Atlanta Braves Pass First Test of the Spring
Last night I had the privilege of watching the Braves game on something other than my laptop (thank you, MLB Network).
From said game, which I viewed as kind of an early test for this Braves squad, against the defending National League champion Phillies, I took more than a few notes on the progress of this bunch. I came away impressed for the most part.
Having followed the sport my entire life and played it in college, I tried to look at it from somewhat of a player/scout perspective.
Here are just a few thoughts.
Patience is the key
I counted eight (two from Jason Heyward) 3-2 counts last night from the starting bunch, which is fitting given the circumstances (facing Roy Halladay) and the atmosphere (felt a little like a regular season affair). I was more than impressed with the plate discipline this team is showing in the early going of the season.
I will even go as far as discrediting one of Martin Prado's strikeouts because the ball was clearly too far inside. Can't help him on the others, but the way they stayed in each at-bat shows they have an approach and a method to what they are doing.
In case you didn't know, Heyward IS the real deal
Now I have tried ad nauseam to temper my Jason Heyward enthusiasm for the sake of not sounding redundant. But last night, every at-bat was worth it.
He battled back (twice) from 0-2 counts to coax a walk out of the great Roy Halladay and Ryan Madson, the latter of whom just didn't have it last night. He also beat out a grounder up the middle, displaying the hustle that will more than likely earn him the starting job.
With him in there, he changes the look of this lineup and makes it a lot more lethal. Color me a believer.
Hit it here Nate!
I love Nate McLouth. Seriously. I like everything about him. I liked him in Pittsburgh, hoped the Braves would find a way to get him, and when they did was beyond excited.
But let's make one thing clear about Nate McLouth: He has a problem. It's not his eyes, and it's not his hamstring. It's his inability to handle that outside pitch and take it the other way. That is something he needs to fix immediately in order to take him back to 2008 numbers and possibly beyond.
Don't believe me? Check the pitch sequence from last night. His hits to the opposite field from the last three years are eight, 16, and nine. So it's no wonder that maybe he should take a page out of the Curtis Granderson 2010 game plan and take a step closer to the plate. Just a suggestion.
Chipper Jones looks good
His hit in the first inning off Halladay showed two things. First, hanging on to the bat with two hands on the left side for his follow-through will pay dividends for bat speed and power.
The second showed he's back to being able to just focus on his approach. Last year was the first I can remember him taking off-balance swings and just not looking comfortable at the plate in the second half. He had a solid single back up the middle off an in-form Halladay, and that was a good sign for old No. 10.
All in all, the Braves did pass their first test of the spring against a Phillies squad that was only missing Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez from its lineup. Granted, the score wasn't in their favor, but Kenshin Kawakami did hang a fastball to Jayson Werth that cost him a homer, and a reliever who more than likely won't break camp gave up five runs and the lead.
King Halladay was splendid last night and is everything as advertised. But the Braves held tough in this game and showed they do have the parts in place to make a run at the Phillies in the East.
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