Archive for November, 2008

63: Throwing Caution To The Wind – part IV

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.

by Gil in Mechanicsville

To conclude my synopsis on the possible Braves bullpen for 2009, I will comment on the best of the rest and perhaps some other possibilities from the Braves system. Again, it is necessary to take all of what I say with a grain of salt because things can change in a hurry. A big trade, a breakthrough spring, an off-season injury can all have a profound affect on how things can shake out.

Let’s start with Manny Acosta. The tall lanky Panamanian can be a showacosta stopper at times and then “bad” Manny will make an appearance and give up five runs before he knows what hit him, or make that who. Acosta, I think, is well suited as a set up man. He still has not developed the killer instinct of a closer but he is just too good to bring in to face one batter. When he is on, he has a 95 mph fastball and devastating slider that brakes sharply away from right-handers. However, like many other young pitchers, he tries to get too cute and aims for the corners. Depending on the umpire’s definition of the strike zone, he is going to either catch guys looking or start walking people. For some reason, he will allow a few bad calls get in his head and the next thing you know, “bad” Manny shows up. Acosta had some injury issues last season which really hampered his development. Hopefully he will be ready coming out of spring training to finally become a fixture for the Braves. He has the potential to be a really valuable and dependable piece of the pitching staff as long as he can realize he really does belong on the major league roster.

bennettjeffJeff Bennett also had a bit of a Jeckle-and-Hyde personality in 2008. He was a shadow of his former self with his new and improved physic last season, he had flashes of brilliance along with just plain awful. Who is the real Jeff Bennett, inquiring minds want to know. I think Jeff was also facing some fatigue issues in 2008. I just could not fathom why Bobby Cox would call on the same guys repeatedly last year. It was like he would forget a guy had pitched 3 innings two nights in a row and then have him come in yet again. Now the last thing a fringe guy like Bennett would do is say he could not go again. No, he is going to suck it up and take the ball and pray the batter will get himself out. It’s my humble opinion the biggest thing missing in the Braves dugout is a guy like Pat Corrales to tell Bobby who is ready and who is not. I’m not sure Chino or Roger really feels comfortable enough in their roles to speak up tell the skipper he is hurting the team’s chance to win. Anyway, Bennett is a ground ball specialist as he has a nasty sinker and is a go to guy when a double play is called for. In addition, he is pretty versatile as he can also be used as a spot starter or long relief guy. He has the tools to be a reliable arm out of the pen; the question is how often should you use him.

Buddy Carlyle, honest folks, you got to love this guy. All those yearsbuddy_carlyle knocking around the minors, getting frequent flyer miles on Greyhound. He persevered and made it back to the bigs in 2007. I told folks when he came up from Richmond, way back when, that they should not expect too much out of the guy. He will never be confused with Tommy Hanson or John Smoltz but he is what he is and he can give you four or five innings of yeoman like baseball and by the time the sixth inning rolls around, you look up at the scoreboard and realize your team is still in the game. If you can just generate a little offense he stands a good chance of getting a win. The thing that puzzled me last year was he would languish for weeks out in the bullpen before Bobby realized he was still on the staff and call him in to pitch. Amazingly, he would get out of a big jam and put up a couple more goose eggs on the scoreboard and just wow the crowd with his resilience. Next thing you know, he is the pet pig and his arm falls off from over use. Now, it may not be fair to accuse Bobby of misusing his pen last year, after all, when your starting five are going three and out, night after night in April and May, it is inevitable that your bullpen is going to implode in August and September. There is a reason bullpen guys are not starters. During the course of their careers some sharp-eyed coach has figured out that some guys just have a marked drop-off in their effectiveness after a certain number of pitches. Some guys can go the distance and some guys are sprinters. It is up to the coaches to put guys in the situations from which they can glean the most success.

ridgeway Jeff Ridgeway, had an up and down year. Used primarily as a short relief, situational guy against lefties, he had some early success but really struggled towards the end of the year. He will be in camp but look for him to be on the bubble in spring training. I would suggest he get an apartment in Gwinnett for 2009 so he can shuttle between AAA and Atlanta without having to leave home.

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Phil Stockman, big righty who has battled injuries for the past couple of years. His biggest obstacle will be overcoming the fear of getting hurt yet again. He possesses a good fastball and curve but until he can get himself back in shape, he will be a fixture in Gwinnett.

moylanPhil’s fellow Aussie, Peter Moylan, should be back next year about May. He will start some work in spring training but it will still be too early for him to do any serious work. I look for him to begin the year in Gwinnett if not on the DL until he proves he can once again get major league hitters out. The most telling thing about TJ surgery is not about the inability to throw a fastball but about hurling breaking pitches. It’s when they stop breaking that they end up in the bleachers.

