Alex Wood was very hittable for the second straight game on Saturday night. Although the first inning went quickly thanks to a double play and the offense gave him two runs in the top of the second, he didn’t look anything like the lights out pitcher he was in August. He was behind most batters and even when he got ahead he couldn’t put them away. As a result he game back the two run lead and two more runs as well in his 4 2/3 innings. He finished with a line four runs on nine hits, three walks and four strikeouts and forced skipper Fredi Gonzalez into the bullpen a lot earlier than he wanted.
The bullpen did its usual yeoman like work until the ninth inning. Luis Ayala took over for Wood and put out the fire then got two outs the next inning before turning it over to Scott Downs. The only hitter Downs faced hit a screamer that hit Downs glove hand and though the replay showed he was out the umpire called the runner safe. Downs had to leave the game with what an x-ray later revealed was a nondisplaced fracture to his right (glove hand) ring finger. A nondisplaced fracture is what we used to call a hairline fracture, the bone is cracked but remains in place and has full movement. The report said he would “pitch when he was able” which is the only time I hope anyone ever pitches really. That hand is going to be sore tomorrow and likely for a few days after so his next appearance is anyone’s guess.
David Carpenter took over from Downs and pitched 1 1/3 innings followed by Luis Ayala with 2/3 of an inning and Anthony Varvaro for 1/3. The braves entered the ninth down two runs but were given a reprieve with a two out, two run homer from Andrelton Simmons off of Jonathon Papelbon. If Gonzalez had to do it again he might have given David Hale his first major league outing in the 6th but he didn’t and with Jordan Walden nursing a sore groin the available bullpen arms for the ninth consisted of Hale, Craig Kimbrel, Kameron Loe, and Freddy Garcia. Loe has been a disaster, Kimbrel would be held for a save chance and Hale is a starter by trade who has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. The obvious choice for Gonzalez was the only man left; Garcia. Garcia has done well in his two previous appearances and the bottom of the ninth started with a popup to Chris Johnson but Garcia hung an off speed pitch and Galvis hit his walk-off home run.
Afterwards there were a lot of armchair experts on Twitter screaming that Kimbrel should have been used. Of course had Kimbrel been used and the game gone on those same experts would have been asking why anyone but Kimbrel was being called on to close the game. Given the situations Gonzalez had to deal with he made the only real choice he could. I was shocked he didn’t use Hale in the middle innings but things happened quickly and our Skipper goes by the book when that happens. There were decisions before the game that put the Braves at a disadvantage and makes me wonder if winning the game is our priority. If I had seen this article in the AJC I would have had my answer.; that answer is no.
Carroll Rogers wrote that not starting Jordan Schafer instead of B.J. Upton, “an indication that he’s not inclined to look at this like a platoon situation in center field and/or the leadoff spot anymore.” Pressed for an answer Gonzalez sounded a lot like a man searching for answers.
“I think Schafe is a valuable piece and a valuable player and if we play him like we did April May and half of June, I think he’ll be fine.. . “We’ve got to find out what Gattis can do. Just get him going again, get him some at-bats.””
As Rogers wrote “. . .Gonzalez was referring to a time when Schafer was in more of a part-time role.”
Schafer was indeed hot in the first three months he put up a .312/.399/.464 slash stealing 9 bases in 12 attempts, driving in 15 runs and scoring 22. Then he had the stress fracture and missed most of July. When he did come back it took him a while to hit his stride but he did find it, or so it seemed. When Jason Heyward’s was injured Schafer slid into the leadoff spot and it seemed to the casual observer that he was doing pretty well highlighted by his four hit three stolen base performance in the last game. The numbers give a different picture however.
