Mike Minor was mightily major, and still the Braves lost

One picture of Johnny Venters, worth several thousand words. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

One picture of Johnny Venters, worth several thousand words. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Before Tuesday’s game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez noted that Kris Medlen, sent to Class AAA to “stretch out” his arm in case he’s needed in the rotation, was scheduled to throw 95 pitches in his next Gwinnett start. Meaning: Any more wobbles from Mike Minor could mean his last name becomes his next destination.

If that weren’t enough, Minor’s mound opponent this night was the heavyweight (word used advisedly) CC Sabathia. The massive Yankee — “He’s a moose,” Gonzalez said of Sabathia — had won seven games to Minor’s three, had compiled an ERA of 3.69 to Minor’s 6.57. Were this, er, a heavyweight bout, they’d have stopped it before it started. But this was baseball, and in baseball there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

To wit: The underwhelming Minor worked his best start since the second Saturday of the season, and he did exactly what Gonzalez had, speaking before the game, said he wanted: “I want him to go deep in the ballgame, past the fifth. I don’t think very many clubs are built to have four innings of relief.”

Over his past six starts Minor had worked six innings only once, that on a night in Cincinnati when he left with his team down 4-1. He had won only once since April 19, that on a night in Miami when he needed 103 pitches through five. He had become the weakest link in an underperforming rotation, and there have been times when it seemed his status with the big-league club was, to invoke the sporting prognosis, day to day.

But on a night when Yankee fans — and maybe one or two of those who back the Braves — arrived expecting a walkover, Minor gave his team and his career a lift. He threw 7 1/3 innings against the Bronx Bombers, limiting them to five hits and one earned run. This was the Minor who, on April 14, had held the brawny Milwaukee Brewers to two hits in 7 2/3 innings, only this was better because it was against the Bronx Bombers and their burly ace.

The night began with Derek Jeter, who in a pregame briefing had lavished praise on the retiring Chipper Jones, singling up the middle. (Right here you thought, “Uh, oh.”) After retiring Curtis Granderson, Minor walked Mark Teixeira. (And here you thought, “Told you so.”) But Minor induced a foul pop from the famous Alex Rodriguez and a groundout from the stellar Robinson Cano, and the half-inning was done.

When next Minor threw a pitch, he had a three-run lead. Michael Bourn singled leading off the home half. Brian McCann, who had made 850 feet of screaming outs in Monday’s game, hoisted a ground-rule double. Dan Uggla walked to load the bases. Matt Diaz doubled to right, thereby unloading them.

We pause to note: At 3:40 p.m., the aforementioned Chipper was heard to exclaim in the Braves’ clubhouse, “My professional career is over! I’m hitting behind Matty Diaz.” Chipper was kidding, but still: It was noteworthy to see the future Hall of Famer batting sixth to Diaz’s fifth, and it was likewise intriguing that Gonzalez had benched Jason Heyward to make room for Diaz. “I told Jason, ‘This is not a platoon thing,’ ” Gonzalez said.

Nope. Just good managing. The right-handed Diaz got the key hit off the fearsome lefty Sabathia, and Minor took it from there. He didn’t look like a big-league team’s fifth starter; he looked, not for the first time but for the first time in a while, like a big-league pitcher.

In his most recent start Minor had needed 103 pitches to record 15 outs. This time his 100th pitch saw him working to Jeter with one out in the eighth and the Braves leading 4-nil. That pitch was Minor’s last — Jeter, who has hit everybody for the past 16 years — singled to right, and Gonzalez made a change. The manager had gotten what he’d wanted and more, and Mike Minor left to a rousing ovation.

He did not, however, go home as the winning pitcher. Jonny Venters faced four Yankees and retired none of the above. With the bases loaded, A-Rod drilled a 3-2 Venters serve over the left-field fence for the most deflating home run hit in this city by a Bomber since that rat Jim Leyritz.

Mike Minor had spent 2 1/2 hours giving his team a major lift, and with one swing the lead was gone. Then Cory Gearrin was greeted by a Nick Swisher two-run shot, and the Yankees were ahead. The weakest link had held up, but the acclaimed bullpen let him down.

And for those of you who are wondering: No, the Braves were not crushed by this stunning defeat. Dazed, but not crushed. “You’ve just got to flush it,” Chipper Jones said. “We play 162 of these. You can’t dwell on one or two of them. You’ve got to be professional.”

