Fredi Gonzalez calls his Braves ‘hyenas’ – in the nicest way

Will 2012 yield yet another lumber slumber for the Braves? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Will 2012 yield yet another lumber slumber for the Braves? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Fredi Gonzalez likes his Braves. He likes them so much he unfurled this evocative image: “We’re not a glamorous team. No, we didn’t go out and make a move for a big-time player, but maybe we’re more like hyenas.”

Hang on. The manager was just warming to his metaphor. “We’re not a pretty team to look at. There’s not [an Albert] Pujols in the group. But hyenas hunt in packs.”

Then, nodding to a visitor, Gonzalez said: “You writing this for tomorrow? I might need to run that one by the team first.”

The Braves, who made a hash of last September, broke training camp Monday and showed up at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville for a final exhibition Tuesday. They looked, as Gonzalez noted, essentially the same as they did in 2012. Some among you might regard continuity in the face of epic failure as the height of folly. Their general manager sees it rather differently.

“We went into the spring with a number of questions,” Frank Wren said, and here you — some of you, anyway — might be thinking: If there were so many questions, why didn’t the GM do more over the winter to address them?

Wren: “We felt this [standing mostly pat] was a wiser use of our resources and payroll. And a lot of those questions have been answered positively. The players have really responded.”

Asked to offer specifics, Wren cited several. “Our offense in general was more consistent, and we saw an infusion of power. … We’ve seen Jason Heyward have a great spring. We’ve seen Dan Uggla crush the ball all spring. We’ve seen Jair Jurrjens pitch outstanding in his last two starts. We’ve seen Tommy Hanson throw very well. And [Monday] we got the benefit of watching Tim Hudson pitch two very good innings.”

The Braves finished the Grapefruit League 10-18-5, good for 13th place among the 15 teams training in Florida. Those who fault Wren for making no major trade save the offloading of Derek Lowe seized on the losing spring — which featured a cringe-inducing 1-10-1 start — as evidence radical changes were warranted.

Wren: “We certainly felt better about the second half of the spring than we did the first. But so many things go into your spring-training record. At first, your regulars are in for three or four innings, and the other five or six innings tend to sway the decision. Later on, you keep your starters in longer. We think the second half was more reflective [of the real Braves] than the first half.”

The Braves began the spring by amassing one hit in the opener. Through 12 games,  Brian McCann was hitting .200, Jason Heyward .143 and Freddie Freeman .136. Tyler Pastornicky, the shortstop designate, was at .100. Matters improved thereafter. (Then again, they had but one direction to go.) McCann finished at .275, Heyward at .227 with four homers and 12 RBIs, Freeman at .295 and Pastornicky at a lusty-by-way-of-comparison .221.

The Braves finished the spring hitting .243 as a team, which was what they hit — or, more precisely, didn’t hit — over 162 games in 2011. The difference: Last year’s hitting started and stayed bad, while the bats this spring trended upward. Not incidentally, there’s not just one new batting coach but two.

Speaking of Greg Walker and his assistant Scott Fletcher, Gonzalez said: “The first seven or eight or 10 games, they were kind of watching. When you’re new, you hate to jump in. Coaching is building relationships, building trust.”

It would be impossible for Walker/Fletcher to build less trust than did the unlamented Larry Parrish, who was signed for two seasons but cashiered after one. The Braves saw so many good hitters have a tepid 2011  — Uggla, Heyward, Martin Prado, even the great McCann — that any upgrade in instruction has to have some effect. (Well, doesn’t it?)

If the Braves hit just a bit better, they’ll be a playoff team. Stem to stern, their pitching is as a good as anybody’s. Gonzalez is right when he says this isn’t the baseball version of the Miami Heat, but baseball isn’t a superstar-driven sport. (How many World Series did Barry Bonds win?) And if an organization that has spent the winter being tweaked for inactivity winds up taking its division, Wren and Gonzalez and Co. might just laugh like …

Hyenas.

By Mark Bradley

102 comments Add your comment

Birdhair

April 3rd, 2012
6:44 pm

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
6:47 pm

Consider it tipped.

BravesFan86

April 3rd, 2012
6:49 pm

I’m excited about opening day. But these last 2 moves: adding Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin are casting doubt and are quite worrisome in my mind. This shows we do not have much faith in the health of our starting rotation. Durbin has a career 5.10 ERA….i dont see where he fits? and Livan- hes just got nothing left. Bradley- what are your thoughts?

Moe Leary

April 3rd, 2012
6:52 pm

Enter your comments here

DMBJAMS

April 3rd, 2012
6:54 pm

Thanks Mark. This great read has me pumped for baseball!

Go Braves!

DMBJAMS

April 3rd, 2012
6:57 pm

I wish I had CSS…

BBQ MAN

April 3rd, 2012
6:58 pm

2nd I reckon… nice column and spot on! exactly right about it not being a superstar driven sport. That’s exactly why we didn’t need to make any big trades. We were good last year, swapite choking at the end. with some better hitting from heyward and uggla along with addition by subreaction of Lowe, we will contend!

