schafer, leaving the rest of the Braves with 27.
Bourn was in Milwaukee yesterday with the Astros and couldn’t get to Atlanta in time for the day game, so we’ll see his debut tonight against the Nationals.
For those of us fairly-old timers, I think the last time the Braves acquired someone with such proven havoc-wreaking possibility on the basepaths was Kenny Lofton in 1997. The kind of headaches he gave pitchers while with the Indians was reminiscent of what Bourn does.
But before anybody gets upset that I am jinxing this deal – since we all know Lofton never reached his potential with the Braves, pulled his hamstring and had one of the worst years of his career. His stolen bases dropped off from 75 in 1996 to 27 in 1997. Lofton was also one of the few guys I’ve ever been around in the Braves clubhouse that was not pleasant, not a fit and you saw how long he lasted as a result.
On the contrary, by all accounts, Bourn is a high-character guy and both a clubhouse and fan favorite among the Astros. He’s also only 28, in his prime and right in the thick of one his best major league seasons, unlike Lofton, who was 30 when he arrived in Atlanta at the beginning of the 1997 season, best years behind him.
This should be exciting to watch, especially if Fredi Gonzalez puts both him and Jose Constanza in the outfield tonight, which he told folks yesterday he was contemplating.
Lately the big issue has been a lack of clutch hitting – the Braves have 11 or more hits in three of their past five games while also scoring two or fewer runs. But maybe the Braves start to break through if Bourn is on third base. Or if he’s on second when Martin Prado gets his hits.
Bourn wore No. 21 in Houston but that number’s been retired for the Braves by the legendary Warren Spahn, so Bourn will wear No. 24.
So long to Schafer
If not for Jordan Schafer, who gave the Braves’ lineup an injection of speed when he got called up in late May, the Braves would have had no running game at all. His defense in center field has been stellar, and GM Frank Wren agreed, some of the best we’ve seen since Andruw Jones was patrolling out there.
I wasn’t there for the trade yesterday but by all accounts and by a quick text message exchange with Schafer I know he’s sad to go. And for those of us who’ve gotten to know him in recent years, we can say the same. We wish him well in Houston. We will send him along with some kudos for what he’s accomplished in Atlanta.
Schafer has grown up in a lot of ways right in front of our eyes, from the cocky Hummer-driving prospect to the more introspective young guy, humbled by all his ups and downs, who knows better now both how to use his tools and how to handle himself.
We followed him through the highs of his major league debut homer in Philadelphia, and the lows of his HGH suspension and wrist injury. Now he’s a guy who has a better idea of what he should do at the plate to maximize his skills – hit the ball on the ground and use his speed, bunt. He asked Chipper Jones point blank what he needed to do in spring training to be a consistent major leaguer, then he set out to do it.
I think he showed Braves fans a lot in the last week he was here, playing 11 innings in that 19-inning game with pain in his finger that he thought would land him on the DL before the game and eventually did.
He was among the Braves crew that got up early the next morning to go to the children’s hospital for “Christmas in July.” I remember interviewing him at his locker at 4:30 the next afternoon and his phone alarm went off. He’d been planning to nap and couldn’t sleep. Long, crazy week for him. But if he keeps doing what he’s doing, you figure he’ll take those skills and put them to good use in Houston.
And oh by the way, you read in Jeff Schultz’s great column yesterday where Schafer said he had a feeling this was coming? I’m not saying I called that trade but I knew it wasn’t a good sign when he moved into the locker beside Greg Maddux’s old one, just a few weeks ago.
The power of that cursed locker is strong. Schafer and Joe Mather are its latest victims. The only player in memory who has lasted longer than one year in that locker is Kenshin Kawakami, and the lame-duck season he had last year he might as well not have carried over.
Cristhian Martinez has spent some time in that locker this year also, and then he got sent down and is now on the other side of the room. One way I know the clubhouse attendants have worked around is it to find a guy in a one-year contract and put him in it. Don’t mess with fate.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Braves are taking on Livan Hernandez tonight….(smile). We’re back to Nationals Park since the first series of the season. And the Braves face the Nationals for the second time in a little more than two weeks – since they won two of three and beat Hernandez in the first game coming out of the break.
The Braves jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first inning that game and finished with six runs (only three earned) in four innings against Hernandez. Actually though, that was the first time in the past 10 starts by Hernandez against the Braves over the past three seasons that he had allowed more than three earned runs.
Dan Uggla will try to extend his majors-leading hitting streak to 23 games tonight. He’s hit only 5-for-33 (.152) against Hernandez in his career, but he doubled off him in the first inning on July 15. Freddie Freeman’s hitting streak is at 15 games now.
Jair Jurrjens makes his fourth attempt at win No. 13, talk about unlucky. But the Braves have won each of his past seven starts overall, including the one when he gave up a season-high six runs to the Nats on July 17. They rallied to win 9-8.
Speaking of 9-8, that’s the Braves record since the All-Star break. We’ll see what kind of impact Bourn has on that going forward. Time to pack it up and head over to the ballpark. (Yep, I finished this on the ground).
More from the ballpark.