Gonzalez said his plan was to pull Minor after the first baserunner in the eighth, which is what happened, and it’s hard to fault that move. Minor had gotten the Braves far enough that Venters, whose province is the eighth inning, could be summoned. Trouble is, this was the bad Venters we’ve seen on occasion. He tried to throw A-Rod a sinker. It didn’t sink until it dipped into the seats in left.

Said Venters: “I threw a pitch right down the middle to one of the best players in the game … I made a bad pitch and he crushed it.”

The grand slam was A-Rod’s 23rd, tying him with the immortal Yankee Lou Gehrig, so it’s not as if the Braves didn’t have a part in history being made. But most of the postgame talk concerned Minor, of whom Jones said: “This was by far his best start in the major leagues. He was dominant.”

Minor: “I have had a lot of bad starts this year, but [management has] also seen me pitch well. They know what I can do.”

Gonzalez: “Minor was outstanding. We pushed him as hard as we could. He did a terrific job.”

(As to why the just-up-from Gwinnett Gearrin was deployed in a tie game with one out in the eighth, Gonzalez said Eric O’Flaherty wasn’t available Tuesday. Seems he awoke the other day with a twinge in his elbow.)

Asked if he would give his players a pick-me-up talk after this egregious reversal, Gonzalez said: “Maybe tomorrow when we stretch.” And that, too, sounded about right. No sense smashing furniture after a game like this.

Said Chipper, who could actually smile after this one (as opposed to the Leyritz game, when nobody smiled for a month): “We did our job for eight-ninths of the game.”

Yes, losing hurt. But there was good to be taken from this loss, and that, pardon the pun, is no minor thing.

By Mark Bradley

241 comments Add your comment

George Stein

June 12th, 2012
11:15 pm

When does Fredi start getting hammered for not using his bullpen in a manner that makes sense?

tommykk

June 12th, 2012
11:16 pm

Ok Bradley, you talked me back from the ledge.

Darryl Blackberry

June 12th, 2012
11:17 pm

Ugh. This one stung. Minor was the only positive to be taken away from this, and for all we know he might be replaced by Medlen in the rotation come next week…

BravesfaninAugusta

June 12th, 2012
11:18 pm

BravesfaninAugusta

June 12th, 2012
11:19 pm

Venters is no longer reliable….but who is these days besides Durban and Kimbrel?

Remley

June 12th, 2012
11:21 pm

A-Fraud may have tied Gehrig numerically but Lou did it without steriods or a DH. He ’s still the grand slam leader to me and others,

BC

June 12th, 2012
11:22 pm

This is what they call “putting lipstick on a pig”

Herschel Talker

June 12th, 2012
11:22 pm

MB:

This is nonsense, and you know it. Fredi butchered the late game management as usual, and you’re too much of a wuss to call him out on it, instead choosing to spew your pollyanna nonsense. Schultzie would call him out.

HT

Mark Bradley

June 12th, 2012
11:22 pm

I know already that some of you will ask: Why not Kimbrel in the eighth? And it’s a legitimate question. But I would remind you that one or two of you believed Fredi overworked Kimbrel last year, and I’m not sure you want him having to work five-out saves on June 12.

My first reaction was that Venters should have been pulled after A-Rod’s home run, but when I heard O’Flaherty was unavailable I reconsidered. You don’t bring Kimbrel into a tie game, and I’m not sure you want Livan Hernandez or Chad Durbin, either. Maybe Cristhian Martinez, though I’d submit he’s the long man for a reason. It was almost Gearrin by default.

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 12th, 2012
11:23 pm

Streaky teams are weak teams. Show me a streaky team, and I’ll show you a weak manager.

The second consecutive collapse is a-comin!

Mark Bradley

June 12th, 2012
11:25 pm

As for Venters being unreliable: He had yielded one hit, two bases on balls and no earned runs in five appearances this month.

tommykk

June 12th, 2012
11:26 pm

Somebody just needs to tell Braves pitchers that walking a guy with bases loaded is not the end of the world. It’s much better to walk in a run than serve up a fat pitch that ends up in the seats

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 12th, 2012
11:26 pm

“You don’t bring Kimbrel into a tie game…”

SMH

tommykk

June 12th, 2012
11:27 pm

It really sucks for Venters.. he looked like he was turning the corner in his last outing

George Stein

June 12th, 2012
11:29 pm

No one said Kimbrel would have to go five outs. When Venters loaded the bases, Fredi had an opportunity to go to his best relief pitcher and put out a fire, but he chose to stay inside the box. It’s poor process and, in this case, another poor result.

