(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
So it’s family day here at Turner Field, and there are a couple of Braves kids here more concerned about the game itself than running around and hitting on the field with their fathers before the game – that would be 9-year old Seaver Sheets and his 5-year-old brother Miller.
Those two boys have watched their father Ben Sheets work his way back to the mound from two years out after two elbow surgeries. Today the former four-time All-Star for the Brewers will make his debut with the Braves almost two years to the day from when he last started with the Oakland As against Boston on July 19, 2010.
Sheets made 20 starts in 2010, his only major league action in the past three-plus seasons since 2008, the year he started for the NL in the All-Star game. Now here Sheets is three days shy of his 34th birthday, eager to prove he can still be an effective pitcher.
It’s been two weeks since that Sunday morning, July 1, when Sheets threw a bullpen at Turner Field and signed with the Braves after undergoing a physical. It’s been a whirlwind, I’m sure, but he seems ready. He said there will be nerves, of course, but there always are.
“It doesn’t matter if I’ve got 20 games under my belt,” Sheets said. “It would be the same type of nerves.”
He doesn’t seem to be too fazed by the fact that he’s not exactly being eased back into a rotation either. It’s a little more than two weeks before the trade deadline, and the Braves want to see if he can be a key veteran piece to boost their rotation for the stretch run.
“It’s July,” he said. “Better buckle down….I ain’t just out there. I expect to be successful.”
Seaver has been by his father’s side throughout his comeback, from first encouraging him to get back on the mound instead of just coaching his Little League team, to watching him throw into his “throwback” machine in the backyard of their Monroe, La. home.
Seaver and Miller watched their dad throw both of his minor league starts for Double-A Mississippi and were standing by his side in his locker Sunday morning (more on that in a moment.)
The Braves have clocked Sheets at 91, 92 mph, not far off what he first saw light up on the radar gun on the throwback machine. That’s a machine that Seaver, a corner outfielder for his Little League team, said he can top out at 50 mph on his best day. Good thing dad didn’t break it!
As for what it will feel like to watch his dad take the mound again in a major league uniform?
“Awesome,” said Seaver, who’s named for the Mets Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver.
Sheets is hoping he can gain a few more ticks on the fastball here as he goes, but as is, said, “I feel like I can get outs with what I got. But if I can gain one, two ticks back, it’s not a lot, it can only help. What I got now I can definitely pitch with.”
The adrenaline of being back in the majors might help that too.
“I hope,” Sheets said. “We’ll see. When (you see that) that third deck gets, you either rise up or you fall down.”
Sheets by the way, was originally put in THE cursed locker when he joined the major league club coming out of the All-Star break. But today when we went into the clubhouse his stuff had been moved to a locker over in row outside the circle of the “keyhole” shape, along with newcomer Paul Janish, Tyler Pastornicky, Anthony Varvaro, etc.
Seems word got to Sheets that the locker on the corner has a hex, with recent victims like Livan Hernandez, Julio Lugo, Kenshin Kawakami and a ton more, and he asked out. So that locker is vacant again. That bodes better for his start today against the Mets and Johan Santana, no?
Speaking of Santana, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla is out of the lineup for only the second time all season, and although he’s shown signs of breaking out of his month-long slump with hits in his past three games, manager Fredi Gonzalez needed to figure a way to get Matt Diaz into the lineup against Santana, and didn’t want to sit Martin Prado.
Diaz is hitting .514 (18-for-35) with four doubles, one home run and four RBIs against Santana (pause for reflection). Uggla is only 1-for-21 (.048) with one home run and 12 strikeouts against him.
“We have got to try to play [Diaz],” Gonzalez said. “He has really, really good numbers against Santana. I mean really good numbers. Numbers you can’t ignore. Put him out there and try to keep Prado in the lineup and put him at second base.”
Uggla is 3-for-9 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs in his past three games, and his single to left in the eighth Saturday helped start the Braves’ three-run rally to beat the Mets. But overall since that four-hit two-homer game in Miami on June 5, Uggla is hitting .119 (12-for-101) with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs in 31 games.
Janish and Pastornicky
Newcomer Paul Janish will make his debut today and continue to be the Braves every day shortstop, with both Andrelton Simmons and Jack Wilson on the DL with pinky finger problems.
Prado and Pastonicky will back him up, but based on what Gonzalez said this morning, he plans to continue to keep Pastornicky in the utility role they’ve been trying to work him into in Gwinnett. So that would mean some short, some second base, and he said not to be surprised if he puts Pastornicky out in left field one of these days.
Pastornicky has played a dozen or so games at second base in Triple-A and has been taking flyballs in the outfield every day during batting practice. He has yet to see game action in the outfield, calling it more of a work in progress. But he said he’s been comfortable at second base, and yes, also comfortable with the whole idea of becoming more of a utility player.
I hadn’t had a chance to ask Pastornicky about that since he got sent down. But based on what he had to say this morning, he seems to have a great attitude about it, which fits with his personality. The Braves have to be pleased with how he’s handled all the ups and downs so far.
“Whatever it takes I’m willing to do,” Pastornicky said. “I’m not real worried about where I’m playing, as long as I’m here and helping the team win, I’m cool with it. It never was an issue for me at all.”
His dad Cliff Pastornicky is a former player (10 games up with the Royals in 1983) and now a scout with the Blue Jays. I wondered what he thought about the whole change for his son and what he’s been telling Tyler about how to handle it. Sounds to me like it’s been nothing but encouragement and positive reinforcement.
“He thinks it’s good for me,” Pastornicky said. “There’s definitely nothing wrong with learning how to play other positions. It makes you more valuable. Anything you can do to help the team win is going to make them want you….He completely understands. It’s one of those things it made it a lot easier for me to understand too.”
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado 2B
3. Jason Heyward RF
4. Chipper Jones 3B
5. Freddie Freeman 1B
6. Brian McCann C
7. Matt Diaz LF
8. Paul Janish SS
9. Ben Sheets P