Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Braves vets set tone at luncheon, as they have on field

Braves veteran newcomers Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski and Jason Grilli helped set the tone in the clubhouse and on the field during a 5-1 start, and they did much the same during the team’s annual Leadoff Luncheon on Monday. All they forgot to do was tell the crowd of sponsors and fans not to forget to tip their waiters and waitresses.

The dudes were funny.

Seven hours before their series opener against the Marlins on Monday, nearly the entire team and its coaching staff was dressed to the nines for the luncheon and a few roundtable discussions in the 755 Club at Turner Field.

Gomes, Pierzynski and Grilli made sure it was worth coming out for. A few other Braves got in some one-liners as well, but the greybeard trio provided most of the highlights.

  Gomes on signing with the Braves : “I wanted to be wanted. The Braves were the first team that called in the offseason. And I said, ‘Trade the whole team, then I’ll sign.’ So that’s why it took so long.” (Raucous laughter ensued.)

  Grilli on pitching for his third team in two seasons and eighth major league team overall: “I’ve played for a third of the league, now I’m working on the second third. The life of a relief pitcher…. John Hart treated me to a cheeseburger, and that’s all it took.”

To which Pierzynski interjected: “For those of you don’t know John Hart that well, him buying anything is a big deal. Him buying a cheeseburger, that’s a huge deal.”

Pierzynski when broadcaster Don Sutton said he’d probably not win  “Ms. Congeniality” award : “I’m not going to win that one. I’ve won a lot of other awards, as far as the other way (being disliked). But it’s like Jonny said, you play to win the game, you play as hard as you can. Sometimes people don’t like that because you won’t back down. Playing against all these guys, there’s times where you love ‘em to death when they’re on your team, and you hate them (on the other team). Like Jonny, I hated Jonny.”

Gomes interjected: “I hated him.” (Much laughter.)

Pierzysnki continued: “And that’s OK. I’m OK with that. And you get on the same team and you’re doing the same thing. Like with Ian Kinsler, I hated Ian Kinsler before I went to Texas, now we’re good friends. When you’re on the team with somebody, you get a different respect for them, a different feel for them. But I’m not going to apologize. I’m a bad guy, OK? Look, I’m here to win the game and that’s it. We’ll go have a beer after the game, but for those three hours I want to beat whoever I’m playing against.”

There were some more serious moments, and some explanation on where the organization is headed and its offseason moves, etc. I'll cover those in some notes to be posted later today.

 • Pitching again: The Braves lost two of their top four starters from last season, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, to free agency, traded for one replacement (Shelby Miller), lost Mike Minor to another shoulder injury again in spring training, and went with a non-roster invitee (Eric Stults) as replacement.

They traded away their top setup men, David Carpenter and Jordan Walden, during the winter, and replace dthem with 30-something veterans, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, coming off down seasons. Then they traded the game’s dominant closer, Craig Kimbrel, on the eve of opening day and turned the closer job over to those 30-something veterans, primarily Grilli.

So, after the first week of the season, here’s where Braves pitching stands: They led the majors in overall ERA (1.83), a testament both to Roger McDowell and the work of his pitchers as well as some terrific defense almost every night. The Braves were also tied with Kansas City for the saves lead (four in six games) before Monday.

The Braves were only 21st in WHIP (1.40), but that was inflated a bit by rookie Juan Jaime’s walk on the wide side Sunday when he walked three batters in the eighth inning without recording a second out in a loss that snapped the season-opening five-game win streak.

Jaime wouldn’t be on the roster if he weren’t out of minor league options, and the Braves’ gamble to carry him rather than risk losing him to a waiver claim backfired Sunday when they used him because they wanted to get some some for a trio of their emerging core group of go-to relievers who’d been so reliable in a 5-0 start.

In his one-third of an inning of work Sunday, Jaime accounted for more than one-fifth of Braves’ pitchers season walk total (14). Jaime walked three in one-third of an inning, equaling the total number of walks in the Braves’ other 20 relief innings this season. He left a bases-loaded situation for young left-hander Andrew McKirahan, who gave up a sacrifice fly for the first and only run charged to the Braves bullpen in the first week of the season.