BravesFanInDallas

June 12th, 2012
11:30 pm

Said it since the implosion last year, Freddi Gonzalez should have been fired then. Frankly, he doesn’t manage during the game. Watch what Joe G. was doing with the Yankees, he has a pitcher in trouble at least SOMEONE is up in the bullpen. Not with Freddo, I believe he sits on the bench hoping upon all hopes that someone is going to hit into a triple play on the next pitch. I used to think that Bobby was complacent with his starting pitching – letting them go too long into games. That was with the likes of Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux. Freddie is doing the same with the bullpen..just waiting….waiting…waiting….until we have completely blown the lead, then – only then does he get up to take the ball out of the guys hand who obviously is not getting the job done.

Mark Bradley

June 12th, 2012
11:30 pm

Also: I would have pulled Minor after the Jeter single. He’d gotten you to the eighth. Time for your eighth-inning guy there.

Didn’t work out, I know. But I saw nothing wrong with the thinking in going to Venters.

Robards

June 12th, 2012
11:32 pm

Mark, I think Chipper hit 6th. Well, if it’s 3-2 Braves and Huddy is tiring with one out in the 8th, let’s hope Fredi brings Kimbrel in tomorrow. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched in a few days and there is an off day on Thursday. I’ve long believed that a closer should pitch more than an inning on an occasion and should not come in every time it’s 5-2 in the 9th, even if that might help them get a bigger contract. In other words, more days off but sometimes more innings in a particular game. Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage, to name a few Hall of Famers, all pitched more than an inning quite frequently. Smoltz the closer did at least once in the playoffs against Houston in ‘04.

George Stein

June 12th, 2012
11:34 pm

Going to Venters makes sense in the abstract, but when you consider some of Fredi’s reasoning for other decisions, it makes no sense. He clearly believes in the “hot hand” (Costanza) but now he doesn’t? There isn’t any consistency, which tells me he has no idea what he’s doing.

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 12th, 2012
11:35 pm

AJC is clearly not the No Spin Zone.

Or maybe it is.

Playoffs!!!

June 12th, 2012
11:35 pm

No it wasn’t Gearrin by default, are you kidding me???
C. Martinez is no longer a “long man” Jesus Christmas, I just lost a lot of respect for you Bradley. Haven’t you been paying attention. What are left-handed hitters hitting v. Gearrin??
C. Martinez, Durbin and yes, even Kimbrel (it’s ok, once in a while to bring your closer in the 8th in an important game) Closers come in tie games at home. Sometimes the game needs to be saved in the 8th.
Seems to me you had you column written before the bottom fell out in the 8th. Because the real story of this game is how badly the bullpen was mismanaged, , and THERE IS NOTHING GOOD TO BE TAKEN FROM THIS GAME if you’re a Braves fan.

TV Watcher

June 12th, 2012
11:36 pm

After Venters filled the bases I turned off the TV.
Minor was great–I try to remember the good.

Ryan

June 12th, 2012
11:39 pm

I dont have a problem with Fredi pulling Minor. I figured if he gave up a hit he was coming out. My problem is keeping a struggling Venters in to face A-Rod. Kimbrel should have been in the game especially if O’Flaherty wasn’t availiable tonight. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched in three days and we have Thursday off so a five out save wouldnt kill him. Durbin hasnt given up a run in over a month. I think I would rather have him in than a AAA pitcher that struggles to get left handed hitters out.

walknbalk

June 12th, 2012
11:39 pm

BravesFanInDallas

June 12th, 2012
11:43 pm

Mark – I agree 100% on going to Venters, he hasn’t been stellar this year, but no need to not give him a shot in this situation. My problem is – you obviously see the guy doesn’t have his stuff, pull him. I would have taken anyone (ANYONE) else in the bullpen once the bases were loaded – or at least had someone else up throwing. It is a long season – I think we all get that – and I hear “no need to panic”, but we are streaky, the streakiness is due to the lack of managing games, making the right calls in the right places, and inconsistency as George mentions. Again, long season, but every game counts…what would one more win have given us last year? (A playoff birth or at least the one game playoff). I digress…..so goes the day in the life of an Atlanta sports fan…..(Long live 1995 – we are going to need that memory.)

Bean Bag

June 12th, 2012
11:49 pm

DAMN YANKEES!

Whataboutthe7th

June 12th, 2012
11:49 pm

Im still trying to figure out why Heyward pinch hit for Diaz? I’ve never seen a lefty pinch hit for a righty in order to face a lefty. We had a chance to put the game way, but once again Fredi proved to be an idiot

done

June 12th, 2012
11:51 pm

This was like game 4 of 96 WS all over again.

