Posts Tagged ‘Javier Vazquez’

Vazquez Dominates Nats

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Faced with a must-win situation, the Atlanta Braves stayed in the race for a wild card birth in the N.L. playoffs with a three-hit shutout pitched by Chops’ ace Javier Vazquez. Vazquez was brilliant in his nine inning, 4-1 complete game outing, though John Lannan was nearly as good: the Nats’ hard luck lefthander pitched seven innings of six hit ball, giving up runs to errors and a hit lost in the lights. The Nats had one chance to give Vazquez something to think about — in the fourth inning, but Ryan Zimmerman was stranded at second as Josh Willingham and Pete Orr flied out. The only Nats’ run came on a solo shot by Josh Bard.  The Nats were once again victimized by poor play: an error by Pete Orr, a ball lost in the lights, a fly ball that should have been caught but wasn’t. This was the Nats 101st loss of the season, but the win leaves the Braves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies, who have lost two.

Down On Half Street: Nats 320 has a transcript of Josh Willingham’s fan appearance at ESPN Zone (a public service, that). Willingham’s comments on the differences between playing at Sh-ti Field as compared to Shea Stadium are interesting. He can’t quite admit that he thinks the new home of the Mets is a terrible park, but he comes close. “I didn’t get to play in New Yankee Stadium because I was home. But as far as Shea Stadium and Citi Field, there is absolutely no comparison. Citi Field is so big. The wall is so tall. And like I was saying, when you are running for a ball in the gap in left centerfield—it never ends” . . .

It’s old news, but Nats Farm Authority has Nationals roster for the Instructional League. All eyes are already on Stephen Strasburg — and Drew Storen. But, there are others to watch, including forgotten fireballer Josh Smoker. Once upon a time, in a draft far far away, Smoker was a left handed fireballing supplemental first round prodigy: and all things to all men. Then he went 0-4 at Hagerstown, before ending up in the Gulf League. He reported a little tightness in his shoulder and ended up under the knife with a couple of bloody bone spurs rolling around on the shiny steel table beside him. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. The Nats insist that he’ll be ready for spring training. With all the attention on Strasburg, it’s easy to forget Smoker, who’s only 20 . . .  


Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Tomahawks are on a run — they have won three in a row and 13 of their last 16. Vazquez has carried the team on his arm — in his last four outings he’s 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA. Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens have provided the Braves with an almost unbeatable one-two punch over the last two weeks, just in time to challenge the Rockies. With all the buzz about the L.A. and San Francisco pitching staffs, the troubles with Phuzzy closer and emergent head case Brad Lidge, the oohing and ahhing over Carpenter and Wainwright and the very predictable Gammonization of Dice-K (isn’t he wonderful, isn’t he fantastic, isn’t he just something), Jurrjens has been lost in the chaff. He’s had one bad outing in the last ten games and has the sixth best ERA in baseball. The heat of the September wild card race has made him pitch better: like Vazquez, he’s won three in a row. If you squeeze your eyelids together real tight and furrow your brow and think real hard you can imagine what he might become: he’s 23.

If you’re from my generation (those of us born before the Reformation), it’s hard to think of the Braves as a pitching dependent team. The franchise has a history of breeding legendary sluggers : from Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews to Bob Horner and Chipper Jones. Even when the Braves were bad they could count on the bat of at least one slugger to make headlines — with a Rico Carty or Dale Murphy or Chris Chambliss (or Sarge, for that matter) providing the lumber. Even in the 1990s, when the Braves were on their historic run, the triumverate of Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux were complimented by a trio of titans, all “hitterish” — Chipper and Justice (that bane, that bum) and (of course) Fred McGriff.

But not this year.

The Chops’ top ’09 on base guy is Adam LaRoche (a mid-season acquisition), their dominant long-ball artist is catcher Brian McCann (with a measly 20) and their spark plug is slash-and-burn singles hitter and glove man Martin Prado. Ryan Church, brought aboard to provide some spark (as well as a warm body stand-in for dearly departed Jeff Francoeur — whom the Braves couldn’t wait to dump) is slumping – with just four dingers. Worse yet, the normally dependable Chipper Jones has 17 home runs, well below his average, and is struggling at the plate. Finally, Nate McLouth, the former Ahoy and mid-season “steal,” not only looks average, he is: he’s hitting .264. That leaves the hopes of a post-season pinned firmly on Vazquez, Jurrjens and all-around clutch pitcher and tantrum thrower Derek Lowe. Add rookie phenom Tommy Hanson and a solid bullpen (saves leader Rafael Soriano — and set-up artist Mike Gonzalez) and you can see why Braves’ fans are excited. With a handful-plus games to go the Braves’ll need some help from the suddenly wobbly Rockies, but don’t count ’em out.

