In an effort to spur him through his dreadful start to the season, I tried a new tactic on behalf of Raul Mondesi on Wednesday night when he pinch-hit in the 8th inning against Roberto Hernandez. During the wind-up, I rolled an "R" on my tongue and then unleashed "ah-ool!" during the delivery. Sadly, this tactic didn't work and Raul struck out, although the eight-year olds in front of us found iot terribly amusing and my wife rolled her eyes, so two important tasks were achieved. Anyway, that was pretty much it for Raul, as he went 0-3 on Friday night, sat out Saturday, and was given his walking papers (with a two-day delayed fuse) on Sunday.
This move was inevitable for the Braves. Mondesi was simply not hitting and his arm, while still strong, was somewhat erratic. He's ranked dead-last in Baseball Prospectus' rankings of right fielders. In the end, it wasn't Raul's rumored bad attitude that doomed him. The Braves all spoke highly of him, especially regarding his work ethic. He genuinely realized that this was his last chance and he worked very hard during spring training to get his swing back. Unfortunately, he never healed from his torn quadricep last year and he doesn't have the leg strength needed to hit the ball. I was going to write a post about whether the Braves should cut Mondesi or Jordan to make room for Kelly Johnson, but you'll have to take my word for it that I thought that Mondesi was the guy to go. He's not as versatile in the outfield and he's not as good a role model for Langerhans and Johnson as Jordan is. That said, Jordan shouldn't feel too comfortable, since he has virtually no power any more. If you don't believe me, go to a game and watch where the opposing outfielders play him.
I'm excited about getting to watch Kelly Johnson play. His .438 OBP at Richmond was tittilating and he showed that plate discipline yesterday, drawing one walk and generally working the count. He hit two line drives to the outfield, which was far more encouraging than his RBI groundout. He also made two very good plays in the outfield. Hopefully, he'll have the same impact that Charles Thomas had last year, although Johnson is a bigger prospect and his good hitting would have less of a feeling of flukishness to it. (By the way, poor Charles is hitting .098 for Oakland. A's fans have to be cursing the Braves right now, since Thomas has been useless, Juan Cruz has a 7.20 ERA, and Dan Meyer is on the DL after pitching very poorly in AAA. I like Billy Beane, but wow are the early returns on the Hudson deal bad for the A's.)
Other thoughts from the weekend:
1. The Braves' struggles against the last place team in their division are, in part, a reflection of how deep the division is. Right now, the Phillies are 24-27. The other five last place teams are 19-32 (Tampa), 13-37 (Kansas City), 17-32 (Oakland), 18-31 (Houston), and 14-34 (Colorado). None of those teams have a 3-4-5 combo like Abreu (who is the most underrated player in baseball), Thome, and Burrell, nor do they have an ace like Brett Myers or a closer like Billy Wagner. Although the Braves and Marlins are two of the four best teams in the NL (they're #1 and #4 in baseball in fewest runs allowed), it will be hard for either of them to win the wild card, given that they don't get 18-19 gimme games like the teams in every other division do.
1a. To summarize the last point, WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!
2. Horacio looked dreadful on Saturday. He's never been much of a strikeout pitcher and his recent struggles could be confirmation of the "three true outcomes" philosophy, namely that if you aren't strong in getting strikeouts and preventing walks and homers, then you'll inevitably have problems. All of those batted balls were finding holes on Saturday and as a result, Ramirez allowed 11 of 21 batters faced to reach base. There were no big hits; it was just death by singles and occasional doubles. The bullpen looked sharp until the 9th, when Bernero was left in too long and he couldn't throw a strike. For the first time this season, I was asking for more Dan Kolb. He had a strong 7th, retiring the Phillies on nine pitches and should have gotten a crack at the 8th, as well. Unfortunately, the Phillies bullpen was even better, going four innings and allowing no runs on two hits in cleaning up for a shaky John Lieber.
3. The Braves didn't draw a single walk on Saturday. The most egregious instance of swinging too much was that of Andruw Jones (big shocker) in the 5th. With one run in, runners on the corners, and no one out in a 7-4 game, he got ahead of Lieber 2-0 and then promptly swung and missed, then grounded into a double play. Threat over. If he's going to swing in that situation, he needs to make sure he's swinging at a strike and is going to do something with it.
3. Yesterday's win was another instance of the Braves beating a very good starter. How they can touch up Brett Myers, but can't hit Victor Zambrano is beyond me.