Wednesday night Mike Minor had enough of his lineup’s lack of run support. Taking a page out of Tim Hudson’s book he not only produced a seven inning, one hit shutout striking out four, his single in the bottom of the third accounted for one quarter of the Braves hits. Too bad it wasn’t a Huddy homer because in the end he, like 10 other Braves on the night, never managed to cross the plate. The Braves only run came courtesy of a Chipper Jones hit followed by a walk to Freddie Freeman and a double play that didn’t happen because Josh Rutledge threw the ball into the first base dugout allowing Chipper to score. I’d like to say the Rockies played well above their league position but I can’t do that with a straight face.
The big story of the night or I should say the continuing story of the season, was the maturation of Minor. The young lefty who had a chip on his shoulder in spring training because of a report that he – like everyone else – had to fight a spot in the rotation has become a dependable starter with very good control who no longer folds under pressure. In the seventh inning he faced and conquered his only challenge of the night.
Jordan Pacheco led off with a single on the first pitch and almost immediately stole second base. He struck out Ramon Hernandez and Chris Nelson but walked Andrew Brown. He was at 102 pitches and looking tired when Roger McDowell came out for a pep talk. At a high leverage point in the game last June (it would have been in the fifth inning back then,) Minor would have wilted. But whatever McDowell told Minor worked as he bowed his neck and struck out DJ LeMahieu on six pitches, the last one a 91MPH heater. On the evening he threw 108 pitches including 63 strikes to the 26 batters he faced and 14 first pitch strikes. While his season ERA is still 4.58 his line since the ASG looks like this.
When you pitch like that and only win 3 – and worse your club only wins 4 of the 10 – you (and the Fans) have grounds to sue for lack of support; and you’d win.
There’s no rationale for it and it seems every team has a guy like that. But it’s a damn shame.
News Flash: Fredi Gonzalez Bullpen Flowchart Missing
Okay maybe that’s a little dramatic. The skipper followed orders from on high not to have the back end of the bullpen so worn out by September that they couldn’t get outs. Truth be told there haven’t been a boatload of opportunities to use them to win games and while Craig Kimbrel has been. . .well Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty righted the ship after one bad month, Jonny Venters is struggling to repeat last year’s form. As a result they haven’t been used nearly as often. Chad Durbin leads the pack has 67 appearances and 54 2/3 innings so far (I was wrong about him in the spring and have had my barbequed crows as penance) , Venters 56 and 47 2/3, O’Flaherty 52 and 46 2/, and Kimbrel 50 and 50 1/3. Those numbers actually being me back to my point.
In the eighth inning EOF replaced Minor. After getting Jonathan Herrera to groundout he walked the speedy Dexter Fowler and Rutledge singled moving Fowler to third with only one out. O’Flaherty abused Carlos Gonzalez striking him out on five pitches. All of last season and until last night – September 5, 2011 – with the game in this situation Gonzalez would have left EOF there. IN 2010 or 2011 that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow as he held righties to a .229 and .233 average on those years. This year the average is .336 and slugging up from .294 to .473. Still for the last four months even facing big hitters Gonzalez left him in. So imagine the shock and amazement that erupted when Gonzalez popped out of the dug and summoned Kimbrel for a four out save. Even Chip Carey sounded confused, okay he sounds confused most days but this was more noticeable. Kimbrel disposed of LeMahieu with six pitches and the inning was over. He wiped the Rockies out in the ninth inning even though Brian McCann seemed determined to get him in jamb with his slider and the game was over.
That’s A Wrap
The lineup tonight included Dan Uggla for the first time since Saturday. He hit one ball hard but it was caught in left, then he reverted to popups on the infield. Those interested in a look at why he’s doing this and what can be expected should take trip over to Fangrpahs and read Dave Cameron’s post, ‘The Rapid Fall of Dan Uggla’. I highly recommend it to folks who are sure Dan will wake up tomorrow and remember how to hit with authority off of good pitching
Betting that Fredi would bench a $13 million player, start Martin Prado at short when no one is injured and use Kimbrel in the eighth inning would probably have earned you great odds and a lot of money in Vegas. It just isn’t who he is. Or rather it isn’t who he was.
Hampered by injury, a weak roster, worn out pitchers and a lineup who seemed to take their batting cues from Jack Wilson, the Braves collapsed like a house of cards last September. In spite of winter promises to make sure that wouldn’t happen, the most significant off season announcement was that there would be no big announcements because we were broke.
It is once again September and we have a couple of significant injuries. Though Andrelton Simmons will return soon both McCann and David Ross are hurt badly enough that they hit like . . .well Jack Wilson (sorry Jack I really did like you, pity you couldn’t fall over and hit the ground.) The Uggla power outage seems to require rewiring, Tommy Hanson is pitching like a number five starter and Ben Sheets is an unknown quantity when he returns from the DL. In spite of adding Reed Johnson at the deadline nothing has been done to plug the other holes. Gonzalez has a vested interest in making sure we don’t implode again like we did in 2012 and at least get to the Wildcard death match game; he wants to be managing next year somewhere and if the Braves don’t he won’t.
In the last two games the Braves are 0-18 with runners in scoring position. . . .against the Rockies who lead the league in runs allowed behind even the Astros. The Rockies are tougher to score on while traveling but still have a team 4.33 ERA when on the road.Championship teams beat teams like Colorado to death in September, in spite of all the feel good ‘they like to be spoilers talk’. The Nationals for example scored 31 runs in four games against the Cardinals (I know they lost one but the Cards are the second place Wildcard team) then turn around and scored 22 runs against the Cubs while sweeping three.
If Rutledge hadn’t tossed the ball into the dugout (admittedly Freeman was coming at him like a train so there was duress) we might have gone to extra innings again. Without Scott Proctor’s bat, Julio Lugo’s … running(?) or something. . .and an umpire that wants to go home and go to bed, we might have played all night long.