Atlanta Braves & Richmond Fontaine
This guy writes about the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read through to the end. Pretty cool.
<<Infante and Every-day Jonny (Venters) coming through
3:24 pm August 6, 2010, by David O’Brien
Martin Prado was having a top-10 MVP type season before going on the disabled list last week, so we figured the Braves would see a significant reduction in production (look out, wordsmith at work) from the leadoff spot with him out.
Braves haven’t missed a beat with Infante filling in for Prado.
But that’s because we continue to underestimate Omar Infante, which we really should stop doing at some point. I mean, he is an All-Star, from what I understand.
The Braves’ super-sub doesn’t hit for power or drive in a lot of runs, or walk much. But Infante is a hitting machine who plays steady defense at several positions.
Did I mention he’s a hitting machine?
The quiet veteran has batted .381 (51-for-134) in his past 42 games, including .444 (16-for-36) with seven multi-hit games during his current eight-game hitting streak. He hasn’t struck out in 36 at-bats during the streak.
His .338 average with runners in scoring position is the eighth-highest in the NL, just behind Florida’s Gaby Sanchez (.340).
Since the All-Star break, Infante leads the Braves with a .392 average and .436 on-base percentage in 17 games, while Brian McCann is second in average (.323) and leads the team in homers (5), RBIs (19) and slugging (.597) in 18 games.
From the leadoff spot, a veritable black hole for the Braves before Prado took over there in May, Infante has filled in splendidly in Prado’s absence.
For the season, Infante is 19-for-55 (.345) with three doubles and a .379 on-base percentage in the leadoff role. Between Prado (.322, .362 OBP, .521 slugging in the No. 1 spot) and him, the Braves have excelled at leadoff since turning the page from the early season struggles of Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz in the role (we’ll give Matty a pass due to the thumb thing since remedied through surgery).
♣ Every-day Jonny: Does it seem like Jonny Venters pitches in every Braves game? Well, there’s a reason. He practically has.
The exceptional rookie left-hander has worked about as often lately as a major league pitcher can possibly be asked to work.
Venters doesn’t look intimidating. Until he starts pitching.
He has pitched in 18 of the Braves’ past 26 games, including 11 of their 14 wins in that stretch. And after giving up a run on July 5, he’s allowed just one run in his past 17 appearances.
Despite starting the season in the minors and not making his major league debut until April 17, Venters still ranks eighth in the majors with 55 relief innings in 49 appearances.
Since he made his debut, the only major league reliever who has pitched more innings than Venters is Colorado’s Matt Belisle, who has worked 57-1/3 innings to Venters’ 55 since April 17.
Belisle, by the way, leads the majors with 65 relief innings this season.
Braves sidearmer Peter Moylan is second in the NL with 57 relief appearances, including 51 since April 17. Moylan has pitched 38-1/3 innings in those 51 appearances, while Venters has pitched 55 innings in his 49 appearances.
Moylan has benefited from the presence of Venters, who’s taken some of the late-innings workload that Moylan would have otherwise had to carry. When Takashi Saito was on the DL, Venters’ role grew and his performance didn’t slip.
Actually, it only got better.
That’s the thing about Venters, he’s been one of baseball’s most tireless workhorses since he got to the bigs, but he’s also been one of the most effective shut-down relievers in the majors despite the workload.
His 1.15 ERA is the fourth-best among major league relievers, behind some cat named Mariano Rivera (0.91), the Dodgers’ Hong-Chih Kuo (0.95), and Tampa Bay’s Joaquin Benoit (1.14). Venters’ .170 opponents’ average is tied with Arthur Rhodes for fourth in the NL, just ahead of Braves closer’s Billy Wagner’s .171.
Speaking of Braves closers, I’d be surprised if Venters does not slide into that role next season, with rookie Craig Kimbrel perhaps serving as a setup man and backup closer option.
Now that Bobby Cox is being careful not use 40-year-old Saito on back-to-back days if he can avoid it, and having Venters makes that a lot more feasible.
The Braves have been without one of the best lefties in the league for the past few weeks, Eric O’Flaherty. Imagine how much more difficult it would’ve been to get by without “O” if it weren’t for Venters’ emergence.
In short, the kid has been indispensable for the Braves.
♣ Hanson vs. Zito: After we watch Braves iconic lefty Tom Glavine be honored before tonight’s game – he’s being inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame today, as you probably know – we’ll see a pitching matchup worthy of Glav’s day.
Jair Jurrjens won a duel with Tim Lincecum last night, and Tommy Hanson will try to do the same tonight against Giants lefty Barry Zito, who’s revived his career this season and pitched like an ace again on quite a few nights.
Hanson has bounced back strong after going 0-2 with a 17.18 ERA and .525 opponents’ average in consecutive 3-2/3-inning starts against the White Sox and Tigers in late June, posting a 2.19 ERA and .245 opponents’ average in six starts since then.
He’s only 1-3 in those six starts, but that’s primarily because the Braves scored one or no runs while he was in three of them, and two runs in another.
Hanson has a 1.35 ERA and .208 opponents’ average in his past two starts, allowing one earned run in six innings at Washington and one earned run in 7-1/3 innings at Cincinnati.
He took losses in both, getting a total of one support run over his 13-1/3 innings in those games. The Braves also played some slopped defense behind him for three unearned runs in those games.
Hanson attributes his improved performance to a change in his position on the pitching rubber after those two debacle games in late June.
Barry Zito (left) and Tim Hudson (center) with Mark Mulder back in the day.
Tonight he’ll face the “12-to-6″ curveball master Zito (8-6), who’s had even worse support lately than Hanson. Zito has a 1.88 ERA and .192 in his past four starts, but only a 1-2 record.
The Giants scored one run while he was in the July 16 game he won, and have failed to score at all while he was in his past three starts.
Tim Hudson’s flakey former Oakland teammate is 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA in four career starts against the Braves, including 3-0 in three starts at Turner Field.
Zito pitched seven innings of three-hit ball with five walks in a win against them last July 23.
♣ OK, let’s finish so I can get to the ballpark. I’d suggest anyone attending try to get there early. Going to be a big crowd for the Glavine pregame ceremony that starts at 7:15 p.m. (game is probably not going to start until around 7:45).
We’ll close it with a great tune from one of the best bands most of you’ve probably not heard of. Seriously, Richmond Fontaine is so good, and so underrated. Here’s an article/review of the album the song below is from. Check out the album, We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River. Front man Willy Vlautin is a brilliant singer/songwriter. I couldn’t find any video of them doing the song belog, but here’s a live video of them doing another of their best, “White Line Fever.” And here’s the album’s title cut, done informally, to say the least (check out the surprised lady sticking her head out of the church door).
“THE PULL” by Richmond Fontaine (Willy Vlautin)
He went into AA
Went to a gym and started boxing
He left his girlfriend and got a room
Slept on the floor and quit talking
His sister asked him why he quit talking
He said when he was sober he didn’t know nothing
Nothing at all
He was 34 when he turned pro
He ran to work and then he’d run home
He stayed at the gym until they closed
Still there were those nights when he was all alone
He won ten fights up and down the coast
He’d borrow his sister’s car and drive home
He fought in Modesto and shattered his nose
He detached his retina in Fresno, and then they made him quit
He’d wake up in the middle of the night
His heart racing so fast that he thought he was dying
But it wouldn’t go away, it wouldn’t go away
So he’d go running and he’d keep running until he couldn’t think anymore>>