Atlanta Braves: Grading the Debuts of the Late Additions
After the Braves were unusually quiet for the whole winter following their epic collapse last season, fans expected to see basically the same roster at the start of the season. However in the last week of spring training the Braves were able to add three experienced players to their active roster through free agency or trade.
Livan Hernandez B
When Livan Hernandez entered the ball game in the fifth inning it was his first relief appearance since his big league debut, back in 1996. Hernandez has made 474 career starts going 3,118.2 innings with seven teams. So despite the fact that he's a veteran, this was a very new experience to him to enter a game mid-way through with runners on.
Jair Jurrjens left runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the fifth for Hernandez, who immediately got Lucas Duda to pop up to third. Josh Thole singled in Ike Davis, the runner on second, to give the Mets a 3-2 lead and moved Jason Bay to third base. Hernandez managed to get out of runners on the corners by getting Kirk Nieuwenhuis to ground into a force out to short.
Hernandez's background as a starter allowed him to return in the bottom of the sixth, helping the Braves to not really burn through their bullpen. Hernandez made Mike Baxter pop out and he caught a liner right back to him off the bat of Ruben Tejada, to quickly get a pair of outs. Just when it looked like he was going to get out of the inning easily, trouble came,
He let Daniel Murphy and David Wright hit singles, and they each moved up a base on a passed ball by Brian McCann. That made for a key situation, down a run in the bottom of the sixth with runners on second and third and one of the Mets best young hitters up. Hernandez came up big there by striking out Ike Davis.
Considering everything I believe that Hernandez earned his "B" grade. He came in in a tough spot, and though he did allow the run that eventually won the game, he kept things from getting worse. His clutch strikeout of Davis and his nice defensive play on the liner off Tejada's bat were among the things that stuck out.
Hernandez isn't an All-Star anymore, but if he can give the Braves the flexibility and veteran leadership in the bullpen, he should be a valuable addition.
Juan Francisco D
Juan Francisco is the addition that most Braves fans are excited about, The power-hitting third baseman was a solid prospect, but dealt with some injuries in Cincinnati, as well as being blocked by Scott Rolen. A calf injury this winter had him show up to spring training a little out of shape, and rumor is, that may have been what got him dealt since he was out of options and couldn't go back to the minors.
Francisco came up in the top of the second and struck out with Jason Heyward on first to end the inning. He had a chance to help his team in his second at-bat, as he had Freddie Freeman on second and Heyward on first with two outs, but he lined out to center and stranded two more runners.
His at-bat in the sixth followed a triple by Heyward, but he lined out to first baseman Ike Davis to end another inning. He came up in the top of the ninth with Freeman on first and one out, but he popped out to third baseman David Wright in foul territory.
Overall at the plate Francisco went 0-4 with a strikeout and he left five runners on base, including a pair in scoring position. Also three times he ended an inning, two with a runner in scoring position. When you lose a game 4-2, those runners left in scoring position come back to haunt you.
Francisco did have some luck in the field though. His highlight-reel catch on a line drive by David Wright in the bottom of the eighth going towards the foul line prevented a sure double, which is why this day wasn't all bad for him. He also caught a foul pop and made a decent play on the infield single to Justin Turner in the seventh, though his off-balance throw wasn't close to first base.
Francisco had a bad day at the plate, but it wasn't totally unexpected since he's a power hitter prone to striking out. The highlight-reel catch was a great play, and he showed some defensive promise. However it's tough to get over the five runners left on base, including the two men in scoring position. That's why he earned a "D" as his grade.
Chad Durbin F
Chad Durbin replaced Livan Hernandez when he entered the game in the seventh inning. The 34-year-old right-hander was released by the Nationals in the last week and quickly picked up by the Braves to take the final spot in the bullpen. Durbin has a career 5.10 ERA, though he did have a strong run in Philadelphia from 2008 through 2010, before struggling in Cleveland last year.
When he came in the score was still 3-2 in favor of the Mets and he was to face the five through seven hitters in their lineup. Durbin's first hitter was Jason Bay, who he struck out, giving some hope to Braves fans that he was a nice pickup. That didn't last long however.
Bay was followed by Lucas Duda, who homered to right field for his second homer of the game. The blast gave the Mets a 4-2 lead, which really hurt the Braves' chances of mounting a comeback. It was also the first homer at Citi Field that wouldn't have been a homer a year ago, as the Mets decided to move the fences in since it was a tough park to hit homers in.
The homer was a big blow but Durbin wasn't done being hit. Though he did bounce back to force Josh Thole to ground out to second, he let Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Justin Turner hit back-to-back singles. Ruben Tejada came up with a chance to really break the game open, but popped out to short.
It wasn't a very positive outing for Durbin as he gave up a home run that made the Mets lead that much harder to overcome, then allowed a pair of guys at the bottom of the lineup to collect hits. The way he was hit in the later part of a close game as well as the fact that he kept Yohan Flande and Cory Gearrin off the roster is why he earned an "F" grade.