(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
So Chipper Jones said after the Braves completed their three-game sweep of the Phillies on Sunday, that he’d be disappointed if the Braves didn’t finish out this homestand at 8-2.
That seemed like a big number, but after a 3-0 head start, he must have been figuring the Braves should win both series against the Marlins (3-1) and Astros (2-1). They have a chance to take three of four from the Marlins tonight with left-hander Mike Minor on the mound.
Last night’s 4-2 loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Braves. But Ben Sheets still had his fourth quality start as a Brave. The offense couldn’t rally for him, after going 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine runners.
But the streaky Braves team of earlier this season, the one which followed a six-game losing streak in early June by losing seven of its next eight, seems to have steadied itself from the extremes of late. Starting pitching has everything to do with that.
Sheets has a lot to do with that. So does Minor.
The young man (as manager Fredi Gonzalez would say) is 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his past four starts. He’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of those four starts, while going six or more innings in all of them. He’s figuring some things out, things he can only have learned from getting out there and pitching at the major league level.
Minor is still home-run prone – he gave up one home run in each of those four starts – but he hasn’t let them get into his head. He’s settled down afterward and continued to pitch with conviction.
His last start on Saturday was a prime example. Minor gave up a home run to Chase Utley in the fourth inning but came back to strike out Ryan Howard, gave up a single to Hunter Pence, and struck out Ty Wigginton to get out of the ining. He retired his last 13 batters in a row and pitched eight innings for only the second time in his career. (He pitched eight innings in a 10-2 win at Arizona on April 19.)
I thought he said some things that were pretty telling to our Chris Vivlamore recently about the strides he’s making mentally.
“To be honest, I used to feel – and it goes all the way back to Little League – whenever one run or two runs scored I felt like I’m already losing,” Minor said. “I felt like I’m already down. When really if I go six innings and give up three runs that is considered a good start. To me, I didn’t realize that. When I was down two runs in the third inning, I felt like I lost the game already when I really didn’t. We were right there in the game. But to me, that was what my feelings were.”
He’s facing the Marlins’ right-hander Nate Eovaldi, who is making his second start since being traded from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal last week. He gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings in a win over the Padres on Saturday to equal his win total in 10 starts this year for the Dodgers.
Minor, 24, is two years older than Eovaldi, 22, and has 42 major league starts to Eovaldi’s 17.
Last night’s loss snapped a streak of three straight games the Braves hit a home run and was only the second time this homestand they didn’t go, uh, yicketty?
Getting Brian McCann back in the lineup tonight after a day of rest should help with that. McCann has hit five home runs in his last 10 starts dating back to July 18 against the Giants, the night he switched to an ash bat. He finished July with a .296 batting average, nine home runs and 21 RBIs. This is after he combined to hit .226 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in the first three months of the season combined.
Now that the Braves have Reed Johnson to plug in at any of the three outfield spots, Gonzalez had suggested he might rest Michael Bourn (which he did last night) and Jason Heyward soon. He might re-think that tonight, though, and give Martin Prado a break after he went 0-for-5 last night, hit into two double plays and committed an error in left field allowing a run to score.
Prado is hitting .211 in 22 games since July 5 (20-for-103), while his average has fallen from .325 to .298. His average dipped under .300 for the first time since May 14.
Eye on shortstop
Andrelton Simmons is supposed to get his cast off tomorrow, and then will probably need two more weeks to build back the strength in that right hand, play some rehab games, etc.
In the meantime, just looking ahead a bit, after watching the kind of defense Paul Janish is playing, I’m wondering if he won’t be the guy the Braves keep as the backup shortstop when Simmons comes back over Jack Wilson.
Janish got himself a webgem last night with a heck of a play to backhand a pop-up on a diving play just foul of the left field line. He’s made all the plays at shortstop, looking as sure-handed and confident as the Braves have gotten used to seeing around these parts between Simmons and Alex Gonzalez the past two years. So that’s something I’m sure the Braves will keep in mind.
Janish also went 2-for-3 with a double last night as well to raise his average as a Brave to .200. He’s played a little second base (12 games) and third (21 games) with the Reds as well.
Wilson, 34, looked a little out of sorts defensively in the rare playing time he got since Simmons arrived at the end of May, and he has hit .169 in limited action off the bench.
Granted, Wilson was put in a tough spot, not playing any at shortstop until after Simmons’ injury and then asked to play second base a time or two, which isn’t his comfort zone.
Right now he’s on the DL and rehabbing a dislocated pinky finger, which he suffered that Friday nght, fielding a ball that got past second past. He was just cleared by the doctors yesterday to start playing in the field soon. Up until now it had been just DHing in Triple-A.
Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on.
Minor league update
Speaking of keeping an eye on – young converted left fielder (and former catcher) Evan Gattis is back in action in Double-A Mississippi after missing six weeks recovering from a wrist injury. He hit a two-run home run on Tuesday night, along with a run-scoring triple, to make him 6-for-13 with three extra-base hits in his first three games back from the DL. (He went 0-for-4 last night.)
One of his biggest fans – manager Fredi Gonzalez – is keeping a close eye on his progress down there. He was asked if Gattis had a shot at being a September call-up, to which Gonzalez said: “I think if he wouldn’t have had injury I would have probably said yes for sure. We’re still a month away. We’ll see. I don’t think about starting the (arbitration) clock and that kind of stuff.”
It was a big week as well for last year’s first-round draft pick Sean Gilmartin, who made his Triple-A debut for Gwinnett Monday night, allowing four runs (three earned) in seven innings. He gave up five hits, walked three and struck out four in that game.
I had a couple, um, scouts there to watch him, since he happened to be pitching in my hometown of Charlotte. My mom and sister reported back that they saw 88 mph on the scoreboard.
And that’s about right for Gilmartin, whom Gonzalez said normally sits about 88-89 mph and occasionally hits 90 mph.
“What makes him interesting is his makeup and he’s got command of all his pitches and he competes,” Gonzalez said. “He repeats his delivery and his command of all his pitches is real good. He gets it. He gets the mental side of pitching. Stuff doesn’t seem to rattle him. Maybe a little more mature than the guys out of second year.”
1. Bourn CF
2. Johnson LF
3. Heyward RF
4. Jones 3B
5. Freeman 1B
6. McCann C
7. Uggla 2B
8. Janish SS
9. Minor P