I stayed up and watched late into the night to watch the Braves and Giants hoping to see some signs of a turn around offensively and from Tommy Hanson. Their first victory since Tuesday came was a relief as was the super pitching of Hanson, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. Overall however, the performance was a mixed bag.
The Good – Pitching, Defense, Heyward, Freeman and Chipper
The Pitching was superb. Hanson was in the kind of form that had people predicting a break out year and me suggesting he might lead the staff in wins and make a run at the Cy Young award. In seven string innings he struck out seven and walked one while allowing only three hits and one run. As the strike out total indicates, his slider was sharp and the fastball had late life. He even put down a very nice sacrifice bunt in the top of the third inning to move McLouth to second at the start of the four run rally that chased one of last year’s post season successes Madison Bumgarner after only two and two-thirds innings. Hanson put that four run lead in his back pocket and never looked like allowing the Giants back in the game.
In the eighth I was pleasantly surprised to see Jonny Venters back on the mound with no sign of the bicep tendonitis previously reported. His sinker was a blur – 94 at the knees and heading down and the slider so sharp that after flailing wildly and striking out Miguel Tejada turned and seemed to ask “what he heck was that?” before wandering back to the dugout shaking his head. Kimbrel came on in the ninth showing no signs of being tired from the two innings he worked against the Dodgers. His heater touched 97 repeatedly and the slider had a nice break. He was as usual a little wild – 7 of his thirteen pitches were balls – but the strikes were just plain nasty and the heart of the Giants order couldn’t square any of them up.
The defense behind Hanson continued to be clean and make plays when needed. McClouth made a couple of nice catches early on while Freeman sparkled at first throughout the game. One throw Chipper made on the move after fielding a dribbler from Burrell was nearly behind Freeman yet he picked it cleanly and made it look easy. If there’s a better field first baseman in the NL this year I have seen him. Freeman continued to be our most dependable hitter going two for three with a walk and an RBI. He’s .364/.488/.727/1.215 in the last 14 days and after his slow start up to .274/.384/484/867 on the season. Perhaps he should talk to his buddy Jason Heyward and remind him that gap to gap hitting is the way to break out of a slump.
Heyward’s been in a funk at the plate but seemed close to getting back on track early as he collected two hits in his first two plate appearances against Bumgarner. Later he sent Aaron Rowand into deep right center to track down a fly off Vogelsong. I’m hopeful that this indicates he’s starting to find his groove again. The Braves need him to put the ball in play gap to gap like his roommate Freeman and not roll over so many pitches sending easy ground balls to the second baseman. Speaking of in the groove, Chipper remains hot in the clutch driving a screaming fly ball deep into right field in the four run third for a two run double. More on Chipper later.
The Bad – Vanishing bats and an odd managerial decision
Although the Braves produced four early runs for Hanson, those runs came off a pitcher struggling to find his form and who often looked lost during the 40+ pitch third inning that ended in him taking an early shower. Bumgarner has had a horrible start to 2011. He’s now 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA and a 2.02 WHIP. At home he’s worse with a 9.39 ERA and 2.35 WHIP. He’s yet to go four innings at home and only once gone more than six this year. He’s definitely the weak link in the Giants staff and we should have done exactly what we did – maybe more – to him. Once he was out of the game however, we made no headway against a couple of pitchers who, with all due respect – we should have smacked around; Ryan Vogelsong and Guillermo Mota. Against Vogelsong – a pitcher with a career ERA of 5.57 and who prior to last night had pitched one and one-third innings in the majors since 2006 – we had two hits; Prado singled in the fourth and Freeman in the sixth. When Mota entered the games my first reaction was, “is he still pitching? How old is this guy anyway?” The answers unfortunately were yes and 37. Mota improved his lifetime to 2.18 ERA against the Braves as we went quietly in the 7th. Dan Runzler came on to do the same in the eighth.
In the ninth the Sergio Romo who had walked no one so far this year walked Freeman with one out. With McClouth at the plate Skipper Gonzalez put on a hit and run that was over before it started. McClouth swung through the Romo heater and Freeman was out by 10 feet. Perhaps I’m missing something but put the hit and run on with McClouth who strikes out 22% of the time facing a strike out pitcher like Romo – 11 in seven and two thirds innings this year – with a super thrower like Posey behind the plate? Has he lost faith in all of his pinch hitters? Why not let McClouth do whatever he’s going to do since he’s been hot lately – well, hot for McClouth – and give Conrad a chance if the inning continues? It seemed to defy logic, almost as much as having your worst bunter try to squeeze with two outs and your slowest runner on third. (I’m open to explanations of course, that’s why we have the comments option below.)
Chipper’s knee is bothering him not the one they cut on, the right one. I noticed in his strike out against Runzler in the eighth that he seemed to wince and went took a walk after swinging oddly at strike two. Discomfort was also obvious after he swung and missed strike three. Although Chip and Joe didn’t mention it the camera took two or three shots of Chipper talking to the Skipper, Doc Porter and Prado. Chipper told O’Brien during the post game Q&A
“My right knee is bugging me a little bit. I’ve got pain on the lower inside of my knee. It’s preventing me from pushing off and cutting, stuff like that. It’s just a really sharp pain. I don’t know why it’s doing it, but it’s been doing it for probably 10 days or so. I don’t know if it was the cold, but it was just really pronounced tonight….
“The last couple of weeks. I don’t know if it’s from favoring the other one at times, or what. But it didn’t feel too good tonight.”
Asked if he would play today he told O’Brien:
“I told Fredi. I don’t know what he’s going to do. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up.”
With Matt Young back at Gwinnett, that means Eric Hinske playing left and Prado at third, significantly weakening our so far steady to very good outfield defense and leaving Conrad, Hicks and Ross as our bench. Nothing except Ross to worry a good relief pitcher in that trio and Ross is a last resort as the backup catcher and no outfielders at all. It also means our best clutch hitter so far doesn’t start against one of the top pitchers in the game. Without Chipper the lineup packs less punch in the middle with McCann our only power threat as Dan – I always start slowly – Uggla continues to look for his ignition key. (UPDATE) The just posted lineup shows Freeman hitting third and Hinske sixth. Go get ‘em Freddie!
Today it’s Tim squared as Hudson faces Lincecum on the Fox national broadcast. (I’ll probably get the White Sox Tigers because that’s so important down here in Texas.. sheesh.) Anyway, Hudson 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA this year, likes pitching in the daytime. He’s 58-22 with a 3.23 ERA in 113 career day games with a .725 win pct. first among active pitchers with at least 50. Hudson has had shaky early innings lately, those will be harder to overcome without Chipper. Tim Lincecum is well Tim, Lincecum. The two time Cy Young winner is in that award winning form again; 2-1 with a miniscule 1.67 EAR this year. In the daytime during his career he’s more hittable with a 19-11 record and a 3.36 ERA. May the sunshine cause him all kinds of woes as Hudson basks in the sunlight.
THIS JUST IN
MLB Trade Rumors reports the Braves To Sign Ben Swaggerty. According to MLBTR, “Swaggerty, 28, struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings with the Royals’ Double-A affiliate last year, posting a 3.81 ERA in 59 relief innings. That was the lowest strikeout rate of his career; he owns a 10.4 K/9 (4.7 BB/9) in four minor league seasons.”
Lefty relievers that can strike people out are always handy. Thanks Mr. Wren. Now, about that real leadoff man and power right handed outfield bat. . . .did you notice this Jeff Francoeur guy at KC? He’s .329/.369/.539/.909 with 3 homers and 17 RBI this year, can play all three outfield positions well, has a great arm and loves Atlanta . . .just a thought