Archive for August, 2012

Freeman’s 2 homers not enough as Braves, Sheets lose again

SAN FRANCISCO – During the past two nights at the ballpark by the bay, Braves hitters provided something of a salve for recently struggling Giants pitchers. The hosts were not as kind to Braves pitcher Ben Sheets.

Freddie Freeman hit a pair of solo homers and Jason Heyward went deep, too, but the Braves had only one other hit in 6-1/3 innings against Ryan Vogelsong during a 5-3 loss at AT&T Park. It was their sixth defeat in seven games and Sheets’ third in a row.

Sheets (4-4) was charged with nine hits and four runs in 4-1/3 innings, the first time he lasted fewer than six innings in eight starts since signing with the Braves after two years in semi-retirement. He had three walks and two strikeouts.

“I hate the way I pitched,” said Sheets, who has a 7.71 ERA during his three-start losing streak, with 21 hits and 20 runs (18 earned) allowed in 16-1/3 innings. “I feel like I made some good pitches, just didn’t put anybody away.”

Asked to clarify about what he hated about his …

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Fredi G on starting Uggla: ‘We need to get him going’

SAN FRANCISCO — The Braves had a .199 team batting average and 14 runs during a 1-5 skid before Friday, so it’s not as if Dan Uggla was the only lineup regular not hitting lately.

“We’re not doing anything [offensively],” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose team scored two or fewer runs in four of its past six games, and got shut out until the ninth inning of Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Giants.

“Not counting the pitcher’s spot, we’ve got eight guys in the lineup, and I think just three guys [going well] – [Martin] Prado, [Jason] Heyward and Chipper [Jones]. You see guys hit balls hard, and the at-bats are good at times, but we haven’t gotten anything going the rest of the time. I don’t even want to look at the numbers. The last 10-12 days, I don’t even want to look.”

The Braves were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position Thursday, continuing a recent trend that dropped their season average to .241 with runners in scoring position, 11th in the National League.

But while others …

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Rare start for Hinske as Braves try to revive his bat

SAN FRANCISCO – In the Braves clubhouse on Sunday at Turner Field, Tim Hudson announced that chapel would start in 10 minutes. Eric Hinske replied, “Take my bats with you.”

It was a moment of levity in that has been a difficult season for Hinske, a veteran bench player who was hitting just .203 with one homer and 35 strikeouts in 118 at-bats before Friday, including 7-for-46 (.152) as a pinch-hitter.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez gave Hinske a rare start in left field on Friday and moved Martin Prado to shortstop for only his second start of the season at that position. Gonzalez said he made the move to give shortstop Paul Janish a day off and to get some at-bats for Hinske and try to revive his bat for the stretch drive.

“The last time he started, he DH’d in Boston — that was in [bleeping] June,” Gonzalez said of Hinske, who indeed started an interleague game at Boston on June 24, but had also started once other game since then — July 14 in left field at Colorado.

“Just get him …

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Braves slumping at bad time, as September looms

SAN FRANCISCO – When it’s late August and the Braves go directly from surging over a 40-game stretch to losing five out of six, well, their followers get anxious for obvious reasons.

Zito had struggled in recent weeks, but against the slumping Braves he was dominant again Thursday. (AP photo)

Zito had struggled in recent weeks, but against the slumping Braves he was dominant again Thursday. (AP photo)

Because as much as some of them have asked us since spring training to please stop mentioning the September collapse, until the Braves bury that meltdown of a year ago by finishing a season strong and going to the playoffs, it’s going to hang overhead like a cloud. And right now, that cloud is getting darker.

Let me be clear: No one I know is predicting anything similar to last year’s 10-20 finish, simply because this is a better, healthier team that those Braves were down the stretch.

The 2011 Braves turned to rookies and prospects to hold together an injury-riddled starting rotation during the critical stretch drive, and two of the Big Three relievers were running on fumes, negating …

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Braves quotes after Thursday’s loss to Giants

**FREDI GONZALEZ

On Barry Zito handling Braves again

“He’s left-handed and he frustrates us. He throws a fastball just high enough in the strike zone and spins a curveball. We didn’t have a very good approach against him early in the game. The good thing was we came back and they used, what, four guys in the ninth inning to try to get that win. So we got into their bullpen a little bit, but…”

“Tommy didn’t pitch that bad. We didn’t play very good [defense], balls got through the infield and the one ball down the line [Freeman error] kind of extended the inning a little bit. And we just got ourselves in trouble. But I still think he didn’t pitch that bad…. He’s up against it right from the very beginning, we don’t score any runs. It just makes it for a tough going.”

