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Freeman’s willingness to move to 3B says a lot about player

Freeman’s willingness to move to 3B says a lot about player

Move Freddie Freeman to third base? Balderdash, I said initially. Or, rather, I would’ve said that initially if I used such words. Instead, I said something along the likes of that’s (bleeping) ridiculous.

Freddie Freeman is the Braves’ franchise player, and he’s setting an example of a “team guy” with his selfless willingness to move to third base. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

But anyway, after communicating with certain folks last night and getting a better understanding of why the Braves are even considering moving their franchise player and one of the game’s two or three best first basemen across the diamond to the hot corner, to a position that Freeman last played for five games a full decade ago in rookie ball, to accommodate a guy (Matt Adams) who’s had a hot first month with the Braves, well, I had a change of heart.

Not that I don’t still think it’s a bad idea. I do. I think. But at least now I understand why it’s being considered. And that’s because Freeman is onboard with the possible move. In fact, my initial understanding is that he either suggested it himself or immediately said he’d gladly do it when it was suggested as one of the possible otions. Either way, this is a positive for the Braves, and I mean an even bigger positive than the potential of having both Freeman and Adams in the lineup without having to move a Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis to make it happen.

The bigger positive I’m referring to is that it made crystal clear, even more than it already was, that Freddie Freeman was the perfect guy to give the largest contract the Braves ever gave a player and the man to keep when they started moving so many others at the outset of their rebuilding effort.

He has not only developed into one of the very finest hitters in the game, but Freeman has shown many times, from playing through injuries, begging to stay in the lineup rather than take a rest day or sit with a nagging ache, hit anywhere in the lineup, do any charity event or public appearance, make every newcomer feel welcome to the team, and on and on, that he is the perfect example for others to follow of a selfless player. A true team-first player, not just the cliche thrown around. And that is huge.

Freeman is not concerned whatsoever about how he might struggle defensively or look bad at third base, a position he played in high school and briefly in rookie ball, but a position that he has long since outgrown physically, at least in terms of it being a good fit.

Third base requires such different skills than first base, where Freeman has developed into a strong defensive player who makes it look easy scooping up short-hop throws, doing the splits to cut down the distance of a throw to first base to save a fraction of a split-second on a bang-bang play, or extended his full long-armed, 6-foot-5 frame to reach for a high throw, saving potential errors and preventing unearned runs.

At third base, he’ll have to react to a lot more sharply hit balls than he does at first base. He’ll have to race in to make one of the most difficult defense plays there is, fielding a bunt or slow grounder, bare-handed if necessary, and make a quick and strong throw to first to have any chance of catching the runner. He’ll have to make some of the longest and most difficult throws that any infielder ever has to make on those plays along the third base line or a few feet into foul territory when only the best third basemen are capable of throwing out a fast runner. Skills that third basemen develop through years of playing the position at the highest level, not after a month working out there for the first time in a decade.

But he’s willing to do it. More than willing, from what I understand. He wants to do it if that’s what gives the Braves their best chance to win.

And you know what? Now I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea. Might — I said might — even be good, as a temporary solution just for the remainder of this season.

Adams has done a terrific job filling Freeman’s shoes since the Braves’ franchise player fracture his wrist May 17 and went on the disabled list for what was initially expected to be about 10 weeks, and as far as we know still is going to be about that long. There has been nothing new to suggest it’ll be sooner or later than that). That would be late July or early August before he returns, enough time for Freeman to work out and play some minor league games at third base once he’s cleared for full baseball activities. He only started throwing again this week and hasn’t been cleared to do any hitting yet.

The Brave are just one game under .500 (16-17) since Freeman got hurt, when I was like so many others who thought it would be all but impossible for them to play anywhere near .500 ball without their best player. Much of the credit goes to Adams, who joined the lineup three days later after an astute trade by the Braves to get him from the Cardinals, who were using Adams as a bench player.

“Big City” has shown he ain’t no bench player. Or, at least he probably shouldn’t be. Adams has hit .296 with 10 homers, 27 RBIs and a .984 OPS in 29 games for the Braves, who are 14-15 in those games. He’s had six go-ahead RBIs and three game-winning RBIs for the Braves, and a bunch of other important hits.

Take Our Poll]Adams isn’t a strong defensive first baseman, but his bat is going to help you a ton more than his glove is going to hurt you. And it’s the only position he can play; the Cardinals tried him in left field this spring and he was so shaky there that they decided to trade him even though he had power they could use and was quite popular in St. Louis with fans and teammates.

So here are the options for the Braves when Freeman returns, probably in late July or early August:

— Keep Adams and use him to solidify the bench and be a backup to Freeman, who might not be ready to play every day when he returns and could always have a setback; it is a hand/wrist injury, after all. Those can be quite tricky and nagging.

— Trade Adams before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He’s shown enough, it’s fair to say, that there are teams that might offer attractive young talent in return for a power-hitting first baseman or DH who has another season of arbitration eligibility in 2018 before he can be a free agent.

— Trade Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, move Adams to left field. If Markakis is traded, move Kemp to right. But that outfield defense might get ugly with Adams in left, and you’d be gambling that the power-laden lineup would offset the decline in defense. And if Kemp were traded, are you really any better offensively with Adams instead of Kemp in the lineup? Perhaps so, but marginally, and remember there’s at least a decent chance that Adams doesn’t produce at this same level offensively the rest of the way. Kemp and Markakis are integral parts of this Braves clubhouse mix each in his own way, and if the Braves hope to finish the season playing at a level close to .500 and sending the improved school’s-out summer crowds home happy and more likely to return, then they have to weigh whether what they might get in return for Kemp or Markakis is worth the potential fall-off in team performance.

— Move Freeman to the outfield. Bad idea, because he’s never played the outfield, for one thing. And because it would require trading either Kemp or Markakis to make it happen, and then the Braves would need to make sure they have someone to replace whichever one is traded next season, because Freeman certainly wouldn’t be staying in the outfield beyond this season. I don’t think this idea is really even being considered.

As you can see, none of the options is perfect. Some just don’t seem wise at all. But moving Freeman to third base on a temporary basis, for the rest of the season, might be a suitable solution, if he shows in the coming weeks that he can comfortably handle the position. And that would allow the Braves to decide in the offseason what to do with Adams, and in the winter they should be able to drive up the market and get more from him as multiple teams would want that bat at first base and would have time to make moves to create a spot for Adams, something that fewer teams would probably be able to do before July 31.

If they do it, it would allow the Braves to have a formidable middle of the order the rest of this season featuring Freeman, Kemp, Adams and Markakis, and Brandon Phillips batting second if they don’t trade him (but I think they will, because he’s in the last year of his contract and the Braves have Ozzie Albies penciled in for the future).

If Freeman was at all reluctant, I’d say no way, you don’t even think about asking him to move. But with him onboard and agreeable to the idea, that changes things entirely.

And if nothing else, this whole situation has underscored once again why the Braves love having Freeman as their franchise player, and why not just talent makes him special among the game’s elite players.

• Let’s close with this one from Jason Isbell off his terrific album The Nashville Sound that came out last week.

“HOPE THE HIGH ROAD” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell

I used to think that this was my town
What a stupid thing to think
I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown
I myself am on the brink

I used to want to be a real man
I don’t know what that even means
Now I just want you in my arms again
And we can search each other’s dreams

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

I heard enough of the white man’s blues
I’ve sang enough about myself
So if you’re looking for some bad news
You can find it somewhere else

Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know
But I ain’t fighting with you down in a ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in
To a world you want to live in

 



Full article @ Freeman’s willingness to move to 3B says a lot about player

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Braves still 6 games under .500, but with impressive tendencies

Braves still 6 games under .500, but with impressive tendencies

 

When the Braves came from behind to beat the Marlins on Brandon Phillips’ walk-off single in the 10th inning Saturday, then came from behind to beat them again Sunday on Phillips’ walk-off single in the ninth inning, it gave the Braves a majors-leading 11 wins in their last at-bat. For a still-rebuilding team with a modest 31 wins, that’s impressive.

