After rough May, strong start to June for Braves pitchers, Heyward

Hard to tell who was happier to turn the page on May, the Braves pitching staff or Jason Heyward. But June is certainly been quite a different story the pitchers – particularly Jonny Venters – and for the right fielder.

Heyward was at the middle of this celebration after scoring the winning run in the 10th inning Friday. He's had a strong couple of weeks after a rough go in May..

Heyward was at the middle of this celebration after scoring the winning run in the 10th inning Friday. He's had a strong couple of weeks after a rough go in May..

Braves pitchers had 1.67 ERA in June that led the majors by a wide margin and led the National League by more than a run before Saturday. This after posting a 4.48 ERA in May that ranked 13th in the NL.

As for Heyward, he showed some flashes in late May of getting his swing going, but it’s come together on a much more consistent basis so far in June. Heyward was 9-for-24 (.375) with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs in six Junes before Saturday, with a .400 OBP and .708 slugging percentage.

This after hitting .200 (19-for-95) with a .315 OBP and .389 slugging percentage in 28 May games, with four doubles, four homers and 14 RBIs.

Since May 25, Heyward was 13-for-44 (.295) with three homers, seven RBIs and a .568 slugging percentage in 12 games.

“Been working, becoming a lot more consistent with timing — that’s the biggest thing,” said Heyward, who scored the winning run in the 10th inning Friday after beating out an infield single, going to second on a sac bunt, and then stealing third and coming home on the Toronto catcher’s errant throw to third base trying to throw him out.

“Just showing up every day ready to get after it, trying to help my team win,” Heyward said.

I talked to hitting coach Greg Walker about Heyward’s progress on Thursday when we were in Miami, a few hours before the series finale against the Marlins. I wanted to talk to Walker about what he was seeing from Heyward, who’d had three hits including a double in the series-opening win and some good swings in the two-game series at Washington that began the trip.

Walker’s comments were telling, I thought. And another sign of why Braves fans should be encouraged by the progress that Braves hitters have made under Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher. These guys not only know their stuff, but really know how to get through to players and earn their trust.

“His swing has been really good,” Walker said of Heyward. “He’s just been late, letting the ball get too deep. In the last week he’s had some games where, we’re not asking him to catch the ball too far out in front, but if he was putting the same swing on balls more out front, you’d see some real dynamic results. Kind of like we did the first night here [in Miami] and in Washington. I’m encouraged by him.”

Hours later, Heyward hit two tape-measure homers – 425 and 423 feet, each to center field — in the last three innings of the Braves’ 8-2 win against the Marlins that completed a three-game sweep. Dynamic results, indeed.

Heyward is greeted by manager Fredi Gonzalez after scoring the winning run in the 10th inning Friday. (Hyosub Shin photo/AJC)

Heyward is greeted by manager Fredi Gonzalez after scoring the winning run in the 10th inning Friday. (Hyosub Shin photo/AJC)

“He’s starting to feel it,” Walker said, “where in his own mind he’s coming up with a feel or a concept of how to catch the ball a little bit farther out front. Because he’s taken about 100 swings this year that I thought were perfect, that were just late; the ball was too deep on him.”

The Braves are simply a different team offensively with Heyward on top of his game. The lineup is deeper and far more potent when the right fielder is hitting frozen ropes and majestic homers. Pitchers have a lot more to think about when he’s raking, and it’s not just the first four or five spots in the order that can do a lot of damage with one swing.

• A skid, then resurgence: The Braves had a 1.57 ERA during their 5-game winning streak before Saturday and had outscored opponents 28-8 in that stretch. Atlanta was 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA, .272 team batting average and 43 runs during its past eight games, after going 0-8 with 5.66 ERA, .187 average and 20 runs during the losing skid that immediately preceded the surge.