The bullpen ERA is at 0.44 entering Week 2, second in the majors behind the Royals’ early perfection and more than a full run lower than the majors’ third-lowest bullpen ERA (Angels, 1.53). Braves relievers have a majors-best .097 opponents’ average.

• And the offense? Meanwhile, the offense hasn’t been as problematic as many anticipated, and their avoidance of strikeouts has been even better than they could have anticipated (although this is precisely what they had hoped for).

The Braves are third in the National League and 10th in the majors in runs with 29 in six games. It should be noted that 12 of those came in one game. Still, this is a team that finished next-to-last in the majors in runs scored a year ago.

Batting with runners in scoring position, Atlanta leads the NL entering Week 2 with a .383 average and 1.006 OPS, second-best in the majors in both categories behind Detroit (.385, 1.091). Last season, the Braves finished 13th in the league (and 28th in the majors) with a .236 average with runners in scoring position.

We’ll see how it plays out, but as has been pointed out many times, hard to do much worse than last year’s homer-based offense that didn’t hit many homers.

Braves hitters have 37 strikeouts in six games, seven below the next-lowest total in the National League (Colorado, 44) and third-lowest in the majors, fewer than all but the Mariners (36) and Royals (33). The Braves are tied for the majors lead in sacrifice bunts (five) and are tied for sixth in stolen bases with five in as many attempts.

By the way, that 12-run output by the Braves came in a Game 2 blowout against the Marlins and Mat Latos, the right-hander whom the Braves will face again tonight at Turner Field in the opener of a three-game series against the Marlins, who after the opening week of the season are 1-5 and five games behind the division-leading Braves.

The Marlins have hit .213 and totaled 18 runs and one homer in six games.

• Tonight’s matchup: Shelby Miller makes his second Braves start against the same team he faced in his Braves debut – the Marlins, whom he held to four hits and two walks in five scoreless innings of a 2-0 win in Game 3 on Wednesday at Marlins Park.

Miller faces Mat Latos, who is 0-2 with an 11.81 ERA and .444 opponents’ average in three starts against the Braves since the beginning of the 2013 season, after going 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA and .228 OA in six starts against them prior to 2013.

Freddie Freeman is 10-for-16 with seven RBis against him, without a homer. Kelly Johnson is 0-for-8 with five strikeouts against Latos, while Chris Johnson is 9-for-21 with a homer, Alberto Callaspo is 2-for-3 with a homer, Andrelton Simmons is 4-for-6, and Jonny Gomes is 1-for-6 with a homer.

Giancarlo Stanton is 3-for-7 with two homers against Miller, while Christian Yelich (4-for-9) and Dee Gordon (3-for-9) are the only other Marlins with more than two hits against the right-hander. No current Marlin has homered off him other than Stanton.

• I'll close with this one by a great, underrated band, Crooked Fingers.

“YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE” by Crooked Fingers

Blue eyes of fire, sweet desire is bitter torture

You are no father's daughter

No man has this much to offer

Skin dark as sin, soft and when

We took cover from the rain and the thunder

Under stained glass we did slumber

Till the sun came out to blind us

Till we could not see anything

So we knew at once

We were meant to be

And we heard the Gods all rise and say

The love we made is no lie

And the 30 years of hopes and fears

Breathing down my neck

Such a sad sad thing I set you free

'Cuz I can't get you back

You are fire, you are water

When you dance, it is torture

Maybe some night, by the gray light

Of the dull moon, we can meet

Tangled, entwined, we have climbed

We have wrangled, shiny sequence

Sparked and spangled

Our hearts are cuffed and mangled

We spent the night

By the side of the water

Passed the breakers and the markers

We swam out into the darkness

Till we could not feel the bottom

Till we could not feel anything

And the shoreline slowly drifted out fo reach

As the moon shone down and the ocean heaved

And darkness gave to light

And with 30 years of hopes and fears

Breathing down my neck

Such a sad sad thing I set you free

'Cuz I can't get you back

You are fire, you are water

When you dance, it is torture

Maybe some day on the bottom

Of the ocean we can meet

Though we know if we do, we can never leave

'Cuz the moment that we turn away

The Gods will say

The love we made was a lie

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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.