Braves teammates shower Brandon Phillips after his game-ending single Sunday, his second walk-off hits to beat the Marlins in as many days. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

As was the fact that a rookie with very little experience, Johan Camargo, singled and scored the winning run after some aggressive baserunning in both games. And rookies Dansby Swanson and Rio Ruiz each had a hand in the weekend comeback wins.

The Braves, who’ve won back-to-back series at Washington and at home against the previously surging Marlins, have an interesting mix of rookies, a young but established player in Ender Inciarte, and veterans such as Phillips, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis and catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.

Not to mention the addition of slugger Matt “Big City” Adams, who has done a remarkable job doing the seemingly impossible task of filling Freddie Freeman’s shoes since Freeman fractured his left wrist.

Take Our Poll “It’s called instincts,” Phillips said when asked about Camargo going from first to third in a crucial situation Sunday, something Swanson has also done in similar situations. “The young guys, they come up here and trying to show everybody they can play this game. It’s called smart baseball. Dansby’s a very polished player. These guys up here are playing baseball, trying to get wins. It’s been a lot of fun lately. And I came through again. Thank you.”

Phillips is the best quote on the team, and he’s also playing like someone at least five years younger than his age – he’ll be 36 on June 28. It can’t be overstated how astute were the trades that general manager John Coppolella made to get Phillips days before spring training after the Braves learning of the severity of Sean Rodriguez’s shoulder injury, then to get Matt Adams within a couple of days of learning Freeman’s wrist was broken.

In neither case did the Braves give up any top prospects, and in Phillips’ case they got the Reds to pay $13 million of his $14 million salary, something that still has me scratching my head a bit. If the Braves trade him before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, well, it’ll be understandable but will also leave a void for the remainder of this season.

Ozzie Albies might step in and do some thrilling things, but Phillips’ personality and looseness in the clubhouse and on the field have made an impact on this team, along with his penchant for getting big hits.

“Just being here in Atlanta, Georgia, growing up in Stone Mountain — all my friends and my fans from Stone Mountain who I went to high school with, they didn’t really get to see me that much after I graduated since I played in Cincinnati all this time,” Phillips said Sunday, when he talked of how thrilled he was for his dad as well as his own kids to see him play Father’s Day weekend. “For me to see everybody on a regular basis, it’s a blessing, my dream come true for me to put a Braves jersey on. I’m finally doing that, I’m playing pretty good, hopeful that I can stay here a little bit longer than I expected.

“I’m just out there having a good time while it lasts.”

Suffice to say, this is a 31-37 team that others around baseball know isn’t just capable of winning any series, but has a pretty good chance to win any series, anywhere. Not saying they will – their record obviously says they don’t – but when they play their game, these Braves shown an inordinate ability, more than many teams with better records, of coming back from early deficits as well as beating up on some of the best pitchers.

“I’ve been talking about these guys for a long time,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “If you keep the game manageable, they have a knack of figuring out a way to win. If we can stay in the game I like our chances, even when we get down.”

With Sunday’s win, the Braves improved to 7-1 in games in which they were tied after eight innings. You can count Adams among those not surprised by that.

“Especially with this group of guys, it’s fun to go out there and play,” Adams said last week. “Like I said my first couple of days, seeing it from the other side, them never giving up till that last out’s recorded…. It’s just fun to be a part of it now and embrace everything, just play the game hard and play the game the right way.”

After his own walk-off hit May 23 against the Pirates in his first week with the Braves, Adams said, “Like I said the last couple of days, it’s just a fun group of guys to play with. They go about their business the right way and you saw that tonight. We fought till the end. It’s fun to be a part of. There’s not much else to say but it’s fun to be a part of. It was fun to watch from the other side, how they go about their business, how they keep fighting till the end. Now, being a part of it, it’s something special.”

• Saw James McMurtry on Saturday at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, and he was terrific as always. So I’ll close with this one from the man.

“LEVELLAND” by James McMurtry

James McMurtry

Flatter than a table top
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel
Or they lacked ambition oneIn the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sunSo they sunk some roots down in this dirt
To keep from blowin’ off the earth
Built a town right here
When the dust had all but clearedThey called it Levelland
Levelland
LevellandGrand dad grew the dry land wheat
Stood on his own two feet
His mind got incomplete
And they put him in a homeDaddy’s cotton grows so high
Sucks the water table dry
His rolling sprinklers circle back
Bleeding it to the bone

And I won’t be here when it comes the day
It all dries up and blows away
I’d hang around just to see
But they never had much use for me

In Levelland
They don’t understand me
In Levelland

Well I watch those ships trails comin’ out that big blue sky
Coast to coasters, watch ’em go
And I don’t blame ’em one damn bit
If they never look down on this
Ain’t much down here they’d want to know

Just Levelland
You could wash your hands
In nothin’ but Levelland

Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We’d sit outside and watch the stars at night
She tell me to make a wish
I’d wish we both could fly
I don’t think she’s seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish

I can hear the marching band
Doing the best they can to play
Smoke on the water
And joy to the world

I payed up all my debts
Got some change left over yet
I’m getting on a whisper jet
Going to fly as far as I can get

From Levelland
Done the best I can
In Levelland

 



Full article @ Braves still 6 games under .500, but with impressive tendencies

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Kemp’s impact on Braves has been considerable

Kemp’s impact on Braves has been considerable

 

Much has been made, and rightfully so, of the stellar work Matt Adams has done filling in for Freddie Freeman since the Braves lost their best player to a fractured wrist, an injury that many of us figured would doom the Braves for the approximate 2 ½ months Freeman was expected to be sidelined.

Matt Kemp’s impact has been considerable since joining the Braves at the beginning of August 2016. (AP photo)

But while Adams’ performance — .289 average, eight homers, 21 RBIs .608 slugging percentage, .948 OPS in 24 games – has been outstanding, it shouldn’t overshadow the continued production of Matt Kemp, who’s kept raking in the cleanup spot with Nick Markakis hitting in front of him instead of Freeman.

In his past 31 games since May 15 (two days before Freeman got hurt), Kemp has hit .333 (41-for-123) with 15 extra-base hits (five homers), a .374 OBP and .537 slugging percentage (.911 OPS), and he’s as big a reason as any why the Braves are 16-15 in those games despite being without Freeman for 28 of them.

And it’s also why the Braves were understandably concerned when Kemp grabbed his left hamstring after sliding into third base in the third inning Wednesday at Nationals Park, and why there was relief when he was diagnosed with hamstring tightness rather than a pull or strain that probably would’ve sent Kemp back to the 10-day disabled list.

Kemp had a 10-day DL stint in April for a right-hamstring strain, but Freeman was superman in that period and pretty much carried the offense. As good as Adams has been while batting primarily fifth, he’s not quite the every-day monster that Freeman was in the third spot in the order. Adams is more human, prone to a bad series here and there, whereas Freeman was playing MVP-caliber ball and rarely had even consecutive games without an impactful performance.

Which brings us back to Kemp and the importance of his hamstring issue being mere tightness, as diagnosed Wednesday, and not something worse. He’ll be evaluated again Friday afternoon, after the Braves were off Thursday and after he gets treatment during the day Friday. The hope was that he could return to the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Marlins, but as long as Kemp returns during the weekend series and avoids the DL, the Braves will breathe a sigh of relief and be happy to have dodged a bullet.

Because while they were able to replace much of Freeman’s power potential with the trade for Adams, the Braves would not be able to replace Kemp for any significant period. His production is especially vital to this offense while Freeman is out. (Not to mention he and Brandon Phillips take the Braves’ sartorial rating up several notches with their hip attire, particularly on road trips.)

For the season, Kemp is sixth in the National League in batting average (.327), tied for third in doubles (19), tied for 13th in slugging percentage (.558), 25th in OBP (.364) and 17th in OPS (.922) — between Kris Bryant (.930) and Nolan Arenado (.898) and well ahead  of the likes of Anthony Rendon (.888) and Anthony Rizzo (.886).

“This is the best I’ve seen Matt swing the bat in a good minute,” said veteran second baseman Phillips, who’s in his first season with the Braves after playing against Kemp for so many years when Phillips was with Cincinnati and Kemp was on West Coast with the Dodgers or Padres. “Playing against him all these years, he’s been very consistent, and for him to not just worry about the power numbers – he’s hitting singles, he’s driving guys in when people get on base, and he’s very fun to watch.

“He’s just playing smart baseball, staying within himself, not trying to do too much. I’m happy that I came over here to have a chance to play with  Matt.”

Kemp has been so good, such a vital part of the team since coming to the Braves before the 2017 trade deadline that the Braves might even get trade interest in the 32-year-old former MVP runner-up, despite the fact he’s still making $21.5 million this season and owed that much in each of the next two seasons through 2019, of which the Braves are responsible for about $18 million annually minus the part that the Dodgers/Padres are paying.

But whether they get an offer worth considering – losing Kemp would be a blow to the Braves, who want to remain competitive in their first season at SunTrust Park – or decide to wait until later to even consider trading Kemp, for now the Braves will just cross fingers and hope his hamstring responds to treatment and that it was, indeed, just tightness.

They’d like to have him back this weekend and build on the momentum of a series win at Nationals Park in which the Braves piled up 29 runs in three games.

• Let’s close with this one from LL. Seems about right for Kemp past couple of years.

“MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT” by LL Cool J

LL Cool J

Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Explosion, overpowerin
Over the competition, I’m towerin
Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that’ll make you call the cops
Don’t you dare stare, you betta move
Don’t ever compare
Me to the rest that’ll all get sliced and diced
Competition’s payin the price

I’m gonna knock you out
Mama said knock you out….



Full article @ Kemp’s impact on Braves has been considerable

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Here’s who Braves might take with No. 5 pick in draft

Here’s who Braves might take with No. 5 pick in draft

 

WASHINGTON — The Braves have the No. 5 overall pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft that starts tonight (6 p.m.) on the MLB Network. So, you’re wondering, are they going to take yet another high school pitcher?

From what I’m hearing, it’s more likely they will not.

Vanderbilt junior Kyle Wright could be the Braves’ pick at No. 5, if he’s not taken before that. (AP photo)

Now, this obviously could change late, and either of these two guys could be gone before the Braves pick, but the two names I’m hearing from people familiar with the Braves’ thinking are Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright and North Carolina high school outfielder Austin Beck. And from everything I’ve been told and all I’ve read about them, either would be a strong pick at No. 5.

Check with five or six draft experts or other outlets doing mock draft and you’re likely to get at least three or four different projections for the Braves top pick. For instance, MLB.com draft experts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, in their latest mock draft Monday, had the Braves taking college outfielder/second baseman Keston Hiura from the University of California-Irvine.

The Sporting News had the Braves taking California high school shortstop/outfielder Royce Lews at No. 5, and Bleacher Report using the pick to take North Carolina high school lefty Mackenzie Gore.

But I’m hearing Braves are more likely to take one of the two players that MLB.com has going to the Athletics directly after the Braves with the No. 6 pick – Mayo has the A’s taking Beck and Callis has them taking Wright.

Baseball America’s John Manuel and ESPN’s Keith Law both have the Braves taking Wright, who was rated the No. 2 prospect in the draft in BA’s preview and who was projected as late as Thursday to be the No. 1 overall selection by Callis.

By Monday, Callis and most other prominent draft pundits had come around to the Twins using the No. 1 pick on two-way player Brendan McKay of Louisville, a power-hitting and power-armed first baseman/pitcher.  The Sporting News still had the Twins using the top pick on Wright.

So, if I’m, ahem, right on Wright – or Beck – what will the Braves be getting at No. 5?

Beck is a toolsy outfielder from North Davidson High School in Lexington, N.C., a place where they make great BBQ that would be better if they didn’t put any red (tomato) in the vinegar-based sauce. But I’m originally from Eastern N.C. (Greenville), so I’m admittedly partial to the best chopped pork BBQ on the planet, which has a vinegar sauce that is clear, not red.

Anyway, Beck tore his the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at the end of his junior year and, as a result, missed summer and fall ball. But it worked out to his advantage, say the scouts who saw how much stronger he was after using the down time to build up. I’m told he’s got tremendous bat speed, power to all fields, very good speed and a strong arm.

I’d give you his high school stats, but why? High school stats don’t mean much, if anything, given the wildly disparate levels of competition from state to state and in various classifications within each state. The important thing is how his talent, his skills, rates by the scouts who are paid to do this stuff.

As for Wright, if the Braves take him they’d have two top-5 Vanderbilt draft picks from the past three drafts (Dansby Swanson was the No. 1 pick by Arizona in 2015). And they would have the latest in a line of highly regarded Vanderbilt pitchers.

Wright grew up outside Hunstville, Ala., and wasn’t drafted out of high school in 2014. But now the 6-foor-4, 220-pound righty is about to go off the board early in the first round, as a bevy of teams covet his power arm and much-improved command.

He generally works in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball but has been clocked at 95-97, and has a “plus” curveball and slider and a pretty good change-up. Wright struck out 13 in a May 6 game against Missouri and reportedly was still hitting 94 mph with his fastball in the ninth inning of a complete game against Florida on April 14.

So that’s what I hear, Beck or Wright. And if it turns out to be neither, well, nevermind.

By the way, I’ll be here in D.C. covering the Braves-Nationals series, not back in Atlanta covering the draft. We’ve got Foltynewicz vs. Strasburg tonight in Game 1. I’ll take that over a baseball draft anytime.

I’ll close with this all-time great from the mighty Pretenders, since bassist Peter Farndon, a founder of the band, was born this day in 1952. He died of a drug overdose at age 30 after playing on their first two terrific albums.

“TALK OF THE TOWN” by The Pretenders

The Pretenders

Such a drag to want something sometime
One thing leads to another I know
Was a time wanted you for mine
Nobody knew
You arrived like a day
And passed like a cloud
I made a wish, I said it out loud
Out loud in a crowd
Everybody heard
’twas the talk of the townIt’s not my place to know what you feel
I’d like to know but why should i?
Who were you then, who are you now?
Common labourer by night, by day highbrow
Back in my room I wonder, then i
Sit on the bed, look at the sky
Up in the sky
Clouds rearrange
Like the talk of the town

Maybe tomorrow, maybe someday
Maybe tomorrow, maybe someday
You’ve changed your place in this world
You’ve changed your place in this world

Oh but it’s hard to live by the rules
I never could and still never do
The rules and such never bothered you
You call the shots and they follow
I watch you still from a distance then go
Back to my room, you never know
I want you, I want you but now
Who’s the talk of the town?

 



Full article @ Here’s who Braves might take with No. 5 pick in draft

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Markakis: Not a big star, but something special

Markakis: Not a big star, but something special

 

If “stoic” was a standard scouting superlative, if cold stares were an advanced metric, if grim-faced was an intangible and rapid beard growth were a skill, well, Nick Markakis would be a major star.

But they are not and he is not.

Nick Markakis is viewed as a steady, consummate pro by teammates past and present. (Getty Images)

What the 33-year-old Braves right fielder and Woodstock High School graduate is, according to teammates past and present, is a terrific teammate and consummate professional who never, ever seeks attention and, in fact, avoids or deflects it to an uncommon degree.

Take Tuesday night, when Markakis had drove in five runs with three doubles in the Braves’ 14-1 rout against the Phillies. Then he dressed and was gone before reporters even entered the players’ area of the clubhouse after our brief postgame interview with manager Brian Snitker.

Where’s Nick? “I think he left,” was the reply. And none of us was terribly surprised.

