Braves Lose Season Opener to Mets 1-0

4-5-12lineOpening 2012 day in New York looked a lot like too many days in 2011. Like last year Tommy Hanson pitched superbly but got no run support. Like last year when there was a left hander on the mound and the offense was mostly impotent. Like last year the bullpen was superb in a losing cause.  In the Twitter-verse fans were split between the “it’s only the first game” group and the “oh no not again group.” Both were right and both were wrong.

The Game In A Nutshell

Johan Santana was superb giving up only two hits in five innings and working out of a bases loaded jam in the process. His signature change-up was as devastating as before his injury and the heavily left handed Braves lineup had no idea what to do with it. Only Martin Prado, Matt Diaz and Tyler Pastornicky seemed to have a clue. Prado singled in the first but Brian McCann hit a lazy fly to right and Dan Uggla who has never hit the lefty well struck out.

In the fifth with one out Diaz hit a screaming double into the right center field gap. Jason Heyward hit soft fly to left  for the second out but Tyler Pastornicky and Tommy Hanson both walked as Santana seemed to lose the strike zone.  After working a full count Michael Bourn swung at ball 4 and hit a little roller harmlessly back to the mound to end the inning.

Uggla celebrated Santana’s departure with a single in the sixth but never advanced. Pastornicky proved he can hit by tripling to the wall in right center field to in the 7th but was left stranded at third.

Meanwhile Tommy Hanson cruised through five innings and even picked a runner off in the third but a walk and two singles put the Mets in front and sent him to the showers. Kris Medlen came in and put put the fire then threw a quiet 7th inning. Jonny Venters followed him throwing a scoreless frame  in the 8th. The Braves went meekly in the 9th and it was over. As I said before both sides of the twitter discussion had it at least partly right.

It’s The First Game. Relax!

That’s right of course, this is the first game of the season, pitchers are always ahead of hitters this time of year and it’s far too early to panic. After all look at everything that went right.

  • Hanson is starting to look like a number one starter. Both of his fastballs were around the plate and his slider/curve was unhittable to nasty. His 83 pitches included 50 strikes and he actually picked a runner off first..
  • Medlen filled his new role as expected. Medlen threw 21 pitches, 20 for strikes and cleaned up Hanson’s clogged bases without allowing a run. Jason Bay sent one to the warning track but it was just a loud out thanks to Citi Field.
  • Venters threw one inning – 22 pitches, 14 strikes – scoreless
  • Diaz did what he is supposed to do hit lefties hard.
  • Pastornicky hit a rocket off of Ramon Ramirez and showed nice plate discipline laying off a couple of nasty pitches and extracting a walk from Santana. He also stole an out at second on a double play that wasn’t really.
  • Prado hit a solid single and played third well.

Looks Like Last Year To Me

These folks have a point or three as well. Were it not for Pastornicky’s presence at short and Medlen coming in to relieve Hanson in the 6th instead of one of our thankfully departed washed up relievers, this could have been any game last year.

  • Tommy pitched well enough to win but got no support. The lineup was 0-6 with RISP.
  • It was a yet another one run game against a team with no hope of any kind of post season and will lose 90 games or so this year.
  • Though Santana threw 84 pitches, a lot of them came in the 5th inning when he loaded the bases. Prior to that hitters (except for Diaz and Pastornicky) did not work the count, did not put him under any stress and generally treated him like the Cy Young winner he was instead of the just back from injury pitcher he is.
  • The Lineup still has no idea how to hit a left handed pitcher.
  • Fredi Gonzales made a couple of decisions that brought comments that had some validity. He replaced Matt Diaz with Jose Constanza when Santana left the game instead of using Juan Francisco and he used Venters in the 8th instead of one of almost anyone else. Neither is a particularly egregious decision but it harked back to some of the decisions made last year that failed to workout.

Constanza was the best outfielder on the bench (more on that in a minute) and the Mets had inserted righty Ramirez  for Santana. When Constanza was due up with Pastornicky on third, the Mets brought in lefty Tim Byrdak. Juan Francisco hits lefties better than Constanza but he didn’t have a good spring and likely wouldn’t have fared any better than Constanza who struck out.  Fredi didn’t he use a right handed bat because those bats were Jack Wilson and David Ross. Fredi has shown that he uses his backup catcher only under duress. Jack Wilson was injured for much of spring training and had only 13 at bats and two hits; one a double. Constanza was 7 for 40 by the way, which is almost the same batting average as Wilson. Constanza faced Byrdak last year and dribbled a single just past the mound that the shortstop couldn’t field. Wilson is 0-2 with 2 walks when facing Byrdak.

Using Venters is more a “don’t let this get out of hand” move than anything else. He didn’t want to bring in Chad Durbin for example and have the game get out of hand then have to explain why he didn’t use Venters. If you’re worrying about what you might be asked after are you really thinking about what’s best now? In any case Venters was a completely logical and predictable choice.  So while you may not agree with the rationale, the Skipper had a reasonable explanation for his moves.

The Questions

I have nagging doubts, not so much about this game but the decisions that led to the decisions he made today.  Jose Constanza should never have been with the team to begin with. Both Jordan Parraz and Luis Durango had better numbers and are better outfielders than Constanza.

The right handed hitting Parraz in particular is a better choice. He was named the Yankees minor league player of the year last year, has put up good numbers in AAA though not a home run threat; mostly a singles and doubles guy. This spring he hit .417/.481/.625 is 25 at bats and projections have him as about a .248/.318/.373 guy this year.

Any impartial observer would rather have Parraz than Constanza if for no reason other than he’s right handed. We are right handed bats and Parraz likely would hit over .225 given enough at bats. Yet Constanza got the call thanks – more than likely -  to last year’s work. While I appreciate what he did last year, that’s only worth a spot at Gwinnett or in Mississippi if you can’t win the job in Atlanta. He’ll be sent down when Chipper returns anyway so it’s really hard to figure out another reason for him being here now.

The Kris Medlen question (why isn’t he starting instead of Randall Delgado who is likely to go five innings or less each start) is easier to answer. The decision’s been made that a five inning start is all they expect from whomever fills that 5th spot until Huddy returns. That’s why they signed Livan Hernandez to go with Medlen and Cristhian Martinez in the pen and added Chad Durban – who can throw 2 or more innings when called on – last Tuesday. They don’t see Medlen as a starter period and hope that these longer arms will spare the Three Musketeers their endless appearance ordeal. I know at least 10 teams that would put him into the rotation now and watch him win 12-15 games but he’s not good enough for us.

Wrap

Following the September Surrender the fans needed a win and I suspect the team – no matter what their quotes after the game today – badly wanted one as well. Even if you have to move Prado to left and bring in Francisco to play third, the Mets closer is right handed and you’d want him at the plate anyway.  So, why not use Wilson against Byrdak? Teams that aspire to championships beat the teams they are supposed to beat and win those series. We are supposed to beat the Mets and we need to win this series. Let’s hope that begins Saturday.

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Tags: Favorite Fredi Gonzales Johan Santana Jonny Venters Kris Medlen Matt Diaz Tommy Hanson Tyler Pastornicky

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