Putting aside the malpractice perpetrated by the firm of O’Flaherty, Moylan, Boyer and Campillo, the Braves got almost everything they wanted from the first series of 2009. They won two of three against the world champs. Lots of guys got significant hits. Best of all, their starting pitchers took their turns with flair.
Eight great innings from Derek Lowe. Five-plus fine innings from Jair Jurrjens. Six passable innings from Javier Vazquez. And now Lowe gets to go again Friday night against the Nationals, and then comes the first test of the Braves’ great experiment. Kenshin Kawakami works Saturday night, and he’s the key to the rotation, which is the key to any team.
We know what to expect from Lowe and Vazquez, who’ve made careers of eating innings. We see that Jurrjens, who was really good a year ago, looks even better now. But Kawakami has never worked a real inning on U.S. soil, and we can’t yet know what he can (or can’t) do.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
He’s a precision pitcher. He has a 90-mph fastball and a nice curve. He was good in the earlier exhibitions, bad in his final preseason start at Turner Field last weekend. He walked nearly as many men (seven) as he retired (eight). Afterward he described his performance to the Japanese media — again, the helpful Daichi Takasue translated both questions and answers — as “pathetic.”
Most every club has two capable starting pitchers. The solid teams have three. The best have four. We saw that every night for more than a decade, when the Braves were throwing the likes of Leibrandt and Avery and Neagle and Millwood and overmatching the opponent’s No. 4. Kawakami can be the difference between this being an above-average rotation and a terrific one.
Yes, the Braves do have some cover in case Kawakami fizzles. They can summon Tommy Hanson from Gwinnett, or they can bump Tom Glavine up a spot — providing his arm is OK, which it isn’t quite yet — and press Jorge Campillo back into starting service. But the Braves have sunk $22 million into Kawakami, and they’d led to see a return on their outlay.
“There is some pressure,” Kawakami said, again via Takasue. “I’m going to have to go out there and pitch well.” Then this: “I’m not trying to enjoy baseball. I’m trying to pitch well.”
He’s 33. He has pitched big games before. Never has he pitched against the kind of hitters he’s about to confront. (OK, so maybe the Nats aren’t the best example.) The Braves liked what they saw in spring training — Bobby Cox: “He’s got the pitches, and he’s got real good control” — but we’re about to see if Kawakami is capable of winning at the highest level.
If he is, his new team will be just fine. If not … well, Albie Lopez is considered the recent standard for Braves’ pitching duds, and he only cost $4 million.