He knew the questions would be about him, and Markakis hates talking about himself. Doesn’t much like talking to reporters, period, but understands it’s part of the job and so he does it, making himself available at least as much as most players before and after games.

But talking about himself? Not his thing.

Even on a night when he records his 45th multi-double game, the most in the major leagues since Markakis made his debut with the Orioles in 2006. Since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920, only two other players in Braves franchise history had a three-double, five-RBI game, and Markakis was the first to do it since Gene Moore in 1936.

Markakis is hitting .289 with team-highs in doubles (15) and RBIs (31) in 57 games, and his .366 OBP is second-highest among active Braves. In other words, he’s having a typical Markakis season, except with only one home run (he typically gets those in bunches, as he did in the second half of 2016, and finishes a season with 12-13 homers).

“He’s Mr. Steady,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s a boring pro that just comes to work every day and prepares and plays. He’s a real pleasure to be around because of his professionalism and how he goes about it. He never takes anything off – a pitch, a n inning, a play. I mean, the guy’s a true pro.”

Markakis is excelling in areas where he’s excelled for most of his 12-year career: With runners on base, he’s hitting .304 (31-for-102) with a .400 OBP, nine doubles and 13 walks. With runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .327 (18-for-55) with four doubles, nine walks, .441 OBP.

With bases loaded: .500 (3-for-6) with two doubles. In close-and-late situations: .286 (10-for-35) with two doubles, one triple, six walks (three intentional), .405 OBP.

In 100 at-bats over his past 26 games, Markakis has hit .300 with seven doubles, 18 RBIs, a .369 OBP and .370 slugging percentage (.739 OPS). The Braves are 14-12 in those games, despite the fact the played without their injured star, Freddie Freeman, for the past 20 of those games.

Beyond statistics, what Markakis has done is what he’s always done: Everything right, particularly behind the scenes, away from the cameras and our view. Hardly anyone works more in the weight room or batting cage, few study opposing pitchers as much.

“True pro,” said Braves rookie Dansby Swanson, who also had three hits including a three-run homer Wednesday. “It’s a pleasure to be able to play with him and watch him.”

But outside of Baltimore, where he played nine years, won two Gold Gloves and was a fan favorite for his blue-collar attitude, serious demeanor and steady production, and the Braves’ clubhouse, where teammates constantly praise him, Markakis has never really been mentioned among baseball’s stars. Even if he produces, in many categories, on a par with many more recognized players, even at age 33.

In his past 162 games, going back to June 6, 2016, Markakis has hit .286 with a .357 OBP, 53 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 91 RBIs including 19 go-ahead RBIs and nine game-winning RBIs, and a .415 slugging percentage and .772 OPS.

And consider this: In the past 365 days he has a .355 OBP that is better than the OBP of Christian Yelich (.354), Kyle Seager (.354) or Ryan Braun (.349) in that span and matches the OBPs of Brian McCann, Martin Prado and J.T. Realmuto.

In that same period, Markakis has as many RBIs (86) as Manny Machado and more than Kris Bryant (85), Giancarlo Stanton (84), and his 38 doubles in in the past 365 days is one more than Joey Votto, Charlie Blackmon or Paul Goldschmidt and two more than Jose Altuve or Bryant.

He doesn’t get much recognition as a big-time hitter primarily because of the lack of home runs — Markakis has a modest 13 homers in the past 365 days, same as Elvis Andrus, one fewer than Dexter Fowler, one more than Kevin Pillar, four more than Jason Heyward.

But among players, there is a lot of respect for the “professional at-bats” that Markakis produces again and again, like some sort of automaton with a bat and a steely glare.

“You watch him hit and he hits it to all fields – he takes what they give him and does it well,” Swanson said. “And doesn’t want any credit for it. He’s awesome.”

Even if the masses don’t notice, his peers certainly do.

Let’s close with this song about a working man in his prime, Van Morrison‘s “Cleaning Windows.”

“CLEANING WINDOWS” by Van Morrison

Van the Man

Oh, the smell of the bakery from across the street
Got in my nose
As we carried our ladders down the street
With the wrought-iron gate rows
I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch break
Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner
And went straight back to work.Oh, Sam was up on top
And I was on the bottom with the v
We went for lemonade and Paris buns
At the shop and broke for tea
I collected from the lady
And I cleaned the fanlight inside-out
I was blowing saxophone on the weekend
In that down joint.

What’s my line?
I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time
I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide
I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows (number a hundred and thirty-six)

I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon
On the street where I was born
Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee,
Muddy Waters singin’ “I’m A Rolling Stone”
I went home and read my Christmas Humphreys’ book on Zen
Curiosity killed the cat
Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” and “On The Road”

What’s my line?
I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time
I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide
I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows…



Full article @ Markakis: Not a big star, but something special

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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If Bartolo is out of rotation, who should be in?

If Bartolo is out of rotation, who should be in?

 

Bartolo Colon has been a major bust so far for the Braves, and the latest in his string of bad starts Monday might have been enough for the Braves to drop him from the rotation, either by DL’ing him, moving him to the bullpen or designating him for assignment. That decision could come this week before his next scheduled start, which would be Saturday in a doubleheader against the Mets.

(Addendum: The decision, or part of it, came Tuesday when Colon was DL’d for a “left oblique strain.”)

Bartolo Colon delivers a pitch during the first inning of his brief and awful start Monday against the Phillies. (AP photo)

So if Colon is dumped — he knows it could happen — where might the Braves turn to fill his rotation spot? They’ll likely need to add another starter Saturday to get through the doubleheader whether or not they let Colon start one of the games.

Scanning the list of candidates inside the organization, and crossing off the names of some very talented but not-quite-ready younger prospects, the guys who seem promising as possible Colon replacements — now or after Saturday — are prospect Sean Newcomb and veteran Kris Medlen.

Since Medlen is only four minor-league starts into a comeback attempt after shoulder issues in 2016, and the Braves have been cautious with him so far to avoid setbacks, I don’t know that they’ll consider him a possibility. Not yet. (Addenum: manager Brian Snitker, after Tuesday’s Colon DL announcement, said Medlen getting close but not quite ready to consider as a replacement. Here’s the story on that.)

The Braves could go the safer route and bring back Matt Wisler, who was part of the rotation for most of  2015-2016 but has been used only as reliever this season in two major league stints and has a 5.01 ERA in seven Triple-A starts. I can hear the groans from much of Braves Country as you read that sentence.

And so, Newcomb seems like the guy to go to if the Braves want to aim high and see whether one of their vaunted prospects is ready for the challenge. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but the Braves are only at 38 so they could add him without having to drop anyone from the 40-man if they decide they want to.

That’s unless the Braves  decide that Medlen is ready — which seems unlikely this soon — or unless general manager John Coppolella makes a move between now and Saturday to acquire a starter via trade or sign a starter off the scrap heap, someone who’d been waived or went unsigned. For obvious reasons, the latter option would probably not be attractive to many inside or outside the organization, and the trade markets really won’t start heating up for another couple of weeks or more.

So, let’s focus on Newcomb a moment. A big, imposing, hard-throwing left-hander who turns 24 next week, Newcomb is 3-3 with a 2.97 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Gwinnett with 74 strikeouts and 33 walks in 54 2/3 innings.

The walks continue to be problematic and contribute to his not going deep into games, but he’s allowed just three home runs and has been dominant in several starts, most notably an 11-strikeout, one-hit, two-walk, seven-inning performance April 30 in his fourth start of the season.

Newcomb was a first-round draft selection — 15th overall pick – in 2014 by the Angels, who traded him to the Braves as a key piece in the November 2015 deal that sent Platinum Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons to Anaheim. (After watching Simmons do his thing last week against the Braves, including a home run, it’d be nice to see some return from that trade about now, wouldn’t it?)

Newcomb impressed in a couple of major league spring training games this year, showing flashes of huge potential that made him one of the top 25 prospects in baseball prior to the 2016 season. (He slipped after an erratic 2016 season but still was ranked as high as No. 44 by Baseball Prospectus entering this season.)