In the 18 games since his return until he left with the lower back strain Schafer’s slash was .206/.260/.250/.510 Even allowing him seven games to get his swing back doesn’t improve that much. In his last 11 games his slash was .279/.301/.304/.575 with seven steals in nine attempts. During that same time Upton the elder’s slash was .260/.319/.345/.664. But Gonzalez is searching for a way to recapture the magic the Braves had with Heyward leading off. The problem he has is that BJ is just not a good leadoff man, in the leadoff spot this year BJ’s slash is .200/.284/.338/.622 and that doesn’t include his four strikeouts tonight; the fourth time he’s worn the golden sombrero this year, while Schafer’s slash is .276/.355/.423/.778. I’d believe Schafer is the better option fro many reasons, not the least of which is that BJ isn’t going to get better this year. It’s too l ate for that miracle streak and he’s shown no signs he can hit good pitching. I suspect though that the Skipper is under orders to make every effort to get BJ going.
While the Schafer Upton discussion is in the foreground another serious problem exists in the lineup. Dan Uggla told reporters he feels very comfortable at the plate. comfort is one thing and performance another. Uggla’s hitting is getting worse,not better. He hit .083 in August and going into Saturday’s game Uggla was 4-for-27 (.148) with no extra-base hits or RBIs since returning from the DL. His season slash is .189/.309/.373/.683 and that’s putting a rosy picture on it. Here are some comparisons.
- Uggla has 76 hits this year in 499 plate appearances (PA.) Evan Gattis has 65 in 293.
- With RISP Uggla .144/.298/.33/.632 in 114 PA driving in 31. Gattis .257/.341/.500/.841 with 32 RBI in 88 PA.
- High Leverage Uggla 154/.316/.359/.675 in 98 PA Gattis .254/.311/.463/.774 in 76 PA
- Medium Leverage Uggla .179/.297/.371/.668 in 165PA Gattis .230/.300/.510/.810 in 110 PA
And that’s with Gattis slumping. Simmons home run put him 1 RBI behind Uggla. I could go on but it doesn’t get any better. Pitchers do not fear Uggla any longer, he’s become purely a mistake hitter who can’t hit anything with a bend in it that doesn’t hang and can’t turn on a fastball unless it’s middle in and fat. Three other players have numbers similar to Uggla’s, Rickie Weeks, Ike Davis and Anthony Recker. Add to that Uggla’s unquestionable limited defensive capabilities and you have to ask why he’s playing when Elliot Johnson is a far superior defender and would likely hit just as well.
I’m not going into detail on Woody but to me he’s looked decidedly tired his last two outings. His fastball doesn’t seem to have the same life and watching him you can see him searching for answers as he pitches. Woody’s thrown 71 1/3 major league innings and 62 in the minors for a total of 133 1/3. I’ve been told he can do more because he did this kind of innings total in college but major league innings are harder both physically and mentally and Woody is just 22 with less than 2 years professional experience. Tonight’s game was the fourth tie the Phillies have seen him this year and Sunday was the fourth time for the Marlins as well. His funky delivery is no longer a mystery and as they see how he pitches they gradually figure him out. I’ve yet to see him try to pitch backwards or mix things up, either Brian McCann isn’t taking him there or he refuses to go. I said in the debate that he needed more seasoning but injuries have kept him in the rotation and meant he’s had to learn the hard way at the major league level. He doesn’t possess the power arm of a Jose Fernandez or a Matt Harvey. When they get in trouble they just rare back and add a few mph to blow it buy you. Alex has to pitch his way out of trouble and whether it’s fatigue or a lack of experience, hitter are catching up with him.
That’s A Wrap
If the Braves were going all out to win every game they wouldn’t start Dan Uggla and would us BJ sparingly. Schafer has shown himself as if nto better in center and in the leadoff role. If they were going all out to win they would add pitching depth by shuffling the 40 man roster again and ocving someone to the DL Later today Paul Maholm will try to help the Braves avoid a sweep by the Phillies. The bullpen is stretched we need a good performance from him to steady the ship. Unfortunately the Phillies have handled Maholm well in the past, he’s 5-3 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.469 WHIP. The way our offense has been sputtering since Heyward’s injury and Schafer’s relegation to the bench he will have to pitch better than that. the Phillies have their tails up and would like nothing more than to sweep the Braves. I hope Fredi Gonzalez finds a way to prevent that.