Braves Give One Away At Minute Maid
By Fred Owens
I watched with a lot of other Braves fans last night as Fredi Gonzales sent out his “You can have this one if you’re willing to take it” lineup last night against the Astros ace Wandy Rodriguez. I know many of you want me to back that up so here goes.
Let’s start with the noncontroversial comment first. Wandy Rodriguez is quietly the Astros best pitcher and has been for a while. Since the midway point of last year when the Astros dumped the deadwood and started playing their kids started rebuilding, Wandy is 9-4 with a 2,94 ERA, a 1.155 WHIP and 8.9 K/9. Plainly their ace after Roy Oswalt left. Now let’s get to the lineup last night.
Fredi Gonzales decided to rest Alex Gonzales and play Brandon Hicks. Hicks would have been with the big team long ago if he could hit but over and over again he’s shown he can’t. While his major league stat line (.043/.120/.043) is too small a sample to be significant, his two year AAA line is; .223/.302.389 is a not ready major league line. He’s here only because Prado is hurt and he does have a good glove in spite of his nervous throwing in this series. Diory Hernandez – who has started to at least hit a bit lately – would have been a better choice but, Houston is Hicks’ hometown so he played. Next on the list is Joe Mather in right.
What we’ve seen from Joey Bombs is that he needs to play consistently to be any kind of threat with a bat. Being a late inning replacement and getting one at bat every 3rd game doesn’t give him enough plate appearances. Most of his .227 average was generated during interleague play, in the last two weeks as a pinch hitter/defensive replacement he’s hitting .087. I understand the need top rest Eric Hinske, he’s played a lot lately and that wears on him in the batter’s box as shown by his .158 average in the last week. Resting him against a lefty makes sense but playing a struggling Mather gave us a bottom half of the lineup consisting of Hicks, Matt Young, Mather, and Derek Lowe who ironically got the best hit off of Rodriguez. With that lower half coming to the plate anything started at the top and not finished by the time Freeman was through was unlikely to succeed. The skipper had to know that.
Since we were playing the B team in half of the lineup he should have started David Ross instead of a badly beat up Brian McCann. McCann doesn’t hit lefty Rodriguez well and could have used the night off. Ross on the other hand loves (he’s 6-19 this year) finesse pitchers like Rodriguez. Ross is also the better catch and throw guy though no one would have stopped Michael Bourn from stealing. Playing Ross would have probably moved Freeman up to the third spot and might have changed the pitches he got though Rodriguez and the Astros seemed to have a plan that was at least partially successful in containing him.
I can’t fault Lowe a lot for last night. The team needs to score four runs a game. The lineup behind him wasn’t going to do that so I understood his frustration after the home run. When you have to be dang near perfect to win, any hiccup means you lose. The arrival of Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill was predictable in both choice and outcome. While Linebrink’s been good the last month the Astros saw him in the first two games of the series made him throw 41 pitches in those two innings extracting two walks, three hits and two runs; he wasn’t exactly fooling anyone. Last night his pitches had little movement until the Astros connected with them. George Sherrill – whom I’ve been accused of over reacting too – did what George Sherrill does.
Sherrill usually appears for such a short and against a carefully chosen section of the opposing lineup that it’s easy to miss what actually happens around him. In his 10 appearances before last night he was 1-1 with one hold and one blown hold. On two other occasions he entered the game while we were behind and left with us farther behind. He’s an all or nothing guy; he strikes out a lot of hitters but hitters putting the ball in play in those 10 games hit .444. Last night he entered to face the kind of hitter he – as our left handed specialist – is supposed to dominate. No one told Brett Wallace who promptly doubled. After that Sherrill was left in to take one for the team and only a sparkling play by Hicks to turn a ground ball over the mound into a double play ended the inning with only one run scoring. The Skipper’s bullpen management continues to baffle me – amongst others. The question is, since we had a weakened lineup out there, why not bring in long man Cristhian Martinez for some work instead of Linebrink and Sherrill who would both benefit from an extra day’s rest?
Martinez worked an inning in game one but only three innings this month. Isn’t that situation the one Martinez is in the pen to do? Linebrink or Proctor to get out of the sixth then Martinez to take over and rest the daily throwers.If we rally then we have the arms available.
We move home for the Mets tonight and hopefully the lineup will pick up where it left off Sunday night. The Mets have however been hot, assuming a victory would be a mistake in spite of their injury and pitching woes. With Jair Jurrjens on the hill tonight we have the right arm to keep them in check. Jon Niese is their starter tonight. he’s 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in his last three starts. Getting him out early should be the goal as their bullpen isn’t very good. I’m sure JJ wants revenge for the last Mets game, let’s get it for him tonight.