Who are the other in-house possibilities, you ask? How about Lucas Sims? Or maybe Aaron Blair? And what’s wrong with Wisler?

Let’s consider those possibilities and why a couple of them seem unlikely.

While Colon was getting knocked around Monday night by the Phillies, Sims was giving up six earned runs, seven hits and two homers in five innings of a loss to the Norfolk Tides, giving him an 0-3 record and 8.38 ERA, .321 opponents’ average and 1.003 opponents’ OPS in his past four starts at Gwinnett.

It’s been a confounding time for Sims, 23, a former Brookwood High School standout who began the season on such an impressive roll that he was being considered for next-man-up status by team officials if and when the Braves needed a starter.

Sims’ slump began immediately after the former first-round draft pick went 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA, .171 opponents’ average and .495 opponents’ OPS in his first seven starts, with 42 strikeouts and nine walks in 41 2/3 innings. In the past four starts, he had 20 strikeouts with 10 walks in 19 1/3 innings.

Wisler has worked as a starter at Triple-A this season but strictly as a reliever in two major league stints, posting a 7.00 ERA in nine innings of two major league games while allowing nine hits and three walks with three strikeouts in nine innings. As a member of the Braves’ starting rotation for most of the 2015-2016 seasons, Wisler went 15-21 with a 4.88 ERA in 47 games (45 starts). Team officials determined he probably was rushed to the majors before he was ready.

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Wisler’s Triple-A work this season has been disappointing, to say the least: He is 1-4 with a 5.01 ERA in seven starts at Gwinnett, with 50 hits (four homers), 11 walks and 29 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings. He was a little better in his most recent start Saturday at Gwinnett, allowing six hits and two runs in five innings a week after being optioned back to Triple-A.

In his last last major league appearance May 28 at San Francisco, Wisler pitched two scoreless innings with no hits or walks. He’s scheduled to make his next start Friday for Gwinnett, so the timing would at least work if the Braves wanted to have him start instead in Saturday’s doubleheader against the Mets.

Which brings us to Blair. He, too, has not handled Triple-A competition the way the Braves hoped he would after getting 15 major league starts a year ago. He’s just 3-3 with a 5.40 ERA in nine starts at Gwinnett and was on the seven-day disabled list before being activated to start Tuesday night (which would put him on short rest Saturday anyway, so basically that rules him out). He has continued to be undermined by inconsistency and control issues – he has 25 walks with 32 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.

A year ago, Blair struggled to a 2-7 record and 7.85 ERA in 15 major league starts. The Braves thought he, like Wisler, was probably rushed to the majors before he was ready. That situation was one they hoped to avoid with any young pitchers this season by signing the two over-40 starters and former Cy Young Award winners, Colon and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and by trading for left-hander Jaime Garcia with one year left in his contract.

So far, only Garcia has worked out the way the Braves envisioned, and Colon has been so bad that the Braves are likely to dip down to the minors to find a replacement if they don’t move quickly to acquire one from outside the organization, of which the pickings seem a bit slim right now. But, hey, Coppy has surprised us before with a move seemingly pulled from his hat.

Stay tuned.

• This classic from Sinatra seems appropriate today.

“THE SEPTEMBER OF MY YEARS” by Frank Sinatra

One day you turn around and it’s summer
Next day you turn around and it’s fall
And the springs and the winters of a lifetime
Whatever happened to them all?
As a man who has always had the wand’ring ways
Now I’m reaching back for yesterdays
‘Til a long-forgotten love appears
And I find that I’m sighing softly as I near
September, the warm September of my years
As I man who has never paused at wishing wells
Now I’m watching children’s carousels
And their laughter’s music to my ears
And I find that I’m smiling gently as I near
September, the warm September of my years
The golden warm September of my years



Full article @ If Bartolo is out of rotation, who should be in?

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Braves’ Santana: From ‘Danny who?’ to ‘I like this guy’

Braves’ Santana: From ‘Danny who?’ to ‘I like this guy’

 

Danny Santana had a game Sunday that would’ve made his late mother proud.

Making the most of recently increased playing time, the Braves’ Santana went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in a 13-8 win at Cincinnati, showing skills that made him an up-and-comer with the Twins a few years ago and have lately intrigued Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Danny Santana (left) went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run Sunday, and Ender Inciarte (center) had five hits including a homer in the Braves’ 13-8 slugfest win at Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was Santana’s fourth career game with at least four hits but his first with three extra-base hits.

The four hits doubled his total in 35 previous at-bats since being traded to the Braves on May 8, and his four starts – at three different positions plus designated hitter — in the past eight games doubled his previous total starts since the trade.

Those two points aren’t mutually exclusive: Santana is thriving with more playing time, totaling four extra-base hits and six RBIs in four starts on the just-completed three-city trip.

He’s done so while playing with the name of his mother, Susana, tattooed in script on the inner part of his right arm. She died in November after a battle with cancer, with Danny skipping winter ball in his native Dominican Republic so he could spend most of his time at her side in her final weeks.

When the Braves got him in a May 8 trade, the general reaction around Braves Country was, Danny who? But for those who watched Sunday’s game, or were up to see his performances in San Francisco and Anaheim earlier in the trip, it’s becoming apparent why the Braves traded for Santana, 26, despite the fact that he only hit .266 with a .300 OBP and .681 OPS in 981 plate appearances spread over parts of four seasons with the Twins.

“The kid has some skills,” Snitker said. “He just hadn’t had a lot of playing time prior to us getting him, and it’s just kind of hard to get him in (games).”

But Snitker found ways on the trip, and now Santana has probably earned himself a bigger role and a chance to keep showing what he can do.

Santana’s slugging percentage (.450) is more than double his OBP (.220), due to the fact that a remarkable seven of his eight hits for the Brave have been extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple, one homer). He’s hitting .200 with a .220 OBP and .670 OPS for the Braves, which is an extremely unusual line, albeit in just 18 games and 40 at-bats. He has just one walk, but also has almost as many extra-base hits as strikeouts (nine).

In his stellar rookie season with the Twins in 2014, when he hit .319 with a .353 OBP and .824 OPS, Santana also had some unusual stats including more than twice as many extra-base hits (41) as walks (19). He was the Twins’ center fielder much of that season and also had more stolen bases (20) than in 101 games and 405 at-bats, which remain far and away his most at-bats.

“I played against him when he was in Minnesota,” said Braves catcher Tyler Flowers, who was with the White Sox when Santana was a Twins rookie, “and he had a real good year where we couldn’t get him out. He was just hammering balls everywhere, plus he’s fast. He’s one of those sneaky-strong kind of guys.”

Danny Santana hit .319 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases as a Twins rookie in 2014. (AP photo)

Contrast those rookie numbers with these: From the beginning of the following season in 2015 to the time he was traded to the Braves four weeks ago, Santana hit just .215 with a.258 OBP and .310 slugging percentage, and totaled 131 strikeouts in with just 19 walks and 519 at-bats in that span.

After serving as the Twins’ regular center fielder for much of his rookie season,  Santana played primarily shortstop in 2015 – 65 starts at short, three starts in the outfield – and struggled badly at the plate, his average and OBP dropping more than 100 points each to .215 and .241, while his OPS fell nearly 300 points to .532 from that .824 he posted as a rookie. He was a utility player by late season and finished with just 261 at-bats in 91 games.

In 2016 he was switched back to an outfield role and was slowed first by a hamstring strain and then a season-ending shoulder sprain in August, and Santana hit .240 with a .279 OBP and .606 OPS in 75 games (233 at-bats) that season. This season he played sparingly for the Twins, posting a .200 average, .231 OBP and .591 OPS in 25 at-bats before the May 8 trade to Atlanta in exchance for journeyman left-hander Kevin Chapman and cash.

