Posted on: September 5, 2011 7:23 pm

Braves still hope for Hanson, Jurrjens return

PHILADELPHIA -- Tommy Hanson said Monday that he hopes to return to the Braves rotation in time to make one or two starts before the regular season ends. Jair Jurrjens said the same thing.

They'd better, if they hope to pitch in October.

Braves general manager Frank Wren said Hanson and Jurrjens will only be considered for the playoff rotation if they first show they're ready by making a regular-season start.

"If they don't pitch in the regular season, they can't pitch in the playoffs, at least not in the first round," Wren said, before the Braves' game against the Phillies.

Hanson and Jurrjens combined for 22 wins in the first half, but have just one win each since the All-Star break. Hanson hasn't pitched since Aug. 6 because of a sore right shoulder, while Jurrjens has a bone bruise on his right knee and has been out since Aug. 30.

Jurrjens visited a knee specialist over the weekend, and was told not to throw off a mound for the next two weeks. The Braves continue to say that Jurrjens has only a knee problem, even as scouts following the team see his diminished velocity (only 86 mph in a recent start) and suspect shoulder trouble.

Hanson threw from 90 feet on Monday, and said afterwards that he considered it significant progress.

"I think I have more peace of mind now," Hanson said.

The Braves seem more hopeful about Hanson than about Jurrjens, but they really can't be sure about either one.

Rookies Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor have pitched well enough that the Braves wouldn't necessarily be devastated if Hanson and Jurrjens don’t return to a playoff rotation that will be headed by Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. But obviously, a healthy Hanson or a healthy Jurrjens -- or having both healthy -- would make the Braves a more formidable playoff team.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 4, 2011 9:42 pm

3 to Watch: The return of Strasburg edition

Stephen Strasburg returns to the major leagues Tuesday night, and as interesting as it will be to see how he pitches, it'll be even more interesting to see if the buzz is back.

Can he make us care, the way he did last year? Can he make us ask every day, "Is Strasburg pitching tonight?"

It's different, I know. He's been out for a year after Tommy John surgery. It's September, not June. He's only going to make four starts at a time when we're more focused on pennant races (if there are any) or football. He's going to be on a pitch limit even stricter than the one the Nationals held him to last year (and will be limited to four innings and 60 pitches in his debut, according to the Washington Post).

"I'm not going to win a Cy Young in four starts," Strasburg told reporters, according to MLB.com.

He didn't win a Cy Young last year. He was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, before hurting his elbow in August.

But we were fascinated by him, more than we've been fascinated by any player coming through the minor leagues. We couldn't wait for him to get to the majors, and when he got there, we couldn't wait for his every start.

His debut, with 14 strikeouts in seven innings, was one of the biggest events of the entire season.

It won't be like that Tuesday. It can't be like that Tuesday.

According to the Nationals, there are still tickets available, although they say it should be a bigger crowd than they'd normally have for a September Tuesday against the Dodgers.

There is some anticipation. Strasburg's rehabilitation starts in the minor leagues made national news, and in those six starts he struck out 29 while walking just four.

In his last start, according to the Washington Times, Strasburg topped out at 99 mph on the radar gun.

He threw 99 last June, on his 94th and final pitch of a magical night.

I'm not saying that Tuesday will be as magical, or that it even could be. But I'll be back in Washington to see it, and more than that to feel it.

Will the buzz be back?

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Strasburg underwent surgery on Sept. 3, 2010. He returns to the big leagues on Sept. 6, 2011, in Dodgers at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. That's a fairly normal progression; Strasburg's teammate Jordan Zimmermann returned one year and seven days after he had Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann returned on the same day that Bryce Harper had his introductory press conference and Strasburg underwent an arthogram that showed he would need Tommy John surgery, too.

2. On Aug. 15, the Rangers had a four-game lead in the American League West, and that night they began a 23-game stretch in which they played every game against a team that (as of Sunday morning) had a record of .500 or better. The Rangers ended the weekend with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and they'll end that tough stretch with Rangers at Rays, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. After that game, the Rangers will have 18 games left on their schedule, and only six of those 18 (three at home against the Indians, three in Anaheim against the Angels) will be against teams with winning records. So if the Angels want to catch up, this week (when they play three home games against the Mariners) could be crucial. It's an interesting pitching matchup for the Rangers Wednesday, with Derek Holland (seven shutout innings last Friday against the Red Sox) facing David Price (who threw eight shutout innings the last time he faced the Red Sox).

