Archive for February, 2010

Hanson goes from Braves’ hot story to possibly just the ace

If Tommy Hanson can follow up on his 2009 rookie season, the Braves' rotation will be golden.

If pitcher Tommy Hanson can follow up on his 2009 rookie season, the Braves' starting rotation will be golden. (AP photo)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The night before he was scheduled to pitch against the Boston Red Sox last season, Tommy Hanson had a 104-degree fever and was feeling the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. In the words of Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, “He looked like a stewed tomato.”

Hanson showed up at the stadium the next morning. He was still ill. He was dehydrated and somewhat wobbly. Then he threw six shutout innings and led the Braves past the Red Sox, 2-1.

“The great ones,” McDowell said, “are the ones who don’t miss starts. That’s the key to being a top-of-the-rotation guy. A lot of guys have talent. The great ones have a presence – a very self-assured presence. That combination is fairly rare.”

Funny thing about Tommy Hanson. Last spring, he was the flavor of the month. This spring, he often is spotted sitting alone in front of his locker, while …

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Derek Lowe goes from trade bait to opening day starter?

The first surprise of 2010: Derek Lowe will get the ball opening day April 5 against Chicago.

The first surprise of 2010: Derek Lowe will get the ball opening day April 5 against Chicago.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Derek Lowe is perceived by most as the fourth-best pitcher in the Braves’ starting rotation. He also is the only starter the team tried to trade this winter.

And what does he get for these two distinctions? A start on opening day. If Bobby Cox wanted to go out with a bang, this is a good way to start.

“He was our winningest pitcher [last year],” Cox explained. But if that told the whole story than the Braves’ never would have tried to trade Lowe and the remaining three years and $45 million on his contract. They couldn’t. So instead they were forced to deal their best pitcher a year ago, Javier Vazquez, for Melky Cabrera and a prospect. But you probably heard about that.)

Here’s David O’Brien’s recap of Cox’s surprising announcement Sunday. The decision had some reason to it. But it’s also typical Cox: Show loyalty to the veteran and try to give him an early …

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Your next great Falcons general manager: Brian McCann

In this corner, the undisputed A.B.F.L. champion: Brian McCann.

In this corner, the undisputed A.B.F.L. champion: Brian McCann.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In the past few days here at Braves camp in Florida — or possibly North Dakota, sometimes I can’t tell with the weather — I’ve tried to mix some off-beat blogs in with the normal stuff. And so, we brought you closeups of the parking lot where rookie Jason Heyward has been crushing the cars of team executives and the new massive $5,000 tattoo on Eric Hinske’s back.

Today, we bring you the football brilliance of Brian McCann. Yes, that is McCann behind the sunglasses and wearing a converted wrestling heavyweight championship belt. (True story: I had to help him get the belt on. It  made me feel like a member of his entourage. Suddenly, I had the urge to yell, “You’re the champ!”)

It’s a Sunday. So this is kinda timely. McCann won his football fantasy league. It’s comprised of 12 Braves players. He stomped Tim Hudson for the championship. He bragged about a key late-season trade that brought …

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Bobby Cox’s reality: It’s not the end, it’s time to play a season

It's Bobby Cox's final spring training. But does this look like a man thinking about retirement? (Phil Skinner/AJC)

It's Bobby Cox's final spring training. But does this look like a man who is thinking about retirement? (Phil Skinner/pskinner@ajc.com)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Baseball never will really leave his head. The uniform never will really come off.

It will be opening day in 2011. Bobby Cox will report to his den at 11:30 a.m. for a 7:10 p.m. game. He’ll sit in a Barcalounger, put his feet up, read his mail. The adrenaline will pick up a little. He’ll grab a pen and notepads and start toying with lineup cards. He’ll get antsy and walk around the house. He’ll walk to another room and smoke a cigar. He’ll turn on a television, The Weather Channel, and look for approaching storms. He’ll leave the weather map on, wheel another TV into the room, maybe watch some NASCAR highlights, unless there’s a day game on. It’ll be the Red Sox. Curse the Red Sox! (Always a Yankee.)

Now it’s late afternoon. Time for a pre-game meal. He goes to the kitchen. Looks for something quick. Soup. He’ll …

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Braves’ Answerman: You asked, they answered (Just added: Why Chipper picks against Georgia)

rain 002

Rain at Camp Disney this morning. Not sure if the Braves will make it on the field.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Braves are taking their physicals this morning, which allowed David O’Brien and I to sleep late. I would like to tell you that the sleep means DOB will be less grouchy than usual today. But I’m not holding my breath. But at least he makes the coffee every morning.

(IMPORTANT UPDATE: I’m sure I just heard O’Brien singing from down the hall, “I am your baby doll.” But he insists it’s a Bootsy Collins song and he actually sang, “I’m a rock star doll baby baba.” Either way, he’s not grouchy. But I think I like grouchy better.)

Anyway, I figured this would be a good time to post answers to some of the questions to Braves that you emailed, Tweeted or posted. Not all are included, either because of redundancy, silliness or it fell into the category of: You just don’t ask somebody that.

But feel free to post more questions if you like — to general manager Frank Wren, …

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Are we expecting too much too soon from Jason Heyward?

Braves superstar-in-the-making Jason Heyward seems unaffected by the circus surrounding him. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

Braves superstar-in-the-making Jason Heyward seems unaffected by the circus surrounding him. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.  – The expectations in the past few weeks have grown like some mutant life form. First we wondered if he could make the team in spring training. Then we wondered how many cars he would destroy in batting practice. Now there’s a thought he has first ballot Hall of Famer stamped on his forehead. And if not, what’s wrong with those crazy voters?

It wasn’t like this even for Tommy Hanson. Or Jordan Schafer. Or Jeff Francoeur, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andy Marte or Chipper Jones. No Braves prospect in memory has created the stir that Jason Heyward has.

Even Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said he has never seen a player with the combination of Heyward’s talent, attitude and maturity. Never.

All of this begs the question: Is there a danger in expecting too much too soon? We’re one candlelight vigil short of the kid being declared a deity.

“To be …

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Welcome to Jason Heyward’s landing zone (wear a helmet)

Parking spaces on the left are within range of Jason Heyward's bombs over wall on the right.

The parking spaces on left are well within range of Jason Heyward's bombs over the wall on right.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Bruce Manno drove into the parking lot from hell Friday with a loaner car. His Toyota 4-runner was still in the shop with a crushed sunroof and a bent rack, which is what he gets for parking in Jason Heyward’s landing zone, about 425 feet from home plate behind the right-center field wall at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

“Yeah, he hit it good,” said the Braves’ assistant general manager, still thinking like a scout.

So why still park here?

“I guess it’s one of those things like, ‘It can’t happen again, can it?’” he said. “Besides, this is a loaner car. I’m thinking of parking on the other side now when I get my car back. We’ll see if we get the net up in time.”

I’m going to post a column later today on Heyward. Before doing so, here’s a little warmup. You’ve no doubt heard of Heyward’s  batting practice exploits. Several cars have been dented in the …

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Braves’ Escobar: ‘I feel like I’m home’

Yunel Escobar says he was stung by criticism last year but feels comfortable now. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar said he was stung by criticism last year but he feels more comfortable now. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Regardless of the sport, coaches would rather subtract from athletes than add. The old line of, “You can’t teach speed,” also applies to passion and attitude. Better to have to tell a player, “Calm down,” than feel the need to swing your right foot into his backside.

“I want the kid where I have to take something  out of him,” coach Terry Pendleton said. “I don’t want the ones who drag around. I don’t want to have to spend time trying to figure out how to make them go.”

Which brings us to Yunel Escobar. Go has never been the problem.

He is arguably the Braves’ best all-around player. Offense. Defense. Talent. Desire. Passion. Yes, there is a “but” coming here. But it’s one the Braves can work with, given the payoff. To grow up in Cuba, speaking a different language and playing baseball in an atmosphere where structure and …

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Hinske brings his ‘living canvas’ tattoos to Braves

Here is Eric Hinske's Japanese warrior, breathing snake thingy.

Here is Eric Hinske's Japanese warrior, breathing snake thingy.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Nobody has added more color to the Braves’ clubhouse than utility man Eric Hinske. How about a $5,000 tattoo that took two entire offseasons to complete?

The tattoo on Hinske’s back, pictured left, was just completed this winter.

“It’s just traditional Japanese styling tattoo,” he said. “I got a tattoo of a cross on my left arm when my grandfather died and I liked it so then I got one of a dragon on my other arm. I just liked the way it looked. Then I got addicted to it and I couldn’t stop. I had my arms and chest plates done so I just wanted to tie it all together so it looked like 0ne big piece. So I just got this big Japanese warrior and this snake wrapped around with the snake’s mouth open, with wind and clouds and stuff. It’s pretty cool.”

Hinske, who was signed as a free agent from the New York Yankees, said there is no special significance to the design. The outline and shading for …

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Spring training is happy time, and Lowe is no exception

Derek Lowe looks relaxed and happy, and it's not an act. (Phil Skinner/AJC.)

Derek Lowe is happy and moving forward. (Phil Skinner/AJC.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — I love spring training. It’s better than the training camps in other sports because the regular season is so long, and when things go bad a team still has to suffer through prolonged misery and play out 162-game season until it gets a chance to be optimistic again — in February.

Spring training is like big cleansing breath for teams — and some players.

I didn’t plan for my first stop this morning to be Derek Lowe’s locker, it just sort of turned out that way. Lowe didn’t quite “suffer” last season. He did win 15 games. In fact, when it was brought to his attention that only 22 starters won 15 games last season, he exclaimed: “That makes me feel better. I’m a bad ass!”

But the last two months of the season (3-3, 6.65 ERA, .413 opponents on-base percentage in his last nine starts), combined with the second-worst opponents batting average among starers in the majors (.301), combined with the …

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