“That’s the thing that he was lacking coming over here, just at-bats and playing time,” Snitker said during the just-completed trip, when he decided to give Santana some starts to see what he could do with three or four at-bats instead of just pinch-hitting. “Over there (in the AL) if you’re not an every-day guy there’s just not a lot for you.”

Santana started three games in a four-day span and intrigued Snitker with his production, beginning May 27 at San Francisco when he started at third base and had a long RBI triple at San Francisco. Two days later the Braves opened a series against the Angels at Anaheim, where Snitker gave him consecutive starts in left field and at DH. He lined a two-run double off the wall in the first of those games.

He didn’t play in the series finale at Anaheim on Wednesday or the series opener two days later Cincinnati, and only got one pinch-hit at-bat in the 12-inning win Saturday. But when Santana returned to the lineup Sunday in right fielder as Nick Markakis got his first full day off of the season. (Markakis has started 51 of 54 games in right field and served as DH in two others.)

What followed was the first four-hit game for Santana since his rookie season in 2014, when he had two four-hit games and a five-hit game.

By the way, Kevin Chapman, the reliever the Braves traded for Santana, has a 5.00 ERA and 1.333 WHIP in nine relief innings at Triple-A Rochester since the trade, after posting a 7.71 ERA and 1.457 WHIP in nine appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett prior to the trade.

Figured I’d close with The Boss, just because. This is one of his more underrated latter-career gems, in my opinion.

“TOUGHER THAN THE REST” by Bruce Springsteen

Well it’s Saturday night
You’re all dressed up in blue
I been watching you awhile
Maybe you been watching me too
So somebody ran out
Left somebody’s heart in a mess
Well if you’re looking for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

Some girls they want a handsome Dan
Or some good-lookin’ Joe, on their arm
Some girls like a sweet-talkin’ Romeo
Well ’round here baby
I learned you get what you can get
So if you’re rough enough for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

The road is dark
And it’s a thin thin line
But I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time
Maybe your other boyfriends
Couldn’t pass the test
Well if you’re rough and ready for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

Well it ain’t no secret
I’ve been around a time or two
Well I don’t know baby maybe you’ve been around too
Well there’s another dance
All you gotta do is say yes
And if you’re rough and ready for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest
If you’re rough enough for love
Baby I’m tougher than the rest



Full article @ Braves’ Santana: From ‘Danny who?’ to ‘I like this guy’

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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A Southern California homecoming for Braves’ Ruiz

A Southern California homecoming for Braves’ Ruiz

ANAHEIM – When his family and friends from his Los Angeles-area high school saw Braves third baseman Rio Ruiz on Monday, they might have thought he looked younger than he did at graduation five years ago. That’s what a buzz cut on a guy in his early 20s can do, and Ruiz got such a haircut last week after losing a bet when Ender Inciarte got five hits in one game.

Rio Ruiz gets a high-five after his two-run homer off reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on May 20. (AP photo)

“My girlfriend told me she doesn’t like it,” said Ruiz, who turned 23 a week ago. “Feels like she was dating me before I turned 21 — that’s what she said.”

But the hair will grow back quickly. All of Ruiz’s people were just thrilled to find out he’d be with the Braves in their first interleague trip to Anaheim since 2011. And not just on the 25-man roster, but likely in the starting lineup for two or all three games in the series against the Angels.

Ruiz has been the primary third baseman while Adonis Garcia’s been on the 10-day disabled list with Achilles tendinitis, and the rookie has impressed so much that the Braves plan to keep him on the big-league team after Garcia’s expected return later this week. Ruiz hit .273 (9-for-33) with two doubles, a home run and a .776 OPS in 11 games before Monday, despite going 1-for-8 in three games (two starts) during a series at San Francisco that ended Sunday.

After getting five hits and two RBIs in two games Wednesday and Thursday against the Pirates, Ruiz said something before Friday’s series opener at San Francisco that showed how far he’s come mentally, how prepared he was to deal with success or struggle.

“I don’t want to get carried away with it,” he said after the five hits in two games had raised his average to .320 and his OPS to .873. “I want to keep my feet on the ground, definitely. I don’t think too much of it. I think of it as just trying to help the team win. I was very fortunate that I was able to be put in a situation to where I was kind of forced to get knocks, get those hits, get some big hits and keep rallies going, and I’m very fortunate for those things to happen.”

But, he added, “Anything can happen. You never know with baseball. You can be the hottest hitter in the world and then the next day you start an 0-for-20. You know what I mean? In baseball you’ve just got to take the negatives and roll with them and take the positives and stay humble with that. And that’s the best way to look at it.”

This week’s series feels like a homecoming for Ruiz, in more ways than one. His hometown of Covina, in Los Angeles County about 20 miles east of downtown L.A., is some 45 minutes to an hour from Angel Stadium, depending on traffic. Dodger Stadium was closer than Angel Stadium to Ruiz’s home, but he grew up an Angels fan — an a fairly hardcore one, at that.

“I was an Angels guy because my favorite player was Darin Erstad,” Ruiz said of the former first baseman and outfielder who played 11 seasons for the Angels beginning in 1996, when Ruiz was 2 and the team was still known as the California Angels. The changed their name to the Anaheim Angels in 1997 and then to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before the 2005 season.

Erstad was a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover for the Angels, played for them through 2006 and had a crucial home run in Game 6 of their seven-game 2006 World Series win against the San Francisco Giants.

“He was my favorite player,” Ruiz said again, before launching into a rundown of his Angels. “Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, David Eckstein, Garret Anderson, Scott Spezio…I mean, I could go on and on.”

He and his brothers didn’t get to many major league games, but when they went it was almost always Angels games, not Dodgers.

“We went to as many as we could,” Ruiz said. “My dad would try to take us to as many things as he could, but it just didn’t work out for us very much. But as many as we could and I really cherish those moments.”

Now, he’s creating memories. For himself, his parents, his siblings and all those who’ve followed his career, from two-sport star at Bishop Amat – he had committed to play football (quarterback or cornerback) and baseball at the University of Southern California before opting for pro baseball – to fourth-round pick by the Astros in 2012, and a January 2015 trade to the Braves along with Mike Foltynewicz in exchange for Evan Gattis and a minor league pitcher.

After Ruiz’s disappointing 2015 season in Double-A, he heeded the advice of Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and “took ownership of his career” by diving into a much more rigorous offseason workout and diet regimen. Ruiz went from a self-described “fat” 240 pounds in 2015 to his current (much) leaner but stronger 220, and repaired his prospect status with a strong Triple-A season in 2016 that earned him a brief September call-up.

Now he’s in the big leagues with a chance to show the Braves that he’s worthy of a spot in their long-range plans. Teammates and Braves officials and coaches have praised his maturity and dedication to improve.

“The first thing that’s noticeable, in my opinion, is just his consistency in how he carries himself and how he approaches things,” Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “It’s kind of mirrored in how he plays. He doesn’t get too low, he believes in himself a lot and expects a lot of himself. That’s a feeling I know can almost be a weakness at points if you let it be, but I think it’s definitely one of his strong suits that he carries himself that way.”

Swanson added, “I also think he’s a real headsy player – he’s played baseball a long time, so he has a good IQ and feel for the game and plays the game the right way. So, he fits right in here.”

Snitker noted that Ruiz, much as they did during early mornings at spring training, has continued to work on defensive drills with third-base coach and infield instructor coach Ron Washington during afternoons before batting practice.

“Wash has had him out here early,” Snitker said. “There’s some things he can improve on defensively with some work, I think. And again, it’s good for those guys to – they do things, they work on things in the minor leagues, and you get here and the speed of the game is different. And the only way they’re going to get the speed of this game is to play at this level, and then I think they understand some of the things they have to do.

“He improved last year from when we started until the end, and he continues to work and get better. He’s a young player that’s getting better.”

During the weekend series at San Francisco, Ruiz was still trying to figure out how many tickets he’d be able to get to meet some of the many requests he’d received.