3. Last year, both the Phillies and the Braves made the playoffs, but when the teams met in two September series, it was obvious that the Braves were no match. They meet again this week, in a series that ends with Braves at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Once again, the Phillies have basically wrapped up the division title (which will be their fifth straight), and this time the Braves are far ahead in the wild-card race. This time, at least going in, the Braves seem a more competitive match for the Phils. But with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens both battling injuries, the Braves might need to rely more than they'd like on rookie Brandon Beachy, who starts Wednesday against Roy Oswalt (who the Phillies will be watching carefully).

Posted on: August 26, 2011 7:46 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 10:28 pm

3 days off? Braves relievers don't like it

NEW YORK -- With two days off because of Hurricane Irene and then a scheduled off day Monday, the Braves basically have another All-Star break coming.

At least that means they'll get to rest the best -- and busiest -- relief pitchers in baseball.

"Three days off?" Eric O'Flaherty said Friday. "I'll probably throw a couple of bullpens."

"I just had three days off," said Jonny Venters. "I really wanted to pitch in this series."

O'Flaherty, Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel might make the Braves as dangerous as any team in baseball in October. But when you look at how many times the three young Braves relievers have pitched, you wonder how in the world they'll still be fresh enough to contribute in October.

Venters leads the major leagues with 71 appearances. Kimbrel is third in the majors with 65, and O'Flaherty is tied for sixth with 63.

It's easy to understand why manager Fredi Gonzalez keeps using them. The Braves play tons of close games (45 of their 133 games have been decided by one run, and 24 others by two runs), and Kimbrel, Venters and O'Flaherty have been very effective.

Kimbrel, who has already tied a major-league rookie record with 40 saves, hasn't allowed a run since June 14. Venters hadn't allowed a run since July 4 until he gave up two in the Braves' 6-0 loss to the Mets Friday night.

When Kimbrel, Venters and O'Flaherty have appeared in the same game, the Braves have gone 18-1 since June 1.

Gonzalez said that at the All-Star break, he and pitching coach Roger McDowell decided to use the three kids only in games where the Braves hold the lead, and where they led by no more than three runs. Venters pitched Friday only because he hadn't worked since Monday.

People around the Braves will tell you that Kimbrel, Venters and O'Flaherty tend to work quick, low-stress innings.

"Like [Greg] Maddux used to," one Braves person said.

And O'Flaherty praised Gonzalez for rarely warming up any of his three top relievers without putting them in the game.

"I think Fredi's done a really good job," O'Flaherty said. "You won't hear any of us complain about how we've been used."

And you won't hear them admit to being tired.

"I feel strong," Venters said. "I don't think the workload's been that much, to be honest."

If he or the other relievers need rest, the Braves can afford to give it to them. They led the National League wild-card race by 9 1/2 games entering the weekend, so it's already a near-certainty that they'll be in the playoffs.

The key, of course, is having a chance to win once they get there, and keeping their best pitchers fresh is key to that. But the Braves insist they're not concerned.

"I think they're fine," Gonzalez said.

His pitchers agree.

They just wish they didn't have the next three days off.

Posted on: August 26, 2011 6:50 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 6:57 pm

Braves' Hanson has tear in shoulder, could return

NEW YORK -- Braves starter Tommy Hanson, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 6, has a small tear in his rotator cuff but doesn't need surgery and could return before the end of the season, the team announced Friday.

The Braves said that the tear, on the undersurface of the rotator cuff, is commonly found in pitchers. They said that Hanson will see Dr. James Andrews on Monday.

"We remain hopeful that Tommy can return in the next few weeks," general manager Frank Wren said in a statement.

Hanson is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA in  22 starts, but the Braves are deep in starting pitching and have been able to get by without him. In the 18 games since he last pitched, Braves starters are 10-3 with a 2.92 ERA. Rookie Mike Minor has basically filled in for Hanson, and the Braves have won each of his last four starts.
Category: MLB
Posted on: August 26, 2011 3:13 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 10:30 pm

Mets call off Saturday, Sunday games vs. Braves

NEW YORK -- With Hurricane Irene headed for the Northeast, the Mets have postponed their Saturday and Sunday games against the Braves.

The games will be made up with a Sept. 8 doubleheader.

Irene is expected to hit the New York area late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, and the Mets originally hoped to play one game Saturday. But after New York City announced that the entire public transportation system would be shut down as of noon Saturday, it made far more sense to postpone both games.

The Red Sox and Phillies had previously announced that they won't be playing Sunday. The Sox scheduled a Saturday doubleheader against the A's. The Phillies originally scheduled a Saturday doubleheader against the Marlins, then announced Friday afternoon that they will try to play just one game, on Saturday afternoon.