The Battle of …

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Atlanta Logo

Having finally returned to Peachtree and Sweet Auburn after a west coast swing, and now within striking distance of both the Wild Card (they’re 3.5 back) and the division title (they trail the Phuzzies by 4.5), you might guess that Braves fans would be excited by their team’s chances. Guess again. Despite taking three of four from the Dodgers (and going 5-2 on their recent road trip), Braves’ bloggers (but, most especially Talking Chop) report a distinctive lack of fan confidence in the team. Or perhaps it’s just anxiety about the future: their next stretch features twelve of fifteen games at home (where the Braves are always tough), including two against the surging (well, “red hot“) Nationals and then three against the Phillies. August will be a make-or-break month for the Chops: after facing the Nats and Phillies (and a one game break to play the Showboats), the Braves take on the Mets (in New York) and Marlins. At the end of the month they travel to Philadelphia for three. So this is it for the Atlanta nine: by August 31 they’ll know whether they’ll be playing baseball in October — or teeing off to play 18. 

Atlanta fans are worriers. The Braves seem at the top of their game — two of their knock-downs in L.A. were decided by a Braves’ starting rotation that has finally come together. Tough-as-nails Javier Vazquez might be the best reflection of the way the Braves play. He’s gritty, low key and plays better when the pressure’s on. While the world ooohs and aaahs over Tommy Hanson (and for good reason, methinks), Vazquez has become the workhorse of the Atlanta rotation, posting a 10-7 record and a snappy 2.90 ERA. Vazquez eats innings — he’s notched over 200 innings per season in seven of his twelve years in the majors. Vazquez pitched a gem against the Trolleys on Sunday, going eight innings while giving up only five hits. The knock against Vazquez is that he’s good until the end of the fifth or sixth — but can’t close out opponents who see him the third time through the line-up. But Vazquez has all but erased that rap this year: he’s walked only 32 (32!) in 155 innings and surrendered 129 hits. He’s second in the N.L. in strikeouts with 171.


Vazquez has always been underrated and underappreciated: he was trade bait in Montreal (where he was swapped to the Yanks for Nick Johnson), then in New York (he was swapped for Randy Johnson), then in Arizona (he was swapped for Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young — who’s now back in triple-A) and then in Chicago (where he was sent packing — get this — in exchange for Brent Lillbridge and three minor leaguers). He may have finally found a permanent home in Atlanta.

Don’t get me wrong: Vazquez is only one of the reasons Atlanta has a shot in the east. Atlanta G.M. Frank Wren has spent the last month snapping off surprise deals: getting Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh to cover the yawning gap in center, acquiring Ryan Church for the overexposed and dissatisfied Jeff Francoeur and bringing Adam LaRoche back to Turner Field for Casey Kotchman. In three swift moves, Wren said “not yet” to “can’t miss” centerfield prospect Jordan Schafer (.204 in 50 games), rid the team of a complainer, and shipped out an unpopular player — all while filling three desperate needs with better-than-average talent. And he’s done this all while bringing in a free-be in rookie pitcher Tommy Hanson who, at 6-6/220 looks like his release point is about halfway to home. 

So Atlanta fans are anxious? Well, ain’t we all. But after their recent 5-2 road trip — and a starting staff that matches up well against the Phillies (even with Cliff Lee) – the Braves are poised to give the Phuzzies a run for the NL East flag. Two months ago no one would have given a nickel for their chances; now no one’ll bet against em. The good news for the Nats is that they won’t have to face the up-and-in Vazquez in the Battle of Atlanta. The bad news is that they’ll be facing Tommy Hanson instead. The Nationals Nine will attempt to extend their eight game winning streak when they send John Lannan to the mound against the Braves at Turner Field tomorrow night.