“I don’t know if I will be able to (fill them all),” he said, smiling. “I’ll see what I’ll be able to do. Parents for sure, brothers and sisters for sure, and then we’ll go from there. It’s gonna be one expensive trip, that’s for sure.”

He was asked if his famous agent, Scott Boras, who is based in nearby Newport Beach and has season tickets behind home plate at Angel Stadium, might be able to help with the ticket requsts. Boras does, after all, have a great relationship with Angels owner Arte Moreno.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Ruiz said. “I’ve talked to him a little bit about it. Hopefully, I think he may be able to slide a couple of people into his special spot down there. I’m not gonna ask him for much; he’s done enough for me.”

• On Memorial Day, let’s close with this poignant classic from George Jones.

“50,000 NAMES ON THE WALL” by George Jones

George Jones

There are teddy bears and high school rings
and old photographs that mamas bring
That daddies with their young boys, playing ball.
There’s combat boots that he used to wear,
When he was sent over there.
There’s 50,000 names carved in the wallThere’s cigarettes and there’s cans of beer
and notes that say I miss you dear
and children who don’t say anything at all.
There’s purple hearts and packs of gum
fatherless daughters and fatherless sons
and there’s 50,000 names carved in the wallThey come from all across this land
In pickup trucks and mini vans
Searching for a boy from long ago
They scan the wall and find his name
The teardrops fall like pouring rain
and silently they leave a gift and go

There’s stars of David and rosary beads
and crucifixion figurines
and flowers of all colors large and small
There’s a Boy Scout badge and a merit pin
Little American flags waving in the wind
and there’s 50,000 names carved in the wall.

There’s 50,000 names carved in the wall…

 

 



Full article @ A Southern California homecoming for Braves’ Ruiz

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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‘Big River’ should keep 3B job over Garcia

‘Big River’ should keep 3B job over Garcia

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Rio Ruiz will keep playing third base this weekend against the Giants while Adonis Garcia puts in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett. But Ruiz could, and I believe should, continue as the Braves’ primary third baseman even after Garcia returns from the disabled list as soon as Monday.

Rio Ruiz gets a high-five from Bartolo Colon after Ruiz hit a two-run homer off reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on May 20. (AP photo)

Garcia, who’s been out 10 days with Achilles tendinitis, likely will be activated during the series against the Angels that begins Monday, provided he has no setbacks this weekend. But let’s be honest: There’s no reason the Braves should continue playing the 32-year-old Garcia, who is not part of the long-range plan, ahead of the 23-year-old Ruiz, who is showing glimpses that he might be part of that plan or is at least the plan for the near future.

Let Garcia start against left-handers, whom the Braves are seeing infrequently this season, and serve as a bench player and pinch-hitter. It’s time to play Ruiz, who is a better hitter and brings more energy and enthusiasm to the team. “Big River” Ruiz has more than a terrific nickname – which he got in high school, when he was a standout quarterback and baseball player in Los Angeles – he has the ability to make fans care about his at-bats. Garcia does not.

Garcia has been the starting third baseman in 33 of 45 Braves games this season and is the primary reason for the following: Braves third basemen are in the bottom half of MLB in every major offensive statistical category including tied for 25th in OPS (.634), 25th in majors in slugging percentage (.341), tied for 18th in homers (5), tied for 19th in RBIs (21), 29th in doubles (4) and tied for 26th in walks (12).

Turn the page. The Garcia era should be over.

(So should the Bartolo Colon era. But I fully understand why it might not be, at least for right now, since the Braves are paying him $12.5 million and there’s still a chance, however faint, that the 44-year-old could get things turned around, in which case DFA’ing him now could lead to the potential nightmare scenario of the Braves paying his remaining salary this season to see him pitching well for another team, perhaps a certain NL East team from Gotham that needs a new Dark Night and might at least try to revive a portly Big Bart.)

Anyway, back to the matter of third base….

It should be noted that two of the three teams that have fewer walks than the Braves at third base, the Brewers and Royals, each have more than twice as many homers from the position as do the Braves. Garcia doesn’t draw walks and doesn’t hit for much power. At least not by third-base standards. He just doesn’t provide much, so move on and see if Ruiz can.

If nothing else, playing Ruiz on a regular basis can give the Braves a better idea if third base is among the needs that must be filled next season.

Here’s why a platoon would make sense and strengthen the Braves bench – yes, that would mean dumping Emilio Bonifacio (2-for-24 as a PH with no walks, 6 strikeouts) or Danny Santana, but that move is past due with Boni anyway. Good guy, but not one tear would be shed in Braves Country.

At Triple-A this season, the left-handed-hitting Ruiz hit .282 with an .822 OPS in 103 at-bats against righties and had a .211 average and .560 OPS in 38 at-bats against lefties. So far with Atlanta this season, Ruiz struck out in his only at-bat against a lefty and has a .333 average and .907 OPS in 27 plate appearances against righties.

He’ll have plenty of time to hit lefties later this season or in the future; every aspect of the majors doesn’t have to be learned in a cram course, and if he wasn’t thriving against lefties at Triple-A there’s not much reason to believe he’ll make in-season strides facing far superior lefties in the big leagues.

Garcia, too, could benefit from the arrangement: He’s hit .230 with a puny .586 OPS in 128 plate appearances against righties this season, but has a .308 average and .976 OPS in 16 PAs vs. lefties. And for his three-year career, Garcia has .255 with a .680 OPS in 676 PAs vs. righties, compared to a an impressive .310 with an .839 OPS in 229 PAs vs. lefties.

Garcia is a guy whose remaining major league career would be best served in a backup or pinch-hitting role where he can face mostly lefties. Might as well give  him a chance to play the final three-fourths of this season in that role and show how well he can do it.

As someone who’s been doing this a while, I am fully aware of the baseball axiom that many execs and managers like to follow: A player shouldn’t lose his spot because he got hurt. But Garcia wouldn’t be losing it because he got hurt. He’d be losing it because it was time for him to lose it anyway, before he got hurt.

Garcia’s .351 slugging percentage and .630 OPS are ranked last among 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for rankings, and his .280 on-base percentage is next-to-last, better than only the Royals’ Mike Moustakas, who has 16 extra-base hits and 10 homers to Garcia’s seven extra-base hits including four homers.

There’s no reason to believe the 32-year-old is going to get much better than he was before going on the DL. He is what he is, a guy who came over from Cuba in his late 20s and spent three seasons in the Yankees organization without a major league call-up before the Braves got him and gave him his first big opportunity. People forget he was 30 as a rookie in 2015.

His OPS has gone from .790 in 198 plate appearances as a rookie, to .717 in 563 PAs last season, to .626 in 144 PAs this season before going on the DL. If you prefer WAR, his went from 0.6 in 58 games as a rookie, to 0.2 in 134 games last season, to minus-0.2 in 34 games this season.

It’s obviously a (very) small sample size, but Ruiz is 8-for-24 (.333) with a double, a home run, a .407 OBP and a .500 slugging percentage in seven games at third base. No, he’s not going to win a Gold Glove now or maybe ever at the position, but his defense is serviceable at the position, and Garcia’s isn’t a lot better with the exception of the plays charging in and throwing to first on the run, which Garcia does quite well.

There aren’t enough of those plays or enough difference in their defensive abilities to continue starting Garcia, who clearly isn’t part of the Braves’ long-range future, ahead of Ruiz, who could be, at least until one of the younger prospects is ready to step up at – or move over to – third base.

The Braves will play practically in Ruiz’s backyard when they face the Angels in a series starting Monday. Ruiz should continue as the primary third basemen for that series and until further notice, regardless of Garcia’s health. And not because it would give Ruiz’s family, friends and Orange County-based agent, Scott Boras, a chance to see him play.

He should be the third baseman because it gives the Braves a better chance to win.

• I’ll close with this one from the amazing Sly and The Family Stone, among the finest and most influential of the many, many great bands from San Francisco.