Bill Donohoo

June 12th, 2012
11:57 pm

The problem was not bringing Venters in but not having the guts to take him out. Venters could not even come close with his slider. Kimbrell should have been brought in after Veneters walked Texeria or at the very least after Venter’s first two pitches in the dirt to A-Rod.

Buddy Greene

June 12th, 2012
11:58 pm

“Didn’t work out, I know. But I saw nothing wrong with the thinking in going to Venters.”

I agree with that and that Minor was probably finished but johnny showed me nothing in loading the bases Johnny should have never thrown a pitch to arod…

we have a lot of dead weight on our payroll/roster this year. Like Lowe and Jurrgens…Has Hinske gotten a hit since he was thrown out of that game?Venters and EOF may both be well on the way to a visit to Dr James Andrews…not looking pretty

Buddy Greene

June 13th, 2012
12:00 am

this game is on par with the game against philly where kelly johnson dropped the last out and we lost the game

Ryan

June 13th, 2012
12:01 am

Whataboutthe7th,

Heyward was already in the game as a defensive replacement for Diaz. I think the announcers just forgot to report it.

Olde Fan

June 13th, 2012
12:01 am

We’ve seen this before: Remember Mark Wohlers? Remember Rick Ankiel??
Venters has just lost it. He can’t throw a strike. Why is HE up here and Chris is playing in the minors?? Venters is the one who needs “work”. How many times are we going to have to see this horror repeated?? And Gearin?? He has Never done well up here – why is he here? I don’t believe Fredi knows what he is doing; he just stands around looking stupid. Sorry if I sound offensive; the management of this game offended me.

Tip Your Cap

June 13th, 2012
12:05 am

I’m not sure where the “good managing” came in.. yanking Minor after a ground ball single and a 4-0 lead, leaving Venters in when he couldn’t hit the backstop, bringing in Gearrin?! Not even warming up Kimbrel? Never THINKING of a hit and run, or how about a squeeze with Bourn up and a fast runner at third? How about a steal sometime? The whole team, starting with the manager, froze.

In addition, I’ve seen people write here that the salary doesn’t matter, and saying look at the Rays, etc. Get a grip. The two biggest advantages with a big budget are experience and margin for error. How many players do the Yankees have under 25? How many do the Braves have? There’s a reason for that — money. And who is likely to come though in a big game? Experienced players. Who is likely to choke? Kids. And if you have a big budget, and you make a bad player move or need to fill a hole, what do you do? Go get another one! That’s margin for error. What do the Braves do? Call up another kid or sign Juan Francisco. Embarrassing.

More salary also means a deeper bench, not Jack Wilson, Joe Mather, Livan Hernandez, Garrett Anderson, and anybody else they pull out of the bargain basement. (How about a reliable right-handed set-up guy?) If this ownership had Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux, they wouldn’t have Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. Next example: Bourn.

Now and then, a team like Tampa will make a run. Of course, they didn’t win it all. Meanwhile, what are the chances of Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston, Oakland, and maybe even Atlanta, year in and year out, not “being competitive,” but winning championships? Slim and none. Think it’s just coincidence that Toronto and Baltimore never gets to the playoffs when they are in the same division with New York and Boston? Until this ownership, or a new one, makes a commitment to excellence, including the manager, what you see is what you will get.

Ronald Millsaps

June 13th, 2012
12:08 am

Buddy– No, it isn’t. Kelly had to run a country mile to make a difficult basket catch. Chip Caray flipped out, but the “error” was no more a problem than Caray’s saying “track” or “wall” when the ball has cleared.

This team would do well to drop its apparent strategy of protecting a lead instead of building on it.

Great game by Minor–absolutely great. Now let’s get Jair back–though it almost looks like the organization’s trying to sabotage his free agency.

I didn’t watch the game. I hope Andruw got a huge hand, and I hope the organization apologizes for giving Randall Delgado his number. Some gratitude.

The Yankees’ road uniforms are extremely nice.

Oklahoma City in six. Some yahoo! writer said LeBron’s performance in Game Six was the best NBA postseason performance in fifty years–which obviously includes every postseason performance Jordan ever had. The guy is a FOOL to say that, and LeBron was being guarded by guys past their prime. Again, he didn’t show focus until the series would’ve been over had Jordan had in his shoes.

http://www.atlanteanconspiracy.com/2008/09/911-symbolism-in-hollywood.html (Great read)

KD

June 13th, 2012
12:11 am

Mark Bradley

June 12th, 2012
11:25 pm
As for Venters being unreliable: He had yielded one hit, two bases on balls and no earned runs in five appearances this month.