Francisley Bueno and Jorge Julio are likely to be on the team next year unlessfrancisleybueno the Braves sign someone in the off-season. I don’t know who the Braves have in their system that could be called upon next year but the crop of pitchers at Richmond did not look ready for primetime. If the Braves do not trade JoJo, I would expect him to start the year in AAA. The Braves are not going to make him into a reliever. The same goes for Chuck James. Of course lots of things can happen between now and February so keep a sharp eye out for changes.

~Gil~


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62: Uh – Did Somebody Break Wind, part III

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.

Gil in Mechanicsville

Okay, continuing on with the theme of “Pitching, Pitching, Pitching,” I thought I would toss in my two cents on the 2009 Braves prospects for the bullpen.

Once upon-a-time, the bullpen was a place where you banished hurlers who were either washed up or just not good enough to be a starter. Boy, have times changed. Today, starters go five or six innings or one hundred pitches or their arm falls off, whichever comes first and then the specialists are called upon. A long relief guy, a situational guy for lefties, a ground ball specialist when a double play is needed, a set up guy, the closer and the ever present “why is this guy still on the team because no one ever calls on him” guy.

Just like the real “journalists” do, I will work backwards and start with the closer. You know who that is because he is the fellow who gets most of the press and contrary to popular notion, cannot walk on water but he doesn’t need to because it never rains on his parade.

Closer possibilities for Atlanta in 2009…. (disclaimer: things can change in a hurry due to the need to trade a player for a part you do not already have or doing something stupid like putting their hand in a meat grinder or enjoying the good life a little too much and showing up stoned….)

Mike “Gonzo” Gonzalez, this kid is going to be a great one because he thinks he is suppose to be. (The antithesis of Manny Acosta) After experiencing Tommy John surgery, he made a nice recovery. Not to say there weren’t some dicey moments but just because you comeback, it does not mean you can pitch to the same level you could before you were hurt. Velocity or lack there of appears to be the most telling sign there is something wrong. The up side of all this is Gonzo will be better in 2009. He will be stronger and his fastball should return to it’s 98 mph range. The best side of all this however is the knowledge he may have gained in finding out he does not have to throw it all that hard to get hitters out. Of course I am still waiting for someone to call a balk on him with all that rocking motion.

Actually, I worry more about the Rafael (see, I told you I was hurt) Soriano, I doubt anyone took more heat than Rafael did last year over his on again off again soap opera but mostly about his supposed lack of courage because repeated MRIs failed to show any cause for his loss of speed and recurring pain. After signing a lucrative contract prior to the 2008 season, much was expected of “Mr. Sunshine”. For those of you who believe in the absolute infallibility of the medical profession I have two words, Mark Wohlers. Wohlers was vilified for his seemingly unexplainable loss of control. It was not until the Reds took a flier on him that he decided to allow for an exploratory surgery and discovered he indeed have a serious problem. Soriano had an exploratory performed by Dr. Andrews and a pinched nerved was discovered and corrected. I predict next spring Rafael will again impress the Braves Nation and remind everyone why he was paid closer money.

John Smoltz will be at a crossroads next spring. While his spirit is willing, his body may not be. The surgery performed on his shoulder does not have a track record of affording good results. The main reason is the tissues that comprise the labium are not conducive to surgical repair. It would be great to have thunder and lightning available to come out of the bullpen in 2009 but I would not bet the house on it, even though the a fore mentioned house has decidedly less market value to everyone except the tax assessor. If John does return, I predict it will be late in the spring before he believes he is ready. I would expect it will be much later in the season before he could be effective. As Braves fans we can hope but the obese woman may be warming up in the wings for the curtain call of the bearded icon.

Will Ohman will most certainly be pitching for someone else next season? Not because he was ineffective last season but because the Braves will not want to pay a set up man more than a couple of million a year. Perhaps the Braves will concede the fact a reliable lefty out of the pen is a valuable piece needed if they are to be serious about beating the Phillies and the Mets in their own division next year. I don’t foresee either of those clubs being weaker next year. Sometimes a GM has to bite the bullet and realize the cost of doing business is greater than you want it to be. I don’t see anyone else on the horizon who could fill Will Ohman’s role as effectively whatever the price.

Blaine Boyer is not my favorite Brave. I hope he can change my mind next season. I cannot put my finger on why I have lost faith in the strapping young righty who burst on the scene with such promise with the rest of the baby braves. Perhaps it’s Bobby’s perchance for using a pitcher until his arm falls off and then being surprised at the drop in performance. I had the opportunity observe Blaine on numerous occasions while with the Richmond club and if I could figure him out I would send him a telegram to advise him I was holding his career hostage. Perhaps a change in scenery would help, after all, he has all the tools to be a great reliever. He just has not mastered his Zen.

I will conclude my assessment on the Braves potential 2009 relief corps in part four.

Gil

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