(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Washington – It’s your Braves-Nats correspondent here, reporting from an overcast nation’s capital where we have a few balls up in air today – weather issues, four games scheduled in three days against the first-place Washington Nationals, and a trade possibility.
From what I was told this morning, the Braves are still in the mix for Ryan Dempster of the Cubs as a possible addition to their rotation. The Cubs have set a goal of trying to deal him before he starts tonight in St. Louis, or at the latest by his next start Wednesday. Cubs writers have said the team has lined up a couple of backup possibilities to pitch in Dempster’s place tonight if they are able to pull off a trade.
Reports indicate this morning that the Dodgers, who are believed to be front runners for Dempster, weren’t offering what the Cubs were looking for at first blush, so perhaps there’s an opening there for the Braves, Nationals or Tigers, other teams believed to be in pursuit as well.
I’m not sure what the Braves would offer to get Dempster, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs covet left-hander Mike Minor. He struck out 12 batters against them back in August of 2010 and has won each of his four starts against them, including a quality start on July 5, allowing three runs in six innings.
So the Braves would have to decide how aggressively to go after a player who is viewed as a rental for the stretch run. Dempster is a free agent after the season. That said, he also has the best ERA in the majors at 1.86, has gone five straight starts and 33 innings without giving up a run, has an established relationship with both general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez from their days with the Marlins, has indicated in reports that he would like to play in Atlanta, and has ties through his charity work to the city of Atlanta.
I don’t know Dempster well personally, but I will say he made one of the biggest impressions on me a ballplayer ever has. I was in the Cubs clubhouse one day during spring training in 2004, there to do a story about Greg Maddux in his first spring after leaving the Braves.
I was waiting around for Maddux, not knowing anyone, and feeling kind of dumb, when up walks this player who starts asking me who I was and what I was working on. He actually introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Ryan Dempster.” Absolutely as nice as he could be. He went out of his way to make me feel comfortable in an unfamiliar setting. Something I won’t forget.
Fredi tells a story about Dempster when he was coaching third for the Braves one day in Chicago and the grounds crew is out raking the infield in their white jumpsuits. A guy in a jumpsuit is raking around third base and bumping into Fredi, and he’s like “What the heck?” Turns out it’s Dempster, totally messing with him.
The forecast in Washington is calling for 100 percent chance of rain from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today, then 80 percent from 7-10 p.m. We’ve already got a day-night doubleheader scheduled for tomorrow to make up the rain out our last trip here on June 1.
The Braves do return one more time this season for a three-game series on August 20-22, but the rub there is that it’s the first part of a three-city trip that includes four games in San Francisco and three in San Diego. So that would be complicated too. Perhaps there’s a mutual off day in there somewhere where a makeup could be played. Or perhaps we’ll miraculously get a window somewhere and get the game played.
Braves vs. Strasburg
Tommy Hanson is scheduled to take on Stephen Strasburg, a guy the Braves are getting to know fairly well now. Strasburg has made 35 starts in his career, and five of them have been against the Braves.
He has taken three of his eight career losses to the Braves. He’s 16-8 with a 2.60 ERA overall, 2-3 with a 4.26 ERA against the Braves. He’s won two out of three against the Braves this year though, while allowing seven earned runs in 15 innings. I think the Braves saw him at his absolute nastiest up here on June 2, when he threw seven shutout innings, struck out nine, and walked none, while hitting his spots with his 99 mph fastball, 90-91 mph changeup and upper 80s breaking ball.
Strasburg’s only loss to the Braves this season came when he had to leave a June 30 start at Turner Field after three innings with heat-related issues on a day with temps in the triple digits. Don’t think that sat well with him.
It’s been fairly well publicized (ahem) that the Nationals plan to shut down their ace at the discretion of GM Mike Rizzo at some point before he logs more innings than they deem prodigious for a young pitcher in his first full season back from “Tommy John” and who has never pitched more than 123 or so innings in a season.
Rizzo hasn’t said it’ll be right at 160 innings, but the way it projects it looks like the Braves could face Strasburg twice more – this series and that August series.
Hanson, meanwhile, gave up back-to-back home runs to Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper in his last start at Nats Park on June 3 but gave up nothing more in seven innings of a 3-2 win over Gio Gonzalez.
Eye on Nats roster
The Nationals just activated former closer Drew Storen from the disabled list Thursday for the first time all season. He responded with a scoreless ninth inning. He had surgery in April to remove bone chips from his elbow. Seems he’s arrived just in time for the Nats, with Tyler Clippard showing a little vulnerability with a blown save Tuesday night and giving up two homers on Wednesday.
The Nats designated outfielder Rick Ankiel for assignment to make room for Storen. The former Brave was hitting .228 with five home runs and 15 RBIs. He managed to do some big things against the Braves though.
The Braves are 2-6 against the Nationals this season and come in 3 ½ games back in the NL East. With four games scheduled over these three days, they could leave here at best one-half game up in first place, or at worst, 7 ½ games back. There’s a lot at stake here, especially considering with two wild cards this year guaranteed of nothing more than a one-game playoff, the division is that much more important again.
“Last year, I would have taken the play-in game but you don’t want to be in a position to use your No. 1 starter in a play-in game,” Gonzalez told our Chris Vivlamore when asked about it this week. “You may not even get that opportunity. The way it lines up, your fifth guy might have to pitch that play-in game. The division [is most important], which it should be.”
And on this weekend series: “This is a chance to get really, really close. There is still a long way to go. We still have some hurdles to clear.”
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Jason Heyward RF
4. Chipper Jones 3B
5. Freddie Freeman 1B
6. Brian McCann C
7. Dan Uggla 2B
8. Paul Janish SS
9. Tommy Hanson P