Spring Training Report - March 6

Here's The Braves Show's Bill Shanks with a report from his first day at spring training.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Okay, so we'll get in the mood of doing a blog, since everyone seems to be doing it. We'll post our nightly thoughts here and allow you to comment.

The drive went well. It's only six hours down I-75 from Macon to Kissimmee, or Lake Buena Vista, or Orlando – or whatever this area is called this week. It was also the first drive with the voice name Susan. Nothing like having a new GPS to guide me along the way.

What a beautiful night for baseball. I got here around 5:45 and made it out just to take in the atmosphere for a while before watching Jo Jo Reyes warm up in the bullpen. The first thing I noticed was how great Jo Jo looked. He's lost about 25 pounds and is down to 220. He told us when he was on the talk show that he worked his butt off this offseason, and he wasn't lying.

Jo Jo looked smooth with his mechanics in the bullpen. His slimmer build makes him look more comfortable on the mound. He was really throwing the ball with ease. His breaking ball had a good bite on it, and it looked like he was confident in his ability. There was a different look to him, like he really was a big leaguer.

So the game started, and Jo Jo got into a bit of trouble. He walked two guys, but it was obvious he made an adjustment and got out of the trouble. Reyes then settled down and did not allow a hit in four innings of work. He looked in complete control. After his work was done Reyes talked about that first inning.

"I think the biggest thing to look at for me was I made the adjustment in the first inning," Reyes said. "In the past I think I would have tried to (pitch) harder instead of making the adjustment of the location. We were trying to go outside the whole time, and we finally went in and I made my adjustment. That just speaks of how much I worked all offseason to try and be more consistent. We made the adjustment of extend more and go inside."
Reyes also believed the rhythm he had on the mound was good on Friday, especially after he settled down.

"Last year I would have gone quicker so I wouldn't have to think about it," he explained. "I would have sped up and tried to go all out. This year I'm stepping off the mound and thinking about it a little more. I was able to go in and out when I wanted to, and it helped when you get first pitch strikes."

That is clearly the sign of a maturing pitcher. Reyes got his lumps the last two seasons, forced into action and into roles when he was clearly not completely ready. But he's learned from that experience and is determined to take that next step in his career.

"This offseason I broke everything down from mid-November and started throwing in mid-December," Reyes said. "Muscle memory helps a lot. I want to repeat my mechanics every pitch, and I think I'm getting there."

With three new members of the starting rotation and the return of Jair Jurrjens and Tom Glavine, Jo Jo Reyes can count just like all of us. He knows the odds are long, but he's determined to make an impression this month.

"I guess I've got to force their hand," Reyes said chuckling. "I got to just go out there and not worry about anything else except pitching. I've just got to keep putting these (performances) together (consistently). It means something now, but during the season means more."

His manager, Bobby Cox, was impressed with Reyes' performance.

"Jo looked real good," Cox said after the game, as one of the clubhouse attendants brought in three hot fried shrimp on a small styrophome plate. "I think he's gaining a lot of confidence. He's hitting his spots so much better and changing speeds. I think confidence is a big factor in his development."

I asked Cox if Reyes could be included in the competition in the bullpen, since it's obvious the rotation is a bit crowded. Cox was non-committal.

"We'll see," Cox said. "It's too early to even talk about the twelve pitchers we're going to take north. But I'm happy with his improvement."

Reyes has allowed only one earned run in nine innings in his first three appearances. If he continues to pitch well, it is going to put the Braves in a quandary. What if he is ready to be a more consistent starting pitcher in the big leagues? What if Reyes could be an effective bottom of the rotation starting pitcher?

Maybe the Braves believe his value will be lowered if they move him to the bullpen, or at least give him a shot at competing with Boone Logan and Eric O'Flaherty for a spot. Maybe they think they can trade Reyes and get something for him, considering Charlie Morton is also around, as are other options.

Either way, with his solid first three performances, Jo Jo Reyes is making people wonder if he's ready to stick in the big leagues. The question will be whether it will be in Atlanta or somewhere else.

The kid can pitch. I've been a believer since I saw him down here in the Gulf Coast League in 2003. And while we saw glimpses of that talent last year, Reyes may be ready to be more consistent this season – as long as he gets his chance.

While watching Reyes we learned that Garrett Anderson had been taken out of the lineup and been replaced by Matt Diaz. It seemed to be a blessing in disguise as Diaz homered early in the game and then had a double in the fourth inning.

The Braves announced midway through the game that Anderson had tweaked his right calf right before the game started. I was a little surprised, since I was watching Anderson before the game warm up down the right field line. He looked okay to me, and I was anxious to see him at the plate. But then, at some point, he hurt himself.

"I've never done anything like that before, so I don't have any history with it," Anderson said in the clubhouse during the game. "We'll just have to see how it responds to treatment in the next few days before you can have a guesstimate. It's tissue that needs to heal, and there's no set time on that. I knew something wasn't right. I've been working out fine. Something out of the ordinary, freak, happened."

Anderson is a very, very low-keyed individual. He's very silent, not very loquacious. He was limping around on his right leg very gingerly in the clubhouse. This looks like something that might take a week or so to heal. I will be shocked if they let him get out there until they know he's okay.

This could open up more playing time for Brandon Jones and some of the other outfielders vying for attention this month. Diaz will undoