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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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There's No Place Like Home

Apr 10, 2015 -- 12:03pm

Atlanta, GA – So far so good for the 3-0 Atlanta Braves, who enjoyed an off night last night and will hold their Home Opener tonight against the Mets (2-1). We saw a lot of good from the Opening Series in Miami for the Braves, but as usual, it all starts with the pitching and defense. Atlanta’s staff held a potent Miami squad to just three runs over 27 innings at the dish. We’ve also seen quite a drop off when it comes to the free passes issued. Early in Grapefruit League play, the coaching staff was perplexed by the amount of walks that were handed out. That however, has not been the case of late.

Tonight, Eric Stults makes his Braves debut, coming off a strong Spring campaign. Stults essentially took the spot away from Wandy Rodriguez in the final two weeks of camp and was arguably the team’s most consistent starter. Stults posted a sub-two ERA, but isn’t afraid to let opponents put the ball in play. He’s not a guy that will light up the radar gun, but he knows how to pitch effectively, work both sides of the plate and change speeds when he needs to.

As for the Braves offense, as expected, Young and Peterson showed a lot of potential at the top of the order. Also, now that Nick Markakis is healthy, expect to see Freddie Freeman bump down a spot in the order, from his typical slot third to the clean-up spot in fourth. It’s still only three games in, but the early returns from the 25 men in that clubhouse are extremely positive and optimistic. And why shouldn’t they be? They come home with a perfect record and get to miss out on seeing both of the Mets big horses as neither Jacob deGrom, nor Matt Harvey will go this weekend.

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

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Braves Blockbuster On Opening Day Eve

Apr 06, 2015 -- 8:03am

Miami, FL - With the Cardinals and Cubs about to open the 2015 regular season, John Hart and the Braves stole the show as they just completed a blockbuster trade with the Padres. Gone are Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. In return, Atlanta acquires Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin (who’s expected to be DFA’d), RHP Matt Wisler and OF Jordan Paroubeck. Kimbrel departs Atlanta as the franchie’s all time saves leader (186), while Melvin Upton’s two seasons in Atlanta were nothing short of disappointing.

As the offseason moved along, and big names were moved, Kimbrel’s name continually popped up. Would he remain in Atlanta? Would he bring back a big return via trade? With the fact that the season was set to start less than 24 hours later, nobody could have predicted the huge trade Atlanta and San Diego were about to pull off.

John Hart has said all along that the team wants to rebuild a depleted farm system and give the organization more financial flexibility. While it may be a tough pill to swallow at the moment, this move accomplishes both of those goals. The team has freed up close to $80 million dollars of payroll, while the farm system has gone from one of the worst to one of the best in the matter of months. Restocking a system typically takes years. John Hart and company executed that goal in the span of six months. That’s nothing short of remarkable.

Meanwhile, the team must turn the page. Meaningful baseball starts on Monday as Opening Day takes place in Miami. Julio Teheran gets the nod for Atlanta, Henderson Alvarez for Miami. Expect Brandon Cunniff to be added to the roster which features just six players remaining from the Opening Day roster just one year ago (C Johnson, Freeman, Simmons, Avilan, Teheran, Wood).

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

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On To Miami

Apr 05, 2015 -- 11:12am

Lake Buena Vista, FL – With Spring Training now officially in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve learned about the 2015 Braves. Nationally, the team isn’t getting a whole lot of respect. I’ve seen predictions from anywhere in the mid 60’s, to upper 70’s as far as win totals go. But, one thing I’ve learned from covering this game, these early season projections are rarely right. So let’s get to some observations from the last seven weeks…

-          Fans should be excited about the brand of baseball this team will play. With the additions of Eric Young Jr and Jace Peterson to the lineup, expect much more contact at the top of the order. Also plan on seeing more hit and run situations along with a lot more first-to-thirds.

-          The addition to Nick Markakis to the middle of the lineup should help provide some more protection for Freddie Freeman. Markakis’ spring was slowed due to offseason neck surgery, but his timing started coming around in the last week of Grapefruit League play.

-          I expect breakout offensive seasons from Andrelton Simmons and Christian Bethancourt. Both had strong springs and appear to have benefitted from working with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Don’t plan on seeing Simmons swing out of his shoes like we saw all too often in 2014.

