Rome Braves Q&A

BravesCenter.Com Editor Bill Shanks had a chance to sit down with several players and coaches of the Rome Braves after they won the division last weekend. Read on to find out what Rocket Wheeler, Jeff Francouer, Jonathan Schuerholz, and other members of the Ro-Braves had to say about their exciting season.

The manager of the Rome Braves is completing his first season in the Braves organization.

Q: How do you feel?
A: What a feeling. What a great feeling. But you know what we've got a ways to go. We've got five more wins, and that's our goal.

Q: August was a great month. What was the difference?
A: It's been a phenomenal month, because our starting pitching staff has probably got an ERA of about 1.50.

Q: This team was 6 and a half games out of first on July 16th. This is quite a comeback.
A: It showed me a lot of character about this team. I've been saying all year long that they don't quit. They do not quit. Now they know how to come back.

Q: The pitching staff was tremendous. How proud are you of the staff?
A: (Pitching Coach) Kent Willis has worked his tail end off for these kids. Pitching staff has been outstanding all year long. Starting pitching......relieving has rode the roller coaster, but they've gotten it done. All year the pitching has gone out there and given us a chance to win. We've very seldom been blown out of a ballgame."

Q: How surprised are you about winning this division?
A: I go back to January when I spoke at the hot stove dinner. There was about 300 people here. Somebody said ‘we'd like to win a championship.' I said ‘you know what I can't promise you a championship' and I still can't. But I promise you one thing they're going to play hard. They're going to go out everyday and play hard for you. By doing that, we'll have a chance to win a championship. Right now, we've got that chance to win a championship."

Willis is in his ninth season with the Braves system. His pitching staff finished second in the South Atlantic League in ERA with a 2.95 mark.

Q: You must be really proud for these kids.
A: Well I tell you what anytime you can take these kids in their first full season and give them something to play for and get them going early in the season and watch them grow from early success and go through a little up and down throughout the year and then come down to the end and have something to play for you are tremendously happy for them.

Q: August was amazing. What put these kids in another gear to put up these numbers?
A: It's just a culmination of these guys have really settled in and committed themselves to getting better. Anytime you commit yourself to get better and work on your stuff and not worrying about success or failure, then you're going to put everything together. We're just fortunate enough that we've got some great kids with great ability. Through time and not worrying about success or failure, it towards this time of the year

Q: But to have a rotation post a sub 2.00 ERA is almost unheard of.
A: You take your hats off to them. They competed with one another. It's like anything, once you start having success , it breeds success. Everyone of them wants to go out there and give us a quality start. They're chomping at the bits everytime they go out there. They know we're in a race, and they're wanting the ball. They're all into it now. I'm happy to see them compete like that and compete in a real positive manner.

Q: Kent we know the numbers are impressive, but has the development been there as well?
A: There's no doubt about it. These guys have really come along from pitch to pitch, from delivery to delivery. Every facet of the game these guys have gotten themselves in a position to do what they needed to do at this level. And they've come out and stayed healthy. That's all you can ask for.

Lerew finished the season with a 7-6 record and an ERA of 2.38

Q: Can you talk a little about how well the starting pitching has been over the last month?
A: Our starting pitching has done real well. We're just playing as a team more everyday and getting closer to everyone on this team. It's just working out real well. We're going to make the playoffs now and hopefully get a ring.

Q: This team seems to get along real well. Does it?
A: You don't find relationship on any other team like you do on this team. Everybody gets along with everybody. You can't really take it for granted either because it's not something doesn't come around too often.

Q: Can you talk about your season?
A: I don't know that I could be happier, but I could have felt better and maybe not missed as many starts for stuff I couldn't control. I just went with what happened and pitched as well as I could. I'm pretty happy with the numbers.

Boyer ended the season 8-0 in his last nine starts.

Q: How cohesive is this team?
A: Together as a team....shoot we have so much fun. On and off the field everybody likes each other and that makes a difference. You know we're not split up whatsoever. It's great. It makes it that much better.

Q: You guys in the rotation have been terrific over the past month. What's that been like?
A: We know whenever we go out there we've got a chance to win. We've been working hard in the bullpen with (Kent) Willis. Watching video a lot, kinda dissecting our windup. It's been helping a lot. We're a lot more consistent. We're just much better as a whole. From the start there was Kyle and Anthony, they were dealing. We've all come together now, all five of us are real good. We're happy with that.

Q: How would you characterize your season?
A: From the start of the season, man is was rough. I was going through a hard time with a bunch of stuff. My mechanics....I just felt they weren't there. But now I've kinda gotten in a groove and working with Willis real hard from July on, we've been working on simply things, keeping things simple. I have more confidence and I'm able to compete more. I just feel we're giving my team a chance to win.

Wright started the season in Myrtle Beach and went 2-7. After a demotion to Rome, he went 10-2 and was a huge reason the Braves won the division.

Q: How does it feel to win the division?
A: It feels awesome being on a playoff team and having a chance to win a championship. It's awesome.