“FAMILY AFFAIR” by Sly and The Family Stone

Sly and The Family Stone

It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair
It’s a family affairOne child grows up to be
Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be
Somebody you’d just love to burnMom loves the both of them
You see, it’s in the blood
Both kids are good to mom
Blood’s thicker than the mudIt’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Over there, over thereNewlywed a year ago
But you’re still checking each other out, hey
Nobody wants to blow
Nobody wants to be left out, uh-huh

You can’t leave ’cause your heart is there
But, sure, you can’t stay ’cause you been somewhere else
You can’t cry ’cause you’ll look broke down
But you’re cryin’ anyway ’cause you’re all broke down

It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Oh, hey, a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Ow
(It’s a family affair)

(It’s a family affair)
Oh
(It’s a family affair)
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Well
Do-do-do-do
Hey-hey-hey
(It’s a family affair)
(It’s a family affair)

 

 

 

 



Full article @ ‘Big River’ should keep 3B job over Garcia

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Written off multiple times, Braves remain resolute

Written off multiple times, Braves remain resolute

 

 

Many pundits wrote the Braves off even before pitchers and catchers reported in February. A team in mid-rebuild, they said. More joined the “Braves remain a doormat” crowd when the team posted a majors-worst 9-22 record at spring training.

And after Atlanta lost six of its first seven regular-season games, then followed up a four-game sweep of the Padres in the first SunTrust Park series by losing their next six games, the Braves were 6-12 and many were saying they were as bad or worse than last year’s team and might even lose 100 games.

If the Braves get through this period without Freeman (left) it’ll be in large part because of the production and leadership of Kemp (center) and Markakis. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Well, don’t look now, folks, but the Braves are 12-11 since that 6-12 start. Seven of their 11 losses in that stretch have come against teams currently leading divisions (Houston, Washington, Milwaukee) or in second place (St. Louis).

“That’s their job, right? That’s their job to be wrong on TV, and more times than not they are wrong,” Braves veteran right fielder Nick Markakis said. “It’s very hard to predict anything in professional sports or sports alone. Anything can happen. This is the professional level, we’re all professionals and anybody can beat anybody on any given day, I don’t care who they are. Just kind of go out and do out thing and be consistent.”

They have series wins in that stretch against NL Central-leading Brewers in Milwaukee and at home against the Nationals in a series that ended Sunday with a 3-2 loss against Stephen Strasburg at top form, after the Braves won the first two games of the series. Oh, by the way: That Nationals series was the first for the Braves since they lost Freddie Freeman to a fractured wrist, a player who is arguably more important to his team than any player is to any other team.

Granted, the NL East is not very good, but the Braves are in second place, folks. They are 18-23, seven games behind the Nationals, a half-game ahead of the Mets, whom many pundits had predicted to win the division title or at least a wild-card berth, and three or more games ahead of the division dregs, the Phillies and the Marlins, a team that many had picked as a dark-horse playoff contender.

“We started out rough and a lot of people wrote us off. A lot of people write a lot of people off and end up being wrong. Hopefully we can do that, we can prove people wrong and go out there and play baseball and win as many games as we can.”

It’s worth repeating, the Braves just won a series against the Nationals – a team that’s owned the Braves for three seasons — without Freddie Freeman, one of the few players who did much against Washington over those three seasons.

“Very encouraged,” manager Brian Snitker said. “These guys, there wasn’t any ‘woe is me’ or feeling sorry, they all kind of rose to the occasion in the games after Freddie got hurt, then everybody picked it up. Exactly what you want to see a team do. It didn’t surprise me with these guys.”

The Braves are 18-23 despite a 4.59 ERA that most believe will improve. A year ago after 41 games, the Braves were 11-30 with exactly the same ERA and not much reason to think that ERA was going to improve.

A year ago through 41 games, the Braves hit .235 with a .299 OBP, .622 OPS, 18 homers and 135 runs (3.3 average) through 41 games a year ago. This year they’ve hit .261 with a .333 OBP, .742 OPS, 44 homers and 188 runs (4.6 average per game). Yes, 44 homers and 188 runs this year compared to 18 and 135 at the same point a year ago.

The loss of Freeman for approximately 10 weeks is a huge blow, make no mistake. Huge. But he alone obviously didn’t account for that huge a disparity in offensive production, and that’s why Braves players weren’t convinced like so many others of us that this team was in major trouble as soon as a wrist fracture was confirmed and that 10-week estimate was announced for their marquee player.

The Braves didn’t have Matt Kemp for the first four months last season. They didn’t have Markakis producing like he has so far this season. They weren’t getting nearly offense early last season from catchers A.J. Pierzysnki and Tyler Flowers that they’re getting now from Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, or the production from second base that they’re getting now from Brandon Phillips. Just to name the most obvious improvements.

“That’s a big loss,” Kemp said on Sunday of the Freeman injury. “That’s something we can’t control. We can only control what we do now and that’s keep playing good baseball. And I’m proud of the guys for responding the way we responded these last (four) games. We’ve just got to keep going.”

If they can get anything from just-acquired first baseman Matt “Big City” Adams like Adams produced for St. Louis in the three seasons when he got 300 or more plate appearances, it will at least lessen the blow a bit from Freeman’s absence. And Adams could be a much-needed boost for the bench once Freeman returns, provided the Braves keep him. If not, trading him could possibly help fill another need.

Teammates such as Ender Inciarte helped Dansby Swanson (right) stay confident during the rookie’s April struggles. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

If the Braves get improvement from their rotation – either from a couple of current members or any newcomer they acquire – and the bullpen continues its recent performance, then a little less offense should be something they can deal with until Freeman gets back. And as we’ve seen from Dansby Swanson in May, the rookie shortstop can and will provide plenty of offense that was lacking from him in his first April in the major leagues. The kid is special, and he’s surrounded by a group of veteran players that has done him a major service by being patient and supportive both to him and in comments on and off the record to reporters.

Around a team with a less character or some insecure players, there would have been petty off-the-record comments made about Swanson and his woeful April after all the attention he received this winter and spring. There were none. He’s a high-character guy who struggled like so many other rookies do, but Swanson never complained or moped, never stopped working hard, and his teammates respected him for that and supported him. Always.

That is really big. Bigger than most outside an organization realize. And it says plenty not just about Swanson but about the guys setting the tone in this clubhouse.

Hey, I’m in the group that figured the Braves would struggle to keep their heads above water without Freeman. But they showed something in that Nationals series. And talking to the guys, I was equally impressed by the optimism and lack of feeling sorry for themselves after the Freeman injury. They’re a tough bunch, and I think that comes both from the top (Brian Snitker) and especially from players such as veterans Markakis, Phillips, Freeman, Kemp, Flowers, Suzuki, Jim Johnson and one whose form of leadership-by-example probably perhaps goes unnoticed outside the clubhouse – Jace Peterson.

It’s an entertaining team to watch, and a tough team. And to me, toughness is the characteristic that can’t be overstated. Talent is obviously the most important thing in baseball or any other sport, but toughness … don’t sell it short. If you’ve wondered why this team or that one couldn’t seem to put things together when they seemingly had all the talent to contend, more often than not I’d suggest that underlying lack of toughness was a big factor.

This team has that. And it could help them get through a 10-week period without their biggest talent.

We’ll find out. But the weekend was certainly a good start.

Let’s close with this appropriate tune from the great Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions

“KEEP ON PUSHING” by Curtis Mayfield

Keep on pushing

I’ve got to keep on pushing (mmm-hmm)
I can’t stop now
Move up a little higher
Some way, somehow

‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’

[Chorus:]
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Keep on pushin’

Now maybe some day
I’ll reach that higher goal
I know that I can make it
With just a little bit of soul
‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’

Now look-a look (look-a look)
A-look-a yonder
What’s that I see
A great big stone wall
Stands there ahead of me
But I’ve got my pride
And I’ll move on aside
And keep on pushin’

 

 

 



Full article @ Written off multiple times, Braves remain resolute

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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