Keep in mind MB: of those 5 starts you refer to; only 2 have been in close games. The others, you ask? In 2, we were losing, in the 3rd, we had a 6 run lead. Of those two that were close- he pitched less than 2 total innings…

bowman

June 13th, 2012
12:20 am

Gonzalez was genius starting starting Diaz in RF and batting him ahead of Jones. Gonzalez wasn’t so smart pulling Minor with one one, one out in the eighth with fewer than 100 pitches thrown. Gonzalez was a buffoon for not pulling Venters after the LHP threw three consecutive 58-foot pitches.

In this game at least, Gonzalez appeared to be an excellent pregame strategist who became overwhelmed by the need to make gametime decisions. The result is more important that a faltering pitcher’s fragile ego. Send Venters to Gwinnett to find himself. Not sure yet whether Gonzalez should join him.

Redding

June 13th, 2012
12:25 am

It’s obvious that Minor has struggled mightily this year; however, so has the once great Johnny Venters. Tonight, Minor had the hot hand, and you don’t fold that hand when he allows one base runner, especially to bring in a “mechanically confused” set up man. I understand that Minor did his job (and a spectacular one at that) of getting through the 7th, but give the man a chance to get out of the inning. On the other hand, bringing Venters in here wasn’t necessarily a bad call; it’s fine, but he undoubtedly should have been on a much shorter leash. Allowing him to pitch to A-Rod was a monumental mistake that anyone having any feel for the game could see coming, especially after watching the sequences to the first two hitters Johnny faced. If F.G. wasn’t convinced that Venters has some real problems, and if he still doesn’t get the fact that he needs to have another reliever prepared to go in should Johnny stumble, then he simply isn’t truly aware of his team’s needs, the the moment-by-moment flow/feel of a game, or how to adjust and tweak quickly.

Vel Crow

June 13th, 2012
12:27 am

Fredi Gonzalez is getting good at blowing smoke up the butt and nothing seek to stick.

Vel Crow

June 13th, 2012
12:27 am

Chop Chop

June 13th, 2012
12:29 am

Minor was really good tonight, but I’m not impressed by him. The key to being a good starting pitcher is to repeat good performances throughout a season. I don’t think he can do that. He’s a bum. Cut him now. Cut everybody. Fire Fredi and Wren.

governor404

June 13th, 2012
12:32 am

Well Braves’s fans at least you dont have to wait around til September or October to find out they can’t play with the big boys!!! Is it football season yet?

Buzz2011

June 13th, 2012
12:32 am

The Bronx Bombers!!!

Mister Frisky

June 13th, 2012
12:40 am

Waiting on the time for Fredi to get s canned article.

Ricky Grooms

June 13th, 2012
12:45 am

I usually give F.G. the benefit of the doubt, but pinch hitting Hayward for Diaz was a reminder of Bobby Cox days.

Bleacher Bummed

June 13th, 2012
12:52 am

When I first heard Freddi was replacing Cox, I was ecstatic. Guess I should have watched more Marlins games. I seriously think going to Chipper as a player/co-manager would be a good idea. No doubt he knows more about baseball, has more fire, and is a tremendous leader. As often as he is injured (hey guys, he’s 40), he would be a huge asset in the dugout advising Fred what to do and when.

Losersville U.S.A.

June 13th, 2012
1:02 am

Enter your comments here

Doofus(Goober and Gomer's Smart Brother)

June 13th, 2012
1:03 am

Another “wussy” sportswriter gives the totally inept manager a “pat on the back” and says you’re great, without asking the hard, tough questions that needed to be asked. They are all either afraid of him or scared they will lose their privileges and benefits. Must really be tough living in the Land of OZ, when there’s always a tornado coming through, which has to be ignored.

BTR

June 13th, 2012
1:04 am

I will never again attend a game until “freddi” is FIRED once and for all.

This idiot could not manage a girls T-Ball team, he is AWFUL.

Tonight was THE WORST job of managing I have EVER seen, simply AWFUL, he has NO baseball sense, and NO clue as to what he is doing, He MUST BE FIRED !!

Please go away “freddi” and take Bird Brain wren with you, you have killed this team !

D.A. Nuggla

June 13th, 2012
1:14 am

It’s very obvious, after reading the article and his comments, that both MB and DOB have been “brain-washed” by FG. There can be no other explanation. The “talking points” and reasoning are almost identical.