(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
So you know it’s not exactly solid footing for a team when they open the second half without knowing (or more like, announcing yet) who will be their shortstop for the next few weeks, or um tonight. Andrelton Simmons’ injury threw the Braves for a loop, and considering he’s in a cast for the next four weeks to let that broken bone in his hand heal, the Braves needed more than a short-term solution.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said yesterday that they were still mulling their options, both in Triple-A (presumably Tyler Pastornicky, and Josh Wilson, who has 356 games of major league experience with seven different teams, most recently the Brewers), but that they’ve also been mulling trade options as well.
Pastornicky played second base last night in Louisville, which would seem to indicate he’s not the one they’re about to call up, if they’re not playing him at shortstop to prep him. Gonzalez has told backup Jack Wilson to be ready, so until further notice – when there’s further notice – that’s where the Braves are.
Wilson has seen really limited action since Simmons got called up on May 30. He made only one start since then – on June 29 against the Nationals – and that was at second base. He also played some second base against Toronto on June 10 replacing Dan Uggla late, but I think his only action at shortstop came on Sunday in Philadelphia when he replaced Simmons in the fifth inning.
That said, Wilson spent the bulk of his 12 seasons at shortstop, playing 1,273 games there. His defense is what made him the shortstop he was in his heyday with the Pirates and it’s why the Braves traded for him at the end of last season. It’s also why they could turn to him now.
Re-Opening with the Mets
As for the bigger picture, the Braves will open the second half the same way they opened the season – against the New York Mets.
Seems like a long time since that season-opening sweep in New York, and the four losses in a row to start the season, doesn’t it? One difference for the Braves now, besides everything (as my best friend says), is they’ve got Tim Hudson available. Hudson, who needed a few extra weeks to recoup from back surgery to start the season, will start tonight against Chris Young, who is filling in for the injured Dillon Gee.
Gee had some numbness in his fingers Tuesday and they discovered he had a blood clot in an artery in his right shoulder. He was scheduled to undergo surgery today and could miss the rest of the season.
Even without Gee, though, there are some intriguing match-ups in this series with Tommy Hanson facing R.A. Dickey on Saturday, whom many felt should start the All-Star game, and Ben Sheets making his return to the majors Sunday against Johan Santana. Santana was originally scheduled to pitch Friday but had his start pushed back because of a sore right ankle.
Speaking of sore and ankle, Hudson has had six days to rest his sore left ankle, the one which he’s been pitching on for the past month or so despite bone spurs. He received another cortisone shot after he came out of his Friday start in Philadelphia, the one where he landed awkwardly twice and nearly came out of the game in the second inning.
Hudson said Sunday morning his ankle was feeling a lot better. But it’s something he’s planning to pitch through for the rest of the season and even with the pain it’s given him, he’s still managed to be really effective – he threw seven shutout innings at Citizens Bank Park the night he had the last shot.
Hudson will be facing Young, as in the 6-foot-10 former Padre and a Princeton guy, who has had all the shoulder problems over the years. He just returned last month from a year away after having similar surgery that Santana did. So far so good for Young this season, who’s allowed no more than three runs in any of his six starts back. He’s 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA in that span and has thrown four straight quality starts entering play tonight.
I’d imagine the Mets come in a little bit hungry to Turner Field because the Braves just leap-frogged them into second place in the NL East right before the break. The Braves and Jair Jurrjens beat the Phillies last Sunday and the Mets got shut out by the Cubs and Ryan Dempster plus four relievers, moving the Braves into second place by one-half game.
Home vs. road record
A three-game sweep in Philadelphia moved the Braves to 26-17 on the road this season, which is the second best road record in the majors behind the Yankees (27-17). At home it’s been a different story though. The Braves are only 20-22 at Turner Field.
The Braves went 5-5 on their last homestand before the break. They’ll face solid pitching for the next three series including at home against the Mets, whose 3.55 starters’ ERA is third-best in the National League, followed by the Giants, whose 3.65 starters’ ERA is fifth-best in the NL, and then they’ll travel to play the Nationals, who are still leading the NL with a 3.25 ERA from their starters.
The Braves still rank only 12th in the National League with a 4.11 ERA from their starters, but they’ve got to feel good about what they’ve gotten from their starters of late. The Braves put up five quality starts the last time through the rotation, going 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA, as esteemed colleague Mark Bradley talked about in his column.
Another guy to watch coming out of the All-Star break is Brian McCann, who homered in each of the four games – all wins – heading into the break, giving him 13 on the season and plenty of reason to believe he’s going to be a different player in the second half, or at least back to his usual self.
McCann has not been shy about telling this to his manager, his teammates, the media that he believes he’ll be a different player in the second half, which I think tells you a little bit about how he feels at the plate and the confidence he has in himself. He has done some hard work in the batting cage, including some soul-searching with his brother Brad. He was looking forward to resting his body for four days and then jumping right back in in the second half.
McCann’s wife is due with their baby boy on July 21st so there might be a game or two in there he’ll miss. But what a fun time for the two of them and the anticipation of their son’s arrival.
Oh and happy early birthday to Tim Hudson, who turns 37 on Saturday.
The Braves have signed right-hander Matt Kimbrel, younger brother of closer Craig Kimbrel, their 31st round pick in the June draft, and a guy they’ve drafted each of the past two years. They wanted to follow Kimbrel, 22, for a month and see how he had progressed another year removed from Tommy John surgery after drafting him out of Southern Polytechnic State. He’s a sinkerballer and a starter, not the power pitcher of his closer brother.
I’m not expecting anything else to happen before today’s 5 p.m. deadline. And a big reason for that is the Braves have been busy all along. By inking Kimbrel, they have now signed 30 of their top 31 picks in the draft. The only exception is catcher Levi Borders, son of former Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders, whom the Braves took in the 11th round out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High School.
1. Bourn 8
2. Prado 7
3. Heyward 9
4. Jones 5
5. Freeman 3
6. Uggla 4
7. Ross 2
8. Wilson 6
9. Hudson 1