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
7:03 pm

I like the Livan Hernandez move a great deal. He doesn’t need to take a regular turn. He just needs to throw a few innings now and then.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
7:04 pm

About Durbin: He’s just a guy in the bullpen. Don’t get too excited.

phil

April 3rd, 2012
7:05 pm

Moe Leary

April 3rd, 2012
7:15 pm

This club is what a true baseball fan wants; HOF veterans. young guys making a name, rookies with raw gifts. Baseball is alive and exciting in Atlanta. We’re lucky.

Bub

April 3rd, 2012
7:16 pm

They’re a bunch of chokers. Two septembers in a row they choke. They have no leader and after an epic collapse, they make no changes, unlike say the Bosox. I see an 80 win season and larry going out with a thud.

George Stein

April 3rd, 2012
7:20 pm

I’m calling Fredi Gonzalez an idiot – in a nice way.

LowCountry XPlant

April 3rd, 2012
7:22 pm

Tee it up. I’m ready to go!

dawg4u

April 3rd, 2012
7:23 pm

It’s amazing that Frank Wren says that he thought the best use of the resources and payroll was to do absolutely nothing (other than getting rid of Lowe). That coupled with Fredi’s comments and this Liberty Media ownership doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this one fan. I wish them well and have hope but definitely not high expectations.

Healthy Heyward = Win

April 3rd, 2012
7:27 pm

What, the Heyward bashers haven’t found this article yet? He’s healthy finally, and I fully expect him to explode into the star he is this season. Very excited and can’t wait for him to do well so all the doubters can stop the “Heyward sucks”, “Send him to the minors”, and “Just Trade Heyward” stuff because its annoying. I’ve been a Braves fan for years, you know who my hometown team was growing up? The Pirates. Pittsburgh wishes they had a guy like Heyward on their team! Accept what you got and be happy for having him because he’s a beast.

Sonny Clusters

April 3rd, 2012
7:30 pm

There is a fat man playing third base! Can he go to his left? Can he go to his right? Can he field high hoppers and slow rollers? How about choppers? We was thinking Heyward just gave Uggla an unnecessary fanny pat and we was thinking maybe there was too much hugging and fanny patting last year and we hope they will slow it down some this season.

Sonny Clusters

April 3rd, 2012
7:35 pm

If we was to tell you that everybody that reads Jeff on a regular basis could buy the paper for 33% off all year long . . . would it seem to you that the paper cost 33% too much already? We was wondering about that because the Braves are cutting hot dog prices by 33% for season ticket holders and the concessions at the Ted always seemed too expensive to us. Maybe 33% too expensive?

extremus

April 3rd, 2012
7:37 pm

Oh, so THAT explains the hugs in the dugout the past year or so (for a long time hyenas were considered to be hermaphroditic. I won’t explain that here but you can look it up).

And hyenas, while typically grouped in packs, are more scavengers that prey on carrion or weak/dying animals than they are predators of strong, healthy beasts. Not exactly a compliment from my angle, Freddi, especially when allegorizing the personality of your baseball team.

Sonny Clusters

April 3rd, 2012
7:37 pm

Oh, the humanity! Brian Jordan just said Uggla has some Pop-Pie Arms! Pop-pie? We just love listening to Brian Jordan because we learn things from him and he is already tipping his cap in the broadcast booth tonight.

Sonny Clusters

April 3rd, 2012
7:43 pm

“Lumber Slumber”? Not with Pop-pie in the lineup! We was wondering if Mark is really here writing about baseball or is he in Augusta with Jeff and Furman Bisher’s hat? By the way, the Dave Kindred piece on Mr Bisher was just outstanding. Not everybody knows how much FB did to bring major league baseball to Atlanta.

Sonny Clusters

April 3rd, 2012
7:44 pm

We’re posting in clusters. Going to leave now and let everybody catch up.

Kevin Chop

April 3rd, 2012
7:49 pm

Only a few more weeks until an article comes out saying that the braves should of made more moves…lol…its coming soon…stay tuned. What the hell has happened to this organization. There use to be atleast a little pride. The 90s are long gone.

Max Sizemore

April 3rd, 2012
8:08 pm

Mark, “just a guy in the bullpen” is the one who comes in when you’re a run down in the 7th inning. Having a very bad back-end bullpen (Linebrink, Sherrill, Martinez) is what caused Fredi to overuse the big 3 last season. I think you made that comment without thinking it through, because you are smarter and better than that. Still focused on hoops, probably.

Dawglasville

April 3rd, 2012
8:32 pm

Congrats on your Cats Mark. As an Atlantan native and UGA grad I am jealous.

