Braves Outlast Capuano – Come Back To Win
The first game of the series with the NL West leading Dodgers started off with a homer from Chipper Jones and ended with a single from Juan Francisco. In between the strengths and weaknesses for the Braves were exposed.
Tommy Hanson started his first game after coming off the DL by sitting down the Dodgers 1-2-3 in the first. In the bottom of that inning Chipper hit his home run of Chris Capuano and it looked like the Braves were going to keep their offensive hot streak alive. Capuano had other ideas shutting the door for the next six innings while his offense took over.
Hanson’s return to the rotation after a forced rehab start at Gwinnett did indeed start well; his first three inning s produced no real threats at all. In the fourth an outstanding defensive play by Martin Prado followed by a perfect throw from Paul Janish cut down Andre Ethier at the plate to end the inning. While Hanson was sharp through the first three and hit 90 and 91 on the gun his velocity and location seemed to slip away after that. He fought his way through it until the sixth when Ethier’s two-run homer gave the Dodgers the lead. Big Red pitched into the seventh when he surrendered a third run on back to back doubles. He finished with a line of 6 2/3 innings, 3 runs on 7 hits, 5 strikeouts and two walks; a text book quality start. He wasn’t awful but clearly didn’t maintain his velocity and lacked a real out pitch after the first three innings or so. He was wild in the zone and hittable though the power starved Dodgers didn’t make him pay.
Hanson hasn’t been the top of the rotation guy he once looked like becoming. Almost a year after his shoulder surgery it may still be a factor in his lack of control. Al Leiter has said on MLB Network, that when his shoulder wasn’t right he could locate pitches but lost velocity but and couldn’t figure out why. John Smoltz has said in interviews that while he could still throw hard after his surgery he couldn’t put the ball where he wanted it consistently. Although Hanson says he feels fine the recently repaired shoulder may not be back to it’s pre-injury condition. The truth is it may never be.
Looking at the time it’s taken Ben Sheets to recover and the adjustments to his game that he had to make, Tommy may still be a year away. The question becomes whether Tommy can make the necessary adjustments while still holding down a regular starting rotation spot and if it takes another year, can the Braves carrying him in that role while waiting for him to adjust.
The Braves picked up Janish as a purely defensive stand-in when Andrelton Simmons went on the DL. Janish has been superb defensively as expected. What wasn’t expected was his ability to get hits in critical situations. Tonight he was 3-5 with a run scored and started the eighth inning rally that tied the game.
When the Braves traded for Juan Francisco I wrote “. . . Francisco can hit. His minor league numbers are pretty eye watering. Over parts of three years at Louisville his slash was .307/.337/.559 with a BAbip of .352 and an ISO of .295. . .“ Early in the year the guy Chipper calls Roadrunner took a lot of grief for his high strike out rate and his weight. All along I said consistent at bats would improve both. Fredi Gonzales and Greg Walker pulled Francisco aside and told him he had to work harder and improve or he’d be looking for work elsewhere. Francisco buckled down, lost 15 founds and started spending a lot of extra time in the cage working with Walker (and I suspect at third with Chipper.) As a result his July line was .407/.484/.778 with 3 homers and 9 RBI and he’s made some superb plays defensively and improved the aim on the cannon he has for an arm. Roadrunner has a way to go but he will get a chance to play third next year paryicularly if the Braves are unable to find a quality outfield RH bat. But back to Friday night.
After the Braves failed to score in the 10th in spite of having Michael Bourn on third with one out. In the 11th Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla went quietly but David Ross fought through his at bat and earned a walk. Janish followed that with another tough at bat and a single to right pushing Ross to third. Then it was Francisco’s turn. With a count of 2-1 Roadrunner singled to left – an opposite field hit that wouldn’t have happened in the first half of the year – scoring Ross and winning the game.
Braves And Lefties
It seems that if you want to beat the Braves this year all you have to do is start a lefty – specifically a soft tossing lefty like Capuano – and the odds swing dramatically against the Braves. Lefties are 15-19 with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.319 WHIP when facing the Braves. If you remove the stumbling Johan Santana and a four inning start in April by Randy Wolf the record is 19-12 and with the opposing pitcher’s ERA dropping to 3.51 and WHIP dropping to 1.250. Last night’s game was the exception to that rule mostly due to a Dodgers’ lineup that looked as if the bats needed Viagra and for some reason Don Mattingly chose not to bring in Randy Choate to face Heyward (0-2 with 2 Ks and a walk vs. Choate) in the eighth inning. Hanson was there to be taken but they didn’t execute.
If that sounds familiar it’s because the Braves have been there far too many times this year. Of our lefty hitting starters Jason Heyward (.224/.284/.356) and Brian McCann (.229/.259/.405) are particularly ineffective when facing lefties while Freddie Freeman (.242/.330/.406) and Michael Bourn (.280/.335/.413) have done pretty well. Obviously there is no mid-August fix for the lack of balance in our lineup but there are things that we can do to improve the odds even if it’s just a small improvement.
Fredi Gonzales has no problem starting David Ross against lefties, a decision made easier because McCann’s shoulder is clearly hurt far worse than they are saying but with no better viable options he stays active instead of hitting the DL. The Skipper hesitates however to sit Heyward even though newly acquired Reed Johnson (.286/.333/.286) was picked up specifically to fill give him that option. I love Jason as much as anyone and admire his tools and talent. I agree that he’ll eventually hit lefties well enough to play every day no matter who pitches. I know that he needs to face them to improve. I know can’t do that if he’s constantly platooned. However, there’s a time for that; April, May, June and July. As we continue to try and catch the Nationals Jason should sit and Johnson should start, unless history says Jason hits the lefty well; Madison Bumgarner, Wandy Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez, for example. This game is about winning and winning means putting the lineup on the field most likely to beat the opposition that day.
Braves Sign A Lefty
Rodriguez is an experienced starter who should provide left handed depth to the Braves pitching pool. His addition gives the Braves flexibility to make trades during the winter as well as adding a major league ready lefty starter to our pool of assets. He’ll be assigned to Gwinnett as soon as he gets his work permit and returns from Mexico some time next week.
That’s A Wrap
With game one under their belt Braves get a shot at Aaron Harang today. Harang is better on the road than at home and while he’s had some high strikeout games this year he’s essential a contact pitcher. In his career he hasn’t had a lot of luck against the Braves. He has a 1-3 record in 10 starts but has only managed 59 1/3 innings with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.508 WHIP. This year he’s been vulnerable in the first inning with a 3.91 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP, in the fourth where his ERA is 3.57 although his WHIP is close to 1.000 and in the fifth when that ERA balloons to 6.97 and his WHIP to 1.88. The Braves should get to him early and force the Dodgers into their bullpen while giving Ben Sheets some wiggle room. Sheets has said that his arm feels tired but it isn’t a dead arm and he’s ready to go. The old Ben Sheets made 10 starts against LA and had a 3-6 record with a 3.78 ERA and a WHIP of 0.982. Those numbers indicate a lot of home runs and that was the case as he allowed 15 homers in only 54 hits. The good news is those 15 homers and 54 hits resulted in only 31 runs. The Braves should be favorites today based on those numbers. With the Nationals playing the Mets AAA team from Queens we need to continue to win our games to catch them