On Hanson’s command

“Better today. There were a couple of innings where he got off track a little bit, but it was nice for him to come back and I think he finished that inning with a strikeout or a pop …

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Braves drop opener at San Francisco, 5th loss in 6 games

SAN FRANCISCO – The Braves had a couple of factors seemingly in their favor heading into their series opener against the Giants on Thursday night, but it didn’t much matter.

The Giants scored four runs in the fifth inning and cruised to a 5-2 win against Tommy Hanson on a night when the temperature was in the upper 50’s at AT&T Park, and Braves bats were far chillier.

Freddie Freeman had a two-run double in the ninth for the Braves, who avoided being shut outt but lost for the fifth time in six games. They’ve scored two runs or fewer four times in that period.

“You know you’re not going to be rolling all season,” Freeman said. “As an offense you’re going go through a little tough stretch. Unfortunately it’s right now. We’re going to try to get out of it as soon as possible.”

San Francisco played without All-Stars Melky Cabrera (50-game drug suspension) and Buster Posey, their hottest hitter, who missed his second consecutive start with a tight hamstring. Didn’t matter. They …

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Hot-hitting Heyward gets rest against lefty Zito

SAN FRANCISCO – In his first couple of series against the Giants at picturesque AT&T Park, Jason Heyward fared far better than most hitters, collecting a .458 with three homers and seven RBIs in six games at the spacious, wind-swept ballpark by the bay.

But when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez posted his lineup for Thursday night’s series opener against the Giants, the big right fielder wasn’t in it.

Gonzalez told the team this week that he would play the matchups more and go with his hottest hitters during the stretch drive. Heyward has been one of his hottest hitters, but Gonzalez wanted to give him a rest and get another right-handed bat in the lineup against Giants left-hander Barry Zito. Reed Johnson got the start in right field.

Left-handers hit just .197 with two homers and a .555 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 122 at-bats against Zito before Thursday, while righties had a .275 average with 16 homers and an .826 OPS in 403 at-bats against the lefty.

Heyward had a …

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Bonds had role in many of Chipper’s San Francisco memories

SAN FRANCISCO – Chipper Jones has been around a lot longer than most current players, and so his memories of playing in San Francisco aren’t limited to AT&T Park, which opened in 2000.

The Braves’ retiring third baseman can recall like it was yesterday playing cold, windy games at old Candlestick Park, which the NFL’s 49ers still call home. The clubhouse was located all the way out near the right-field corner.

“I remember hitting my 40th home run in 1999 there, off Joe Nathan – that was obviously a big plateau to reach,” Jones said Thursday afternoon, 3-1/2 hours before the opener of his last scheduled series in San Francisco.

He hit his 40th – the first and only time Jones would hit that many in a season – on Sept. 12, 1999, on a 66-degree, sunny day at the ‘Stick. Jones homered off Nathan that day, and Barry Bonds hit his 31st of the season that day off reliever Derrin Ebert. Nathan got the win that afternoon and Greg Maddux took the loss to go to 18-7.

Jones would finish …

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Medlen belongs in Braves rotation rest of season and beyond

SAN FRANCISCO – There was an email in my box this morning from a Braves fan (and one of our blog regulars), who just wanted to say how much fun it was to watch Kris Medlen every time he pitched, how it had become “must-see TV” in his house. And I understood exactly what he meant.

The Braves have won 16 consecutive games started by Kris Medlen, breaking a franchise record previously held by John Smoltz.

The Braves have won 16 consecutive games started by Kris Medlen, breaking a franchise record previously held by John Smoltz.

But beyond his demeanor, energy, and overall assured (and assuring) presence on the mound, there are ways to quantify why Medlen needs to stay in the Braves rotation for the rest of the season and, assuming they make it, why he should be a starter throughout the postseason.

And beyond.

First, the obvious: The Braves enjoy playing behind him and win when he starts. They have won a remarkable 16 consecutive games started by Medlen going back to 2010, breaking John Smoltz’s franchise record of 15 team wins in a row when he started.

Medlen is 9-0 with a 3.01 ERA in 19 starts since …

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Medlen lifts Braves in finale win vs. Nats

Washington – The division race in the NL East may or may not be a fading phenomenon, but the Braves wanted to send the Nationals off with some parting thoughts.

Their secret weapon Kris Medlen was just the man for the job.

Medlen picked right up where he left off last Thursday when he pitched a complete game shutout against the Padres, by pitching seven more shutout innings with much higher stakes in a 5-1 Wednesday night against the Nationals.

The Braves salvaged the series finale, snapped a four-game losing streak and spent only one day feeling the weight of a seven-game deficit in the NL East, their largest of the season.

“I was honestly pretty nervous about when I woke up this morning, knowing how tough of a lineup that is,” Medlen said.

But he never showed it, while extending his scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings. He hasn’t given up a run since the second inning of his Aug. 11 start in New York, three starts ago. The Braves won the 16th straight game started by …

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