Richmond is off to a fantastic start. Entering Saturday's game against Durham the Braves are 18-6 on the season and 7.5 games up on Charlotte in the International League's South Division. It's the largest lead for any team in the major leagues or in the minors.
Friday's loss to the Knights snapped Richmond's eight-game winning streak, the longest winning streak for the team since 2002. The Braves have not lost back-to-back games this season.
The Richmond pitching staff leads the International League with a 2.50 ERA and has given up only nine home runs all season. The Braves are also tied for the league lead with four shutouts. Richmond's starters went eight games without allowing an earned run until Friday's game against Charlotte.
Anthony Lerew may be fitting back into the Braves' plans with an excellent start. He's allowed only four earned runs in his first five starts (26.1 innings). His 1.37 ERA is sixth best in the IL. The Braves took Lerew's split away from him and instead have him throwing a two-seam fastball and a straight changeup. Lerew has also matured and realizes he needs to take a huge step this season. With Mark Redman out, Atlanta will soon need a starting pitcher and Lerew could be the choice.
Trey Hodges is also off to a good start. He's second in the International League with a 0.89 ERA and has allowed only two runs in his first five games. Hodges has 12 walks but has allowed only 11 hits in 20.1 innings.
The Braves are happy with the progress of Macay McBride, demoted a few weeks ago to improve his control. He pitched 3.2 innings Friday night and did not walk a batter. McBride now has six walks and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings of work. The Braves will keep him in the Richmond rotation, but do not expect him to be a starting candidate for Atlanta. The Braves just want him to work out his mechanical problems, and it's easier to do when you have a chance to go more than one or two innings. You're able to repeat what you are trying to do if you at least go through the lineup one time.
Do you remember how great Buddy Hernandez was a few years ago in Richmond? Well, he missed two years as he had Tommy John surgery, but Hernandez has picked up exactly where he left off - dominating the International League. Buddy has a 1.56 ERA in his first ten games out of the Richmond bullpen.
Jeff Bennett, who also missed last season after having Tommy John surgery, has his velocity up to 92 mph now. He continues to gain arm strength but may need this entire year to get back to where he was before his injury. The Braves would love to have him as another hard-throwing bullpen option at some point in the future.
After saving 17 games last year for Richmond, right-hander Manny Acosta is off to another solid start. Acosta has two saves so far this year but has allowed only one run in his first 11 games. His control has been good, with only six walks in 16.2 innings.
Gregor Blanco is fourth in the IL with a .440 on base percentage. With Willie Harris now in Atlanta, Blanco will be counted on to spark the Richmond lineup.
Wes Timmons could most benefit from having Harris in Atlanta. Harris was mostly playing third base in Richmond, and that's Timmons' main position.
Yunel Escobar continues to rake at the plate, with a .309 average and 30 hits on the season (fourth best in the International League). He also has only two errors on the season at shortstop.
Billy McCarthy could be the most pleasant surprise in Richmond so far this season. He's hit home runs in his last two games and has four overall this season.
Meanwhile T.J. Bohn and Doug Clark are both struggling so far. Bohn is hitting only .224 with one home run, while Clark is under the Mendoza Line with a .183 average after a great spring training.
Reserve infielder Jonathan Schuerholz and reliever Ryan Basner have both joined Richmond from Mississippi in the last few days.
Jonathan Johnson (1-0, 3.57) pitches Saturday night for Richmond as the Braves start a two-game series against the Durham Bulls at the Diamond.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, 105.5 the Fan in Macon, and the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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