-          Keep an eye on newcomer Trevor Cahill. Over the last two seasons, the tall righty has struggled. However, if anyone is able to fix a sinkerballer, Roger McDowell is that guy. Cahill is also entering the final year of his contract, so he’ll have a little more to play for this season.

-          The additions of veterans like Jonny Gomes, Jason Grilli, Nick Markakis and Kelly Johnson has paid off both on AND off the field. These guys have played on the biggest stages and know what it takes to win.

When all is said and done, I fully expect the Braves to be closer to a .500 club this season. The young core is still in place, and the starting pitching should be as solid as ever. If there’s one thing this team has been known for over the years, it’s pitching and defense. Expect both to be as solid as ever.

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

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Wandy Released; Stults Is In

Apr 03, 2015 -- 6:50pm

Sarasota, FL – Two weeks ago, it seemed all but set in stone that Wandy Rodriguez would be the team’s fourth starter. However, over the last week or so, that didn’t seem like it was as much of a definite. On Friday, the Braves released the 36 year old southpaw, opting to go with a fellow lefty in Eric Stults. Rodriguez made six starts during Grapefruit League play, posting a 3.13 ERA, with a .250 batting average against, while Stults was more consistent, as he totaled a 1.89 ERA over five appearances. With Atlanta acquiring veteran righty Trevor Cahill late Thursday night, it was clearly an indication they weren’t comfortable with both Wandy and Stults as the fourth and fifth starters.

Meanwhile, Fredi Gonzalez made it official that Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller will be the first three out of the gate when the Braves open the regular season 72 hours from now in Miami. Eric Stults will get the nod in the Home Opener a week from today in Atlanta, but with the off day, the fifth spot won’t come up on regular rest until April 15th. In the meantime, Trevor Cahill will be available from the Braves bullpen if needed.

With camp coming to a close in less than 24 hours, the roster continues to get thinned out. In addition to releasing Wandy Rodriguez, Jesus Flores was also given his unconditional release. Chien-Ming Wang was also sent to Minor League camp. Wang will start the season in Gwinnett’s rotation. As for who else will be joining him, it’s still to be determined. Both Cody Martin and Mike Foltynewicz remain in the mix for a long reliever. The odd man out will also likely join the G-Braves rotation and give the organization a competent backup should an injury occur.

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

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Injury Updates As Camp Comes To A Close

Apr 02, 2015 -- 8:40am

Clearwater, FL – With just three days left in camp, the Braves look to enter the 2015 regular season relatively healthy. Melvin Upton Jr has missed all but one day of Spring Training with an injured foot, while Mike Minor’s shoulder started acting up on him prior to his first scheduled start in early March. On Wednesday, reliever Josh Outman returned to Atlanta to have his left shoulder examined. The majority of guys still in big league camp have managed to dodge the injury bug, but here’s the latest on those looking to get healthy…

Melvin Upton Jr: Upton had been in a hard cast for a couple weeks, before switching to a walking boot last week. Over the last couple weeks, he’s been able to take swings in the indoor cages, work out and even play catch. Upton hopes to get the walking boot off as early as tomorrow, and begin regular baseball activities soon thereafter. While there’s still no official timetable for his return, early May still seems to be a realistic goal to be 100% once again.

Mike Minor: This has been another frustrating Spring for Minor, who came to camp healthy and feeling as strong as ever. Over the last week or so, Minor has started playing catch off flat ground from about 60 feet. While he hopes to get back off a mound as soon as possible, Minor knows he needs to take it slow, especially since he dealt with a similar shoulder issue last Spring. Again, there’s no realistic timetable for when he could return to the Atlanta rotation, but early May also seems like a logical target for the southpaw.

Josh Outman: On Wednesday afternoon, Outman was back in Atlanta to have his shoulder checked out by team doctors. Outman’s injury appears to have forced the Braves hand as they acquired Andrew McKirahan from the Marlins. The former Rule 5 pick posted a 2.08 ERA in 44 appearances last season between Single and Double A ball with the Cubs organization. Meanwhile, Outman has had a difficult spring, as he has an ERA north of 8 in seven appearances. Opponents were hitting .355 against Outman, so Atlanta obviously felt the need to find some additional depth from the left side out of the pen.

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

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