The other Phillies-Marlins game will be made up on Sept. 15.

The Orioles called off their Saturday day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, and announced plans for a doubleheader Sunday.

The Sept. 8 Mets-Giants doubleheader isn't a major inconvenience for either team. The Braves play the day before in Philadelphia and the following day in St. Louis, while the Mets play the day before in Florida and the following night at home.

But the late decision Friday made for a strange scene. Many of the Braves players and coaches were already at Citi Field when Saturday's game was called off. Because the Braves will now fly home to Atlanta immediately after Friday's game, those who were already at the park had to return to their Manhattan hotel to pack and check out, then make another trip out to the ballpark in Queens.

That made for a weird scene after the Braves' bus arrived at the ballpark, with pitcher Derek Lowe walking into the clubhouse wearing workout shorts -- and a sports coat.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was on the subway, just two stops away from Citi Field, when general manager Frank Wren called him and told him to go back to the hotel and check out.

Category: MLB
Tags: Braves, Irene, Mets
Posted on: August 19, 2011 12:27 am
Edited on: August 19, 2011 9:37 am

3 to Watch: The Verlander and the East edition

What's it worth to win the American League East?

Not as much as it would be if the Twins were winning the American League Central again.

The East winner will almost certainly play the Central winner in the first round of the playoffs. The East runner-up will be the wild card, and will play the Rangers.

And the complicating factor is Justin Verlander.

If the Tigers win the Central, they get the East winner in a best-of-5 series, with the possibility that Verlander could start twice. If he wins twice, the Tigers would need just one win in any of the other three games to advance.

That's exactly what happened in the first round last year. The East winner, the Rays, lost twice to Cliff Lee. The Rays won two of the other three games against the Rangers, but it wasn't enough.

Meanwhile, the wild-card Yankees swept past the Twins.

The Yankees always beat the Twins. They did it again Thursday night, their 20th win in their last 23 games against Minnesota, including sweeps in the last two Division Series.

The Red Sox have been nearly as good, with 15 wins in their last 21 games against the Twins.

The Twins don't have a Verlander, or anyone close. In the playoffs, the Twins have had no chance.

Maybe the Tigers wouldn't have a chance, either, even with Verlander. Maybe the Indians or the White Sox will get past the Tigers and win the Central (the Tigers lead the Indians by 1 1/2 games and the White Sox by four, with the Indians coming to Detroit this weekend).

Maybe it's worth it to win the East, anyway, because if the Yankees and Red Sox both advance to the American League Championship Series, the team that wins the division would have home-field advantage.


But it sure would be easier if the Twins were winning the Central.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Someone asked me the other day who starts Game 2 for the Yankees. My answer? Whoever looks best the last two weeks of the season. Maybe that could even be Phil Hughes, who starts Game 2 of this weekend's series, Yankees at Twins, Friday night (8:10 ET) at Target Field. Hughes' 6.55 ERA is the third-worst in the American League (minimum 40 innings) behind the Royals duo of Sean O'Sullivan and Kyle Davies. But Hughes has gone six innings in three straight starts (and four of the last five), allowing two runs or less each time.

2. The first round of the 2008 draft produced Buster Posey, who helped the Giants win the World Series. It produced Lonnie Chisenhall, Gordon Beckham, Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, who are all part of this year's American League Central race. It produced Brett Lawrie, who the first-place Brewers traded to the Blue Jays to get Shaun Marcum. And it produced Wade Miley, the 24-year-old left-hander the first-place Diamondbacks called up when Jason Marquis broke his leg last Sunday. Miley, who grew up in Louisiana as a Braves fan, makes his big-league debut in Diamondbacks at Braves, Saturday afternoon (7:10 ET) at Turner Field. Miley will face Brandon Beachy, who was also eligible for that 2008 draft. He didn't go in the first round -- or any round -- and the Braves signed him as an undrafted free agent.

3. Tiger manager Jim Leyland reworked his rotation to make sure Verlander pitched against the Indians last week, and Verlander's win kept the Indians from a three-game sweep. Leyland chose not to rework his rotation again this week, and that means Rick Porcello will face Ubaldo Jimenez in Indians at Tigers, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Comerica Park. The Tigers are 14-9 with Porcello starting, but in 12 starts since June 12, Porcello has a 6.35 ERA. Verlander, who last pitched Tuesday (beating the Twins) is scheduled to start Monday night at Tampa Bay.

