Philadelphia — For Game 1 of the biggest regular-season series the Braves have known since 2001, they’re handing the ball to Brandon Beachy, who had never before pitched a big-league inning. And this, in the grand scheme of all things Braves, made perfect sense.
The season began with a rookie hitting a three-run homer on his first big-league swing. The season turned when a guy who had nothing left became the National League’s player of the month for May. A season that has seen Chipper Jones lost for the duration and Brooks Conrad conjure up grand slams to order entered its final fortnight at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, and the starting pitcher was to be a young man the old skipper hadn’t seen pitch.
“Never have,” Bobby Cox said, speaking before the game. Then, brightly: “But our guys like him.”
Said Freddie Freeman, the young first baseman who watched Beachy work this summer at Gwinnett: “He’s not afraid to pitch. He’ll go on in and out on guys. He’s not going to be afraid of whoever’s standing in the box.”
Said Frank Wren, the general manager, speaking of the undrafted free agent: “Over the course of time, we got reports that were good but not great. Then he started turning the corner, and the reports became much more glowing.”
Beachy was summoned from the instructional league because Jair Jurrjens returned to Atlanta for an MRI on a tender knee. This would have been cause for greater hand-wringing had not Jurrjens stunk out the joint in his previous two starts. And the Braves, who infamously have undue difficulty against pitchers they’ve never seen, are hoping the same applies to the Phils.
About the decision to use Beachy, as opposed to Kenshin Kawakami: The Braves have seen more than enough of Kawakami, thanks very much. The chance exists that Beachy might dazzle the division leaders with footwork; there was no chance Kawakami would last three innings against this lineup. (And Kawakami is under contract for $6 million next season. Hurrah!)
Cox: “Kawakami hasn’t pitched in a long time. This kid is better prepared.”
(For the record, Beachy’s last Class AAA start was Sept. 3.)
As for the possibility of juggling the rest of his rotation, Cox said: “We could have bumped [Mike] Minor up, but he’s got to pitch tomorrow.”
As it stands, this is one of those games the Braves enter not fully expecting to win — they’d never admit as much, but you can’t be overly optimistic about the matchup of a rookie against 2008 World Series most valuable player Cole Hamels — but hoping nonetheless for the best. Because weird things happen in this sport. Because this Braves season has been nothing if not weird already.
And what if Beachy does go five good innings — “I’m hoping for seven,” said Cox, tongue only partially in his cheek — and the Braves eke out a couple of runs and open this massive series with a victory from nowhere? What if this forced deployment of Brandon Beachy turns out, as we say in Georgia, just peachy?
Let the record show that Beachy’s former Gwinnett mate is a believer. “I think he’s going to do just fine,” said Freeman, who turned 21 last week.
Said Wren, smiling: “I’d go with Freddie. He’s been around the game a long time.”
And with that, we’ll open the figurative floor for questions, comments and the usual razzing from our Philadelphia friends. I’ll be here to watch and report and chronicle, as Chip Caray had it, “the dawning of the Brandon Beachy era.” Join me, won’t you?