SATURDAY’S LINEUP

  1. Bourn cf
  2. Prado 3b
  3. McCann c
  4. Uggla 2b
  5. Heyward rf
  6. Freeman 1b
  7. Simmons ss
  8. Constanza lf
  9. Hanson p

Sizzling at top: Braves 1-2 hitters Michael Bourn and Martin Prado have each been on base 97 times, tied for fourth in the NL before Saturday, while Dan Uggla had been on base 96 times for sixth in the league. So the Braves had half of the top six spots in the NL, behind only Joey Votto, David Wright and Melky Cabrera (and yes, I still hesitate each time I type Cabrera among NL leaders, but he’s having a terrific year for the Giants).

Bourn was second in the majors with 77 hits, trailing only Melky Cabrera (87) before Saturday. Miguel Cabrera (76) and Derek Jeter (75) led the AL. And Prado’s .326 average and .394 OBP each ranked sixth in the league.

Prado was tied for third in NL with 24 multi-hit games, while Bourn was tied for fifth with 22. Oh, and Uggla was tied with Votto for seventh in the league with 38 RBIs.

Prado wasn’t among the top 15 NL outfielder vote-getters when the first All-Star voting update came out last week (the next one will be out Tuesday).

If he doesn’t make the team or at least get strong consideration – as an outfielder or even utility player — it’ll be another obvious example of how much of a simple popularity contest the selection process is, and how much power-hitting numbers sway voters and those who fill out the All-Star reserves. (The 2010  selection of then-Braves utility man Omar Infante being a glaring exception to that unwritten rule).

Bourn (left) and Prado have been the hottest-hitting top-of-the-order duo in the National League for much of the season.

Bourn (left) and Prado have been the hottest-hitting top-of-the-order duo in the National League for much of the season.

Prado hit .341 with a .409 OBP and a .508 slugging percentage in his past 46 games before Saturday, with 21 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs, 20 walks, 20 strikeouts and 32 runs. In his past 28 games he’s hit .384 (43-for-112) with five steals (in five attempts), .440 OBP and .571 slugging (1.011 OPS)

• Bourn’s impact: A few here mocked me — it’s OK, I’m used to it — for suggesting a few weeks ago that Bourn was at least as important to the Braves’ immediate fortunes as Chipper Jones, despite the wide disparity in their won-lost record with and without Jones in the lineup.

Well, I’m not going to say I told you so, but the Braves have won seven of their past eight while Chipper’s on the DL.

And Bourn? Consider this: During the team’s 7-1 stretch through Friday, Bourn hit .382 with a .432 OBP and .647 slugging percentage, getting at least one hit in every game including three multi-hit games. He had back-to-back three-hit games Thursday and Friday.

During the Braves’ 2-9 stretch that preceded the surge, Bourn hit .152 with a .170 OBP and one multi-hit game.

• Saturday’s matchup: It’s Tommy Hanson (6-4, 3.71 ERA) against Toronto’s Drew Hutchison (5-2, 4.35), neither of whom has faced today’s opponent and both pitchers coming in on a solid run.

Appropriately enough, the Braves kept their recent pitching surge going in Friday's win on the night John Smoltz was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his jersey retired. (Hyosub Shin photo/AJC)

Appropriately enough, the Braves kept their recent pitching surge going in Friday's win on the night John Smoltz was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his jersey retired. (Hyosub Shin photo/AJC)

Hutchison is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA and .270 opponents’ average in his past five starts, and in four of those he allowed one or not runs in six or more innings (he gave up six runs in four innings at Tampa in the only loss and only less-than-stellar game in that stretch)

Hanson is 3-1 with a 3.81 ERA in his past five starts, with 29 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28-1/3 innings. He allowed two or fewer runs in four of the five and went six or more innings in three of the five. Hanson gave up six runs, eight hits and two homers in 3-1/3 innings vs. St. Louis on May 28 in only loss and only bad start in that stretch, but bounced back to give up two runs on six hits including two solo homers in his last start Sunday at Washington.