Q: Can you talk about how you handled being demoted from Myrtle Beach.
A: Yea I mean I got demoted or whatever and being put down in a different situation. You just got to make the best of it. Go in and get your job done and do what you have to do to move back up. I feel like I've accomplished that.

Q: What did you change when you got here to Rome?
A: Just being a lot quicker with my arm. You know, I've been working with Willis a lot in the bullpen. Just being more consistent with all my pitches.

Q: Is there a huge difference when you're on the mound when you are doing well compared to earlier in the season?
A: It feels good. Whenever I take the mound, I go out with a little more confidence as I had before. It feels good.

Q: Were you worried when you were struggling about getting lost in the shuffle with all the Braves pitching talent?
A: We're loaded with competition. But you can't look at that. You can't look at what goes around you. You've just got to do what you got to do everyday and let everything else takes place.

JEFF FRANCOEUR Francoeur hit .281 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in his first full season of pro baseball

Q: How does it feel to be heading to the playoffs?
A: It's really exciting. You know we've been fighting for the last month. Two weeks ago, we were still a long way away from knowing if we could be in there. We played well down the stretch when we had to.

Q: Did you believe you guys could win this thing?
A: You know I knew it would be tough, especially through the year when they took Peters and they took Meyer, you knew it would be tough. I thought shoot if we had that team in the second half that we had in the first half. You know I think the more everybody got here together and we started bonding and becoming a team. We just started to come together. It was nice.

Q: You had a lot of pressure on you this year, playing close to home. How have you done?
A: I played well at times. It was definitely a learning experience. It was a humbling experience for me. I've never really failed that much in my life. I've played more baseball in the last four months that I have in the last four years just from football every summer and fall and all that. It was definately something that I went through days where I was tired. But I also learned a lot as far as strike zone and just different stuff like that that can help me next year and the years after.

Q: Did you feel yourself getting better as the season progressed?
A: I definitely could. You know you're always going to go through times where you go back a little bit and get into a slump. The biggest thing for me is just fighting out of the slump. I wanted to see how I did throughout that. Luckily I did ok and I thought I had an alright year.

Rome's catcher hit .290 for the season with 12 home runs and 71 runs batted in.

Q: How does it feel to win the division?
A: It's awesome. First year playing a full season. It's awesome, especially with the guys on this team.

Q: Do you guys really get along well or is this just today?
A: You look forward to coming to the park everyday and see your buddies and play some cards, play video games. It's awesome.

Q: How has your season gone in your mind?
A: I feel like I've done pretty good. I feel like I've put my name out in the Braves organization. Last year I didn't really do that. This year I feel I've done pretty good.

Q: Was there a point when you really believe this team could win the division?
A: Spring training really because our pitching is just ridiculous. Starters, relievers, everyone is just awesome. Being a catcher, I love that. It makes my job easier.

Timmons played great defense at third base and hit .282 with 7 HR and 49 RBI

Q: How does this feel?
A: It's a great feeling. Kinda takes me back to the college days of winning the conference and going on to the regional. I think the guys are excited.

Q: When do you believe everything kicked in for the team?
A: Well at the end of the first half....going into Hickory two games back with them being in first. The guys knew we had a legit chance. We fell apart, but we had a chance. And I think that carried over to the second half.

Q: This team lost a lot of players at midseason. Dan Meyer, Matt Merricks, and Yaron Peters all went to Myrtle Beach. Onil Joseph and Ardley Jansen were hurt. How did the team overcome that rough period?
A: When you take lefthanded arms away like Matt Merricks and Dan Meyer you're taking two great pitchers. When Peters went up I think he was hitting .300 at the time with 20 doubles. So you're taking our four hitter away from us. Like you said, Onil and Jansen go down and we struggled those times. We battled through it and had guys come in. Capellan has done a great job. Ryan Ewin has done an outstanding job. Matt Wright's numbers speak for themselves. So the guys we've brought up have definitely thrown their part in. That's why we're here going to the playoffs.

In his first season as a switch hitter, Schuerholz hit .251 with 39 RBI and 25 stolen bases.

Q: How does it feel to be apart of a winning division team?
A: Great man. This why you play a 142 game season. You play to make the playoffs, and we've got our shot right now.

Q: Are you surprised by how well this team played in the second half?
A: It's not surprising at all. I think it's a tribute to the whole Braves farm system. Anytime we send up guys, they fill us up with guys who are going to do the job and perform. You can't replace like Meyer and Merricks and their numbers, but the people we got did their job. Matt Wright...stellar numbers. Blaine Boyer struggled in the first part of the season but is lights out right now. I knew from the beginning we had a great team. When we started losing people, we lost some games. But when we started playing together as a team again, we felt like we could make it and we did.

Dunn was named as the General Manager of the Year by the South Atlantic League.

Q: How does it feel to get the GM of the Year award?
A: It's a nice honor. Certainly coming from various members of the league, it makes me proud. But it's not an individual award. There's a lot of people that really went into the process, and the transformation, and where we are today. I just happen to be the one who is leading the ship.

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