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A Wild Few Days In LA

May 28, 2015 -- 12:07am

Los Angeles, CA – What an interesting few days its been for the Braves here in the City of Angels. It started on Memorial Day Monday with Alberto Callaspo being a late scratch to the lineup, though no reason was given. Typically when players are scratched, especially so close to first pitch, there’s some sort of injury. However, we wouldn’t find out until after the game that the scratch was for a completely different reason altogether. Trade discussions were ongoing between the two clubs that were squaring off on the field, so Callaspo was removed from the lineup. However, things took a weird turn on Tuesday when Callaspo vetoed the trade. But, that’s not where this story ended, as talks picked up once again Tuesday afternoon, and yet again, Callaspo was a late scratch.

Now that the dust has settled, the Braves appear like the winners of this six player deal. Gone are Callaspo, Stults, Thomas and Jaime. In return, Atlanta added veteran infielder Juan Uribe and flame throwing righty Chris Withrow. Uribe made his Braves debut and received quite a warm welcome from the Dodger Stadium faithful, featuring a video tribute on the screen before first pitch. Uribe brings power from the right side, something the Atlanta lineup has lacked this season without guys like Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. Withrow could contribute from the bullpen as early as September, if his rehab from Tommy John goes smooth. During a conference call on Wednesday afternoon, Braves assistant GM John Coppolella said Withrow’s fastball has been clocked between 93 and 98, while he also features a “plus plus slider” which gives him the tools and weapons to be a late inning guy. Coppy added that in the future, Withrow could eventually evolve into the closers role, but that’s obviously down the road.

In talking to Uribe’s now former teammates in the Los Angeles clubhouse, one thing’s clear. Uribe was a fan favorite, and beloved by his teammates for the leadership he brings both on and off the field. Catcher AJ Ellis tweeted how much he will miss Uribe, while countless media members that cover the Dodgers told me “you’re going to love this guy.” Uribe already has relationships with a number of players in the Atlanta clubhouse, including AJ Pierzynski. Uribe was all smiles as he greeted the 24 other guys in the visiting clubhouse Wednesday, while there were plenty of hugs to go around.  On Tuesday, while it appeared trade talks had died down, Uribe told me he understood the business of baseball. He loved his time in LA, but he’ll certainly sleep well knowing there were a number of teams interested in his services. Only time will tell if I’m right in the fact that Atlanta got the better of this deal, but on the surface, it appears like John Hart has hit yet another home run.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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So Far So Good For Folty

May 13, 2015 -- 12:25pm

CINCINNATI, OH – Tuesday night, Mike Foltynewicz continued to show the progression we had seen from him towards the end of Spring Training. While he took a no decision, through three starts, we’ve seen Folty growing up in front of our eyes. The big issue he had to overcome had nothing to do with his electric stuff. He threw nearly 70% fastballs last night against a Reds team that likes to hit the heater, in a ballpark that’s known for producing a large amount of home runs. Looking back at last night, two things stood out most to me. In the bottom of the first, Folty had Votto buried in an 0-2 count and ended up walking him. Frazier followed and made him pay, crushing a 2 run homer to right. Then, later in the game, he attempted to turn a double play on a bunt, but the throw sailed into center, and the Reds eventually tied the game. “I had Votto 0-2 there and I think I just tried to overthrow a couple things to get him and swing and miss. And then Frazier came up and hit the home run and then the throwing error. Two mistakes, cost you the game but that’s baseball. Just got to go out there and get ‘em next time” Foltynewicz said at his locker on Tuesday night.

Each of these instances are learning opportunities. But, already we’ve seen Folty grow and mature since his first outing in Orlando. He’s pounded the strike zone, and really seems much more comfortable when he takes the mound. Overall, there’s a lot of positives to take from his first handful of starts. “Folty was outstanding. All those situations you can put him in and the more you can put him in, the better he’s going to be” said Fredi Gonzalez.

In the end, I think the future is extremely bright for Mike. He’s grown leaps and bounds from the first time we saw him take the mound in Grapefruit League play two months ago and is certainly trending in the right direction. With guys like Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos continuing to progress at Gwinnett, and Tyrell Jenkins having a strong month of May with Mississippi, the future is extremely bright when it comes to rotation young rotation pieces that could end up contributing in Atlanta sooner, rather than later.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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On The Road Again...

May 08, 2015 -- 6:17pm

WASHINGTON, DC – If it seems like a while since the Braves won back-to-back games…that’s because it has been. After dropping the series opener to the Phillies on Monday, Atlanta posted consecutive wins for the first time since April 10th & 11th as they took the series from the last place Phillies. Despite their early season struggles and inconsistent play, the Braves enter Friday’s opener in the Nation’s Capital at .500 on the season (14-14). So after one month of play, let’s take a look the highs and lows through the first 28…

The Highs: The offense has done a very nice job in the first 28 games. Entering play, the Braves are averaging over four-and-a-half runs per contest, which is right in the middle of the pack in the Majors (15th). Atlanta has gotten key contributions from newcomers like Kelly Johnson, AJ Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes. KJ enters Friday’s opener with the team lead in homers with six. I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams could have imagined him to get off to the start he has. AJ Pierzynski has also gotten much more playing time than he expected when he signed in the offseason. AJ was primarily brought in to serve as a backup/mentor to Christian Bethancourt, but his hot bat has been hard to keep out of the lineup.

The Lows: One month in, Fredi Gonzalez and Roger McDowell continue to search for reliable arms that can help them in the pen. Atlanta has already utilized 19 different pitchers. 19! But, the message has clearly been sent to the staff. Throw strikes, or go back to Gwinnett and fine tune your craft. The bullpen got a much needed night off on Tuesday when Shelby Miller tossed a gem, going the distance in a shutout against the Phils. Overall, the bullpen has held its own, even with so many new names and faces coming and going. The starting rotation certainly needs to focus on going deeper into games however, to prevent those guys from being overworked too early in the season.

