(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
ESPN is descending upon Turner Field tonight for the Braves fourth appearance of the season as the game
of the week when the Braves host the first-place Nationals. Who knew it would actually live up to the billing?
Well, the fans did, who are showing up in good numbers and giving the Braves good and loud crowds to buoy them against the Nats.
But it wasn’t really looking too good when the Braves scored three runs in three losses to the Brewers earlier in the week and slumped into this series 8 ½ games back, their largest deficit in the division this season. Since then, the Braves have come up with some new ways to score runs – they won Friday on a throwing error and Saturday on a pitch that grazed Andrelton Simmons’ jersey with the bases loaded.
But when you’re the Braves and you lost games like the one in Washington on Aug. 20 when Dan Uggla froze on a ground ball hit to him with the infield in the 13th inning, you take them.
Tonight’s starter Mike Minor isn’t used to getting many runs of support anyway. The Braves are averaging only 3.2 runs while he’s in the game. And they’ve scored only two runs in the last two games he started.
Minor is keeping up his end of the deal, though, entering tonight’s game with 12 2/3 scoreless innings over his past two starts. He’s allowed only three hits, walked six and struck out 15 in that time.
Minor has faced the Nationals twice this season, allowing four earned runs in five innings each of those starts (a 7-5 win June 30 and an 8-4 loss May 26 – both at Turner Field.) But that last Nationals start coincides with when Minor really started making some changes and developing into the dominating pitcher he’s been the second half.
Minor was 4-6 with a 6.20 ERA in 15 starts as of June 30. Since then he is 4-4 with a 2.39 ERA in 12 starts. Among the things that have changed for Minor? He quit falling in long with his change-up, realizing hitters were sitting on it, and those were a lot of the home run balls he was giving up. He started using his bullpens more constructively to work on specific issues. He started pitching inside more, and he’s pitched with a lot more confidence.
I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons, but those are the ones that come to mind.
Minor’s assignment tonight is to outpitch Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who is the de facto ace of the Nats staff with Stephen Strasburg shut down for the rest of the season. Of course, being second fiddle to Strasburg can still mean you’re pretty good and Gonzalez, an NL Cy Young candidate, is trying to become the first 20-game winner in Washington since Dave Boswell won 22 for the Senators in 1953. He would also be the first 20-game winner in baseball this season.
Gonzalez is 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA, a .206 opponents’ batting average and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s been especially tough of late, giving up only one runs in his past 22 innings over three starts, including a complete game shutout over the Cardinals. He’s allowed two or fewer runs in five of his past six starts, and in the other one he gave up only three. He did walk five in his last start in New York, so if his command is off again, that could give the Braves an opening.
Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 4.86 ERA in three starts this season against the Braves, including one on Sunday Night Baseball May 27, when he out-pitched Brandon Beachy in a 7-2 Nationals win.
In other Sunday night games: Aug. 12, the Braves lost to the Mets 6-5 in New York; on Aug. 26, Tim Hudson out-pitched Tim Lincecum in San Francisco in a 7-1 win. Tonight the Braves are looking for their first sweep over the Nationals since Sept. 25-27 of 2009.
The Dodgers walked off against St. Louis last night to pull even in the race for the second wild card spot. The Braves are seven games ahead of both of them with 16 to play.
I doubt Brian McCann is back in the lineup tonight, given that he had a hard time even getting down in his crouch yesterday. McCann has tendinitis just behind his right knee, an injury he first “tweaked” on the road trip, where the hamstring muscle connects to several tendons. McCann was planning to come in and get treatment and re-evaluate on Sunday, but he didn’t start any of the previous three games against Gonzalez this season anyway. J.C. Boscan started one and David Ross the other too.
It’s a short attention span blog today but I was just thinking. The Braves announced that their pitchers for the upcoming Miami series would be Tim Hudson vs. Wade LeBlanc on Monday, Paul Maholm vs.
Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday and Kris Medlen vs. Josh Johnson on Wednesday. The Braves then have two scheduled off days in a span of four days.
So if the Braves stay on their regular rotation, by just pushing back a pitcher until the day after the off day, Hudson would line up to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia, on Saturday Sept. 29 against New York and then pitch in a possible one-game wild card playoff on Friday, Oct. 5 on five days’ rest.
Or if they so choose, the Braves could manipulate the rotation, with upcoming off days, and set it up so that Medlen could pitch in the one-game playoff. Either way, you could have the one of those two ready to go in the one-game playoff and the other in Game 1 of a possible Division Series. A lot can happen between now and then, but it’s good to know for the Braves they would have the flexibility to map it out.
This and that
Beachy was bopping around the Braves clubhouse yesterday, shooting left-handed jumpers with the mini-basketball players have taken to shooting at grocery carts used for laundry in the clubhouse. He’s begun working out again, getting stronger. He said his elbow feels great and his flexibility is right back where it was before his Tommy John surgery on June 21.
He’s counting down the days until he can throw a baseball for the first time again on Oct. 21. It’ll just be lobs from 30 feet but he’s pretty excited about it nonetheless. Put him and Medlen in the mix with Hudson, Minor, Maholm and Tommy Hanson, and the Braves have to be pretty happy with how their rotation could shape up….
Matt Diaz had his cast removed and said he can already tell his thumb is much better because even when he rubs vitamin E on the surgery site, it doesn’t hurt, when doing something similar before did.
He expects to be cleared to start swinging a bat sometime around Thanksgiving which is when he normally does anyway. So that’s good news for Diaz going forward. He said Braves hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie joked with him after his surgery (his second to remove splinters from a palm frond he got clearing his yard in Florida in 2006) that if there were any more splinters in there, he was the one who put them in there. In other words, he conducted a thorough search.
Not that Diaz is in any big hurry to do yard work anymore, but he said he couldn’t resist buying some heavy duty Teflon gloves he saw the other day. Can’t be too careful.
1. Bourn CF
2. Johnson LF
3. Heyward RF
4. Jones 3B
5. Freeman 1B
6. Uggla 2B
7. Ross C
8. Simmons SS
9. Minor P