Posted on: August 14, 2011 7:48 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 7:58 pm

3 to Watch: The Giant series in Atlanta edition

Before they were champions, the Giants were just trying to get out of Turner Field with their season still alive.

They trailed the Braves by a run with two out in the ninth inning of Game 3, an out away from going down in the series two games to one and facing elimination the following night. In 27 2/3 innings against Braves pitching, they had scored just five earned runs.

In their entire magical month, the Giants would never come closer to going home disappointed.

They made it out of Atlanta, thanks to a big hit from Aubrey Huff and a couple of big errors from Brooks Conrad, and then an Alex Gonzalez error and a Cody Ross hit the following night.

They went on to win it all, and they never came as close to elimination as they were on that Sunday night at Turner Field.

The Giants are back in Atlanta this week, and while it's an exaggeration to say that they need to save their season again, they certainly aren't coasting back to the playoffs. With 11 losses in their last 16 games, the Giants have allowed the Diamondbacks to grab a two-game lead in the National League West.

If they get to October, the Giants could well run into the Braves again (although based on the standings after the weekend, the NL West winner would open against the Phillies). They'd face a different Braves team than the one they beat last October, because Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens missed that series with injuries, and Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn weren't yet with the Braves.

Even so, the Giants only outscored Atlanta 11-9 in the four playoff games, and just eight of the Giants' 11 runs were earned. The Giants hit .212 with a .583 OPS in the series.

They won, and they went on to win it all.

But they'll never forget those nights at Turner Field.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. At the July 31 deadline, the Braves refused to trade any of their four big pitching prospects. Now two of the four are in the big leagues, and a third -- Randall Delgado -- will arrive in time to start in Giants at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field. The 21-year-old Delgado has made just two starts in Triple-A, but he won both and didn't give up a run in either of them. Delgado made a spot start for the Braves earlier this year, losing to the Rangers. He joines Mike Minor in the rotation (Minor will face Tim Lincecum on Thursday), while Arodys Vizcaino is in the bullpen, and Julio Teheran (who made two spot starts earlier in the year remains in Triple-A.

2. Justin Verlander, who won his 100th game last Thursday in Cleveland, has the most wins of any active pitcher under 30. No surprise there. But did you realize that Ervin Santana is second, with 85? And did you realize that Santana's ERA since the All-Star break is 1.09, the best of any big-league starter? Santana makes his most important start yet, facing C.J. Wilson in Rangers at Angels, Wednesday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. The Rangers, who led the second-place Angels by just one game a week ago, opened up a four-game lead on Sunday, heading into the four-game series that begins Monday night.

3. Santana has the best ERA in baseball since the All-Star break. Ian Kennedy has the most wins, with six (to go with a 2.14 ERA). Kennedy and the surprising Diamondbacks get a big test this week, with a trip that will take them to Philadelphia (where they'll see both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) and to Atlanta. Kennedy faces Vance Worley in Diamondbacks at Phillies, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park.

Posted on: August 5, 2011 10:50 pm
Edited on: August 5, 2011 10:53 pm

Constanza (call him George) has Braves talking

NEW YORK -- The first thing you need to know about Jose Constanza is he was a free agent last winter.

A minor-league free agent, after spending seven years in the minor leagues with the Indians.

The second thing you need to know is that he might well be the fastest player in baseball.

"A [Jose] Reyes-like weapon," Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said.

The third thing you need to know is that 27-year-old Constanza has impressed the Braves so much in his first seven big-league games, there's a real good chance that he's going to keep playing and Jason Heyward is going to find himself on the bench. Constanza is 11-for-27 (.407), after getting two more hits in the Braves' 4-1 win over the Mets' Friday night.

Oh, and the last thing you need to know?

It's OK to call him George, after the Seinfeld character of the (almost) same name. His teammates already call him that. He said he doesn't mind (and says he understands what it's about).

The Braves called up Constanza from Triple-A Gwinnett when both their center fielders (Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer) got hurt. Then they traded for Michael Bourn to play center field, but with Martin Prado filling in for the injured Chipper Jones at third base, they still had a spot open in the outfield.

Now Jones is expected back Saturday night, which moves Prado back to left field. And leaves manager Fredi Gonzalez with the question of whether to play Constanza or Heyward in right field.

At the moment, it's not much of a question. The struggling Heyward is hitting .221.

Gonzalez wouldn't commit to an answer Friday night, but you can tell where this is going.

"[Constanza] has put himself in a position where you've got to think about playing him," Gonzalez said. "You've got to think about it."

You've got to do more than think about it. You've got to do it.

Here's a guess that Gonzalez will do just that.

Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com