• OK, game’s about to start. Let’s close with a sublime cut from the mighty Pogues, which you can hear by clicking here. Look them straight in the eye and say Pogue Mahone!

The+Pogues+sejmout0195

“DIRTY OLD TOWN” by The Pogues

I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
Kissed a girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Clouds a drifting across the moon
Cats a prowling on their beat
Spring’s a girl in the street at night
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Heard a siren from the docks
Saw a train set the night on fire
Smelled the spring on the smoky wind
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

I’m going to make me a good sharp axe
Shining steel tempered in the fire
Will chop you down like an old dead tree
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
Kissed a girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

– by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog

1,077 comments Add your comment

Wee Willie Keeler

June 9th, 2012
4:04 pm

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:04 pm

nolie

June 9th, 2012
4:05 pm

Where we gonna get the moolah for all the additions?

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:06 pm

Lets go Braves!!!!!!!!!!

flange1

June 9th, 2012
4:07 pm

Thanks for the new blog CR!

Brava

June 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

Go Braves!!!

nolie

June 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

damn, all them good thangs DOB listed; we is doomed tonight, 15-1

cabravesfan

June 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

not that it’s a huge thing, but DOB wrote the blog today :)

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

Love watching Simmons at SS

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:09 pm

That was a swing

TheOnlyBravesFan

June 9th, 2012
4:10 pm

Thanks DOB.

Go BRAVES!!!

flange1

June 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

Well CR’s picture was still up!

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

Nasty drop to that breaking ball on rasmus

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:12 pm

There is some bluffing going on about how much $ the braves actually have left to spend. I would say its 5-6 million.

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:12 pm

Pitched around Bautista there

UKUGA

June 9th, 2012
4:12 pm

The comments from Walker were telling. You could see, even during the May slump, that Heyward’s swing was better than a year ago. Unlike last year, Heyward could actually elevate pitches on the inner-half of the plate. Last year, Heyward would turn those balls over and ground out to the right side.

Heyward’s own comments after the two home runs in Miami sounded like a guy who really knows how to hit. They weren’t the kind of comments you hear from a guy who gets lucky. Instead, they sounded like a guy who knows what it takes to drive the ball over the fence.

Remain patient with this guy.

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:14 pm

Can’t say I blame Tommy for walking Bautista.

AussieBrave

June 9th, 2012
4:14 pm

G’day all… Nice early start for me. Go Braves!!

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:14 pm

We have no idea how much money the braves have left to spend though the better the braves look headed to the trade deadline the more likely liberty media will be to spend that little extra to put us over the top

Bravefaninok

June 9th, 2012
4:15 pm

Tommy touching 93mph today again……sure would like to see him be able to reach back and get 95-96 when he needs to put away a hitter.

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:15 pm

Nice start for big red! Now let’s get some runs for an early lead

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:15 pm

Nice inning from Hanson.

MIBravesFan

June 9th, 2012
4:16 pm

Good 1st inning for Tommy

AussieBrave

June 9th, 2012
4:18 pm

Hope Freeman’s hand is good enough to go today… he looked a bit timid yesterday.

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:19 pm

Bourn!!!!!!!!!!!

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:19 pm

Great start by Bourn. Sign him already

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:20 pm

Now steal 2nd :)

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:20 pm

Nice steal

Love theses unis

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:20 pm

nolie

June 9th, 2012
4:20 pm

bout time he steals one early

MIBravesFan

June 9th, 2012
4:20 pm

Yeah, Michael!

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:22 pm

Prado with some ABC baseball 8-)

TNScott

June 9th, 2012
4:22 pm

Nice AB, Martin!!!

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

Now time for Mac to return to HR hitting form. No better way to beat that stupid shift.

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

How come Toronto is not playing it safe here like some complimented the Braves on doing last night? And its just the first inning.

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:25 pm

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:25 pm

Can’t wait for chipper to get back and occupy the 3 hole Monday.

TNScott

June 9th, 2012
4:25 pm

McCann does not need to be in the three hole.

