Wow, what a game. I know, I know, we lost. It was however a real pitchers dual worthy of a quick word appreciation to both sides so here goes. Last night’s star was Yovani Gallardo of course. His complete game, two hit masterpiece was truly a work of art. He also singled and scored their only run. (No word on whether he cleaned the club house and prepared the after game meal as well.) He had Braves hitters off balance all night and his control was immaculate. It was similar to his first start that ended in a no decision for him after the Brewers bullpen gave it up. Tuesday night that wasn’t going to happen because he wasn’t leaving under any circumstances. Okay, enough about our able opponent, what about our boys? There were lots of good things happening for the Braves too but, none of them involved a run.
Nate McLouth got the first hit off of Gallardo with an opposite field shot that both gave me hope and caused a little concern. Hope because he took a tough pitcher’s offering and sent it into left center instead of trying to pull it as he did so much last year. Concern because I thought I noticed his back leg collapsing a little causing a bit of an uppercut swing. I’m not sure if I’m imagining it or not as I was oddly out of the room for his other at bats. I’ll watch more closely (I hope) tonight. I am however encouraged that Nate isn’t going into a funk when he has an 0-fer. I wish he’d run more when he gets on but hitting in front of Chipper that isn’t likely.
Dan Uggla is awakening from his winter slumber. He tattooed a hanging breaking ball for our other hit last night and had second base stolen if he could have just stopped on the base instead of sliding past it. I loved the feet first slide however, head first stuff is a no no for our right handed power bat. Please Dan? Pretty Please? I was also impressed with his defense. yep I said defense. He started a double play early on that got Lowe out of a jam and later his quick hands and good arm cut down a fast runner and kept the score at 1-0. It may not be a Robbie Alomar spectacular stop but it was a superior play and very smart. The real stars of the night were however our pitchers.
Derek Lowe scattered 5 hits over 6 innings and struck out 7. Sixty-six of his 108 pitches were strikes and the other pitcher induced outs were ground balls; not a fly ball in the bunch though there were two line drive outs, one to Prado and one to Heyward. Nothing Lowe offered up was hit hard and two of the hits – Gallardo’s single that turned into a run and an infield hit that just snuck under Chipper’s glove – could easily have been outs. On his performances so far Derek Lowe looks like he’s back to his old, inning eating, ground ball throwing, winning self. The bullpen acquitted it self equally well.
Eric O’Flaherty had a 1-2-3 seventh inning and, except for an inexplicable misjudgment of a fly ball by Jason Heyward that turned into a triple for the fleet footed Nyger Morgan, could easily have done the same in the eighth. The threat never materialized because of the superb defensive play from Dan Uggla I mentioned before that cut down Morgan at the plate and an equally impressive and accurate throw from Martin Prado that did the same to Ryan Braun. if the scouting report or gam plan for our opponents was to test Prado’s arm early, it’s time to rethink that. He twice shown his arm is both accurate and strong; so much for “but, can he play left field” doubters. Scott Linebrink who came in to relieve O’Flaherty was the recipient of the gift from Prado’s strong arm (thank goodness Melky is a memory). Linebrink then got Carols Gomez to pop to Chipper and end the inning.
On the whole the loss was as encouraging as a loss can be. We won’t face many games like Gallardo threw last this year (I hope) – yes I remember those guys in Philly but they don’t throw those every time out – and our pitchers and defense performed at a very high level. Sometimes you just have to tip you hat and say, “that guy was really tough tonight, we’ll get him next time.”
Tonight clash with the Brew Crew features the return of Mike Minor for the Braves. Minor narrowly lost out to Beachy in the spring competition for our fifth starter spot. He was supposed to work on locating his breaking balls a little better while at Gwinnett. Let’s hope the week plus he spent there allowed him to do that. Last Year Minor had a good August winning three of his four starts with an ERA of 3.91. He tired in September however winning only once and allowing his ERA to shoot up to 9.10 An enhanced conditioning program brought him to spring training fresh and fit so he should be strong and ready to take on the Brew Crew tonight. Tonight he’s scheduled pitch against the dreaded “To Be Announced” AKA in this case probably Marco Estrada. After the game last night the Brewers optioned right-handed reliever Brandon Kintzler to Nashville to clear a roster spot for Estrada.
Estrada had the best spring training audition for the starting rotation spot vacated when Zack Greinke went on the DL but is not currently on the 40-man roster. Last year he saw limited service with the Brewers throwing only 11 1/3 innings in his 7 appearances including one start. He had an ERA of 9.53 and gave up three home runs, striking out 13 and walking six. He also threw two wild pitches and hit 2 batters. His minor league numbers last year were much better however; ERA 3.15, 7.4 k/9, 2.5 BB/9 and less than one homer run every four games (0.2/9). He’s obviously a strike out pitcher and that usually means a hard thrower with movement. He’s also an unknown to Braves hitters. Together those things have given the Braves a problem in the recent past. Let’s hope that that problem stays in the past and we get the bats working again after two superior outings by Brewer starters. I expect the lineup to return to normal with Freeman back at first and no injuries noted to force a change. Winning tonight would guarantee us the split and a winning road trip to start the year. The series closes out tomorrow night Tommy Hanson takes the mound again against Brewer newcomer and other high quality starter, Shaun Marcum.