VinceVanGo

April 3rd, 2012
8:33 pm

I know everybody is down on the Braves for flopping at the end last year, but I’m over that and hoping for a different Braves scenario this year. I hope they stay steady throughout the year and get better as the season goes on, then get hot in the last few weeks and win the division or take the wild card. As we’ve seen many times the team that gets hot near the end of the season can go all the way. I think this could be the year for the Braves to do that, and wouldn’t it be a great send off for Chipper.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
8:37 pm

I had nothing to do with UK winning, Dawglasville. But that was a darn good team.

Mister Frisky

April 3rd, 2012
8:37 pm

Hyenas are way sexier than this group.These Braves are about as enjoyable to look at as a carcas hyenas just ravaged.Last place.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
8:38 pm

Three extra-base hits in succession have put the major-league Braves ahead of the minor-league Braves.

kevkat

April 3rd, 2012
8:43 pm

Mark, I agree with your comment on Livan and Durbin. I think Livan has engough guile to really help, sort of a right handed Jamie Moyer…only about 50 years younger.

Mister Frisky

April 3rd, 2012
8:44 pm

Hey Wren,You still have till Thursday afternoon to sign another fat guy.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
8:45 pm

Think of it this way: The Braves won’t have to face Livan in a big game. He’s about 170-1 against them.

kevkat

April 3rd, 2012
8:48 pm

Mark, is that 170-1 with or without Eric Gregg calling the game?

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
8:53 pm

Everybody gives Eric Gregg a hard time for that 15-K game of Livan’s. But a check of the record shows that Greg Maddux struck out nine in seven innings that day.

As we know, Maddux and Glavine never got the benefit of the doubt when it came to the strike zone.

kevkat

April 3rd, 2012
8:58 pm

So what are you saying Mark..Eric had somewhere to be later that evening?. Lol. Don’t recall many playoff games where they got the benefit of the doubt..but I’m sure I’m wrong.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
9:05 pm

There’s no doubt Gregg’s zone was double-wide that day. But it was consistently double-wide.

G

April 3rd, 2012
9:07 pm

What about this pitching staff says as good as any?

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
9:07 pm

John Schuerholz leads the Coolray crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

I am not making this up.

Mark Bradley

April 3rd, 2012
9:08 pm

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe having a really good starting rotation and a really deep bullpen.

Frank

April 3rd, 2012
9:13 pm

The Miami Marlins are gonna win the NL East the Braves will be 3rd in the division behind the Phillies.

G

April 3rd, 2012
9:15 pm

Really good starting rotation based on what? Two of the guys couldn’t finish last season and have been inconsistent at best. Another one is coming off surgery. I’ll give you Beachy.

Calipari

April 3rd, 2012
9:28 pm

I am already making my plans to ditch Lexington. I figure that the NCAA will catch up to my crooked activities in about 1 year.

Farnsworthy

April 3rd, 2012
9:39 pm

Same bunch we had last Sept. They did not impress in ST. So in two days the losing continues.

bulldogbubba

April 3rd, 2012
9:40 pm

Mark I want to know.Did you and Clusters go on vacation together? Haven’t had a good read in about a week.Welcome back!!

kevkat

April 3rd, 2012
9:42 pm

Hey Mark. In your opinion or do you know what made the difference in Fredi choosing Hanson over J.J. to start the season?

O-my

April 3rd, 2012
9:49 pm

Remove Diaz and Durbin from roster and I’m ok with the other Braves on team..can’t win them all..Go Braves!

NRBQ

April 3rd, 2012
10:01 pm

Nine K’s in seven innings was certainly not remarkable for Doggie. Most don’t give him credit for his strikeout numbers. That year, he averaged less than ONE walk per nine innings, and almost 7 K’s.

MyPatootie

April 3rd, 2012
10:39 pm

In a “nice way” I will refer to FG as totally inept. If he has a team of “hyenas”, he is a teddy bear. BTW, the Braves opening home game of the year is on, of all things, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH! That should be a lousy start to a miserable season.

Reality

April 3rd, 2012
10:49 pm

The Braves were the only thing keeping Livan in the majors. What will hie ERA look like without being able to baffle the Braves

YoungerThan ThatNow

April 3rd, 2012
11:04 pm

MB… I’m happy to take this pitching staff over most any. I mean, this is a young man’s game and other than Livan, we’ve got mostly young guys… good young guys too. I’m glad to see Livan in a Braves uni as well… last year in Washington he irritated the you know what out of Braves hitters, and they knew it better than any of us did! And I just can’t see the offense doing anything but improving… and I think it will improve a good measure. I played HS baseball and football against Greg Walker, and enjoyed following his playing and coaching career in Chicago… and I think he’s a good hitting coach, but I know on a personal level that he’s a good guy, and you can never have too many good guys on a baseball club! But whatever has been, has been… and what will be, will be… and everybody’s even right now!

GO BRAVES!!