P B Orr

June 9th, 2012
4:26 pm

McCann fail, again, and again, and again.

stizz

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

Fredi just gives away outs with Mac in the three hole.

McCant

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

McCann is one small notch above worthless.

nolie

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

whatever ncbf

cabravesfan

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

JasonInFL

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

Come on, Mac. Make contact there bud. Mac should be in the 6-hole. I think he should have always been in the 6 hole.

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

McCant

June 9th, 2012
4:28 pm

Did anyone here really expect McCann to drive in that runner on 3rd?

JasonInFL

June 9th, 2012
4:28 pm

…and I love Mac. Just saying that I have never thought he should be in the 3-hole…or cleanup. Shoot, missed opp there. We still suck at getting that runner in from 3rd with less than 2 outs.

ChattTownBrian (CTB)

June 9th, 2012
4:28 pm

Murphy makes Glavine seem exciting. How boring of an announcer is this guy? Put you to sleep is what he’ll do.

P B Orr

June 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

I’d rather have Beachy in the 3 spot than The Bloated One.

David O'Brien

June 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

Fredi G hasn’t ruled out Chipper playing tomorrow. Sounds like his rehab stint at Class-A Rome will end tonight regardless….

Braves 0-for-3 with RISP in 1st inning, after going 0-for-12 Friday….

kevkat

June 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

that’s not good..Mac couldn’t even make contact

JasonInFL

June 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

Yes, I did expect Mac to get the RBI. I will expect him to drive the run in next time he is in that situation too. I think he has made an all-star team or 2…

Half Empty

June 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

they played Mac that same way from early in last night’s game didn’t they?

AussieBrave

June 9th, 2012
4:30 pm

I agree – McCann is letting the side down in the 3 spot.

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:31 pm

Well in that case DOB, I guess i better correct my statement; I can’t wait for Chipper to occupy by the 3 hole when he comes back tomorrow/monday.

Tomahawk Mafia

June 9th, 2012
4:31 pm

The Braves have been pitiful in run scoring situations the last couple of games.

Half Empty

June 9th, 2012
4:31 pm

Mac hatin’ idiots are using many names to make it seem like everybody thinks like them I bet

Trey

June 9th, 2012
4:33 pm

Wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

David O'Brien

June 9th, 2012
4:34 pm

Delgado available out of ‘pen in emergency today, Braves will try not to use O’Flaherty and Venters today if possible. They’ve both pitched in past 3 in a row.

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

June 9th, 2012
4:34 pm

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:34 pm

Got Kelly by a freakin’ mile! And Kelly knew it.

kevkat

June 9th, 2012
4:35 pm

89-92 mph fastball…hope he continues to spot it well

P B Orr

June 9th, 2012
4:35 pm

Anybody with any understanding of baseball knows what’s wrong with McCann – he’s trying to kill every pitch, with a bat that is too big for him, which he holds BEYOND the nub. If he’d choke up and control his swing, and keep his head down into the pitch, he’d get these RBI when they are offered. But he’s maybe the most stubborn player in Braves history, will not adjust, will not choke up, will not swing a lighter bat, so it’s the exact same fail again and again. Same with his defense – he’s lazy and makes no effort to get better. His throwing is out of control, his mask goes flying, he’s all over the place. He can’t control his body, and he can’t put down his fork. He’s a complete bummer to watch.

ChattTownBrian (CTB)

June 9th, 2012
4:35 pm

Reading comments here and listening to Chip, Joe and Murphy is night and day regarding McCann’s at bat. Only thing said on tv was Joe saying what a great changeup he threw to strike out BM. Nevermind he watched a second pitch straight as an arrow fastball go right by him down the middle.

Gil In Mechanicsville

June 9th, 2012
4:35 pm

Sounds like tomorrow will be moving day for some folks.