All things considered, for the Braves to be a .500 ball club after one month is encouraging. Home runs are down, on base percentage is up. Strikeouts are down, moving runners is up. And defensively, after a rough week, Atlanta has been as sound as ever with the glove.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Minor To The 60 Day DL

May 02, 2015 -- 5:41pm

ATLANTA, GA – On Saturday afternoon, the Braves purchased the contract of Pedro Ciriaco from Triple-A Gwinnett. To make room on the 40 man roster, Atlanta moved southpaw Mike Minor to the 60 Day DL. Minor has been sidelined since the first week of March with soreness in his throwing shoulder. After a handful of visits to various doctors, it was determined that Mike’s shoulder was structurally sound. However, each time he’s started ramping up the physical activity level, the pain has returned. It’s particularly concerning for a guy that experienced similar issues in his left shoulder in 2015.

Talking to John Hart, it’s clear that a timetable for a potential return is not coming in the near future. “We don’t see him coming back anytime soon. Hopefully in the next week or ten days, we’ll have our arms a little more around what needs to be done. We felt like this was the right thing for the organization, the right thing for Mike, because he’s not close to being out there ready to go.”

Initially, it was thought that Minor could be healthy and join the Braves rotation in early May. Obviously that hasn’t played out like either party had hoped. “There has not been any measurable improvements that you want to see. At this point, things haven’t progressed” John Hart added. Both the Braves and Minor need to remain patient. Given the fact this is a recurring issue, the Braves will need to play it safe and continue to take things slow. Only time will tell when we could see Minor take the mound again, but, based on John Hart’s comments this afternoon, it won’t be anytime soon.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Braves Look To Cool The Red Hot Mets

Apr 23, 2015 -- 10:26am

ATLANTA, GA – Throughout the first 13 games of the 2015 season, Fredi Gonzalez has opted to go with 13 different starting lineups. The way the 25 man roster shapes up, versatility has played a large role in the makeup of the daily starting nine. Guys like Kelly Johnson, Alberto Callaspo and Phil Gosselin have proven capable of starting at a number of different defensive positions. Jonny Gomes has come off the bench and provided a spark, while AJ Pierzynski is hitting close to .400 as a starter. At some point, Fredi will find a lineup that he feels comfortable on a daily basis, but until then, expect the shuffling to continue for the time being.

One area of growing concern however is the bullpen. Jim Johnson has gotten hit around in his last three appearances, while youngsters like Cody Martin and Brandon Cunnifff are also experiencing a few bumps in the road. The pen took a major blow earlier this week when Major League Baseball suspended southpaw Andrew McKirahan for PEDs. Ian Thomas got the call to replace McKirahan, leaving himself and Luis Avilan as the two lefties in the pen. At some point, the Braves will likely look outside the organization for help. However, don’t expect the search to be an easy one as lefty relievers are highly coveted around the game.

How bout a few bright spots…namely the guys that have been hitting third and fourth. Nick Markakis had nearly a perfect series in Toronto, reaching base in 11 of his 14 plate appearances (7 singles/4 walks) and everything Freddie Freeman is hitting lately is on a line. Now, the emphasis needs to focus on the top of the order to give Markakis and Freeman more RBI opportunities. After a 5-0 and 6-1 start, the Braves have lose 5 of their last 7 and will look to avoid being swept this afternoon by the hottest team in baseball, the Mets. Yes, the Mets. New York has won 10 straight and seemingly can’t do anything wrong. After today, it’s a weekend in Philadelphia, before returning home for four against the Nationals.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Nine Games In...What Have We Learned?

Apr 16, 2015 -- 1:10pm

ATLANTA, GA – With nine games in the books for the regular season, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about the 2015 Braves thus far…

1 – As we discussed during most of Spring Training, the focus of the 2015 club is putting the ball in play. Through the first week and a half, strikeouts are down from one year ago, and we’ve seen the team doing the little things to move runners, use speed and have productive outs. All too often, the 2014 squad relied on the long ball. Home runs will certainly be down this season, but so will the strikeouts.

2 – One surprise thus far has been the performance of the bullpen. Newcomers/rookies like Cody Martin, Andrew McKirahan and Brandon Cunniff have been thrown right into the fire. All they’ve done is help contribute to a bullpen corps that has one of the lowest ERAs in all of baseball. Jim Johnson looks like he’s ironed out mechanical issues that troubled him last year, and Jason Grilli posted four saves in the teams first seven games. The long disappointment was Juan Jaime, who was DFA’d earlier this week. Fredi Gonzalez told me he hopes Jaime clears waivers and can work out his issues with Gwinnett.

3 – Fredi Gonzalez certainly has a lot more versatility off the bench. All too often, in the last few years, he had limited options. This year, reserves like Kelly Johnson, Phil Gosselin and Alberto Callaspo give the skipper a number of different options when it comes to filling out a lineup card, as well as making changes in game.

4 – The chemistry this club displayed during Spring Training has carried into the regular season. Additions of veterans like Jonny Gomes, AJ Pierzynski, Nick Markakis and Jason Grilli have been extremely beneficial to the generally young core. Freddie Freeman told me he’s been following Gomes wherever he goes. Jason Grilli is keeping things loose with a bullpen that features mostly players that are 10 years his junior. And Christian Bethancourt has grown by leaps and bounds having AJ Pierzynski’s locker just one away from his. There’s a different feel to this club than ones in years past.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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