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:37 pm

Nice second inning for the braves

Mccann’s at bat in the first killed us

Grizzled Veteran

June 9th, 2012
4:37 pm

Anyone ever hear about exactly what the balk call was last night? Did he step too far toward home? What was it?

AussieBrave

June 9th, 2012
4:38 pm

I’m not a Mac hater, I just think he’s better suited for 5th or so… And Heyward looks so much more confident lately – even his body language has improved. May be my imagination – but I see a bit of swagger.

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:39 pm

I think he holds it just fine :)

McFann :Ô: :Ô:

June 9th, 2012
4:39 pm

Freeman got a hit!

Bat him third.

AussieBrave

June 9th, 2012
4:39 pm

Hmm… see that swagger going back to the dugout?

McCant

June 9th, 2012
4:40 pm

P B Orr. I agree with you about McCann. Past All Star or not, he is not getting the job done offensively or defensively.

veer

June 9th, 2012
4:40 pm

Mac had a terrible at bat. Just needed a fly ball

MIBravesFan

June 9th, 2012
4:40 pm

Nice hit, Freddie!

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:42 pm

Constanza need not worry about where he’ll be batting tomorrow for the Braves, but where he will be in the Gwinnett batting order…..don’t think the injury caused his dip in performance after three weeks last year.

Tomahawk Mafia

June 9th, 2012
4:43 pm

Jose Constanza is impervious to reaching base. My goodness, that guy has no idea what he is doing at the plate.

Brian McCann

June 9th, 2012
4:43 pm

I’m starved.

Trey

June 9th, 2012
4:44 pm

I miss the 90s. We had such wonderful players and announcers.

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:44 pm

I still get cold chills hearing Skip call that slide! None like Skip and Pete behind the mic!

P B Orr

June 9th, 2012
4:45 pm

Can you put a iron batting ring on a turkey leg?

Gil In Mechanicsville

June 9th, 2012
4:45 pm

I have to concur on McCann’s bat, for what ever reason, it is too heavy for him to catch up with most fastballs and those have been his bread and butter in the past.

ChattTownBrian (CTB)

June 9th, 2012
4:45 pm

Let Pete call a few innings for old times sake. Chip won’t though. He can’t shutup.

Trey

June 9th, 2012
4:46 pm

Skip Caray sounded so much more enthusiastic about the Braves than many of our current announcers.

Gil In Mechanicsville

June 9th, 2012
4:47 pm

That said, weight is not an issue with McCann, buy a new TV you dofus so you can see what the players actually look like…

Trey

June 9th, 2012
4:48 pm

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:52 pm

Trey-

Thanks for that link, when they showed it on TV a minute ago, I got chill bumps all over! Skip loved the fans, “listen to this crowd”. He truly loved everything about the Braves.

Venice Jim

June 9th, 2012
4:52 pm

Chip won’t though.

He did offer, at least…

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
4:53 pm

And Chip just offered Pete to do play by play for this inning but Pete turned him down:(

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
4:54 pm

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:54 pm

Pete knows Chip won’t be able to help himself ;)

Trey

June 9th, 2012
4:55 pm

ncbravesfan, he really did. Skip went way too soon. The 90s were a special time to be a Braves fan.

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:58 pm

At least we are working the pitcher a little this inning

Venice Jim

June 9th, 2012
4:58 pm

Thank goodness he did not have to use his tiny arms to swing that humongous bat…

JasonInFL

June 9th, 2012
4:59 pm

Can we get Pete back????

bravesgrl4life

June 9th, 2012
4:59 pm

Can I please order an Uggla tater?

brian

June 9th, 2012
4:59 pm

Love hearing Pete in the booth. His voice has been sorely missed

Venice Jim

June 9th, 2012
5:00 pm

Yes, you MAY!!!

ncbravesfan90

June 9th, 2012
5:00 pm

Dannnnnnnnn Uggggggggla!

MIBravesFan

June 9th, 2012
5:00 pm

BFChris27

June 9th, 2012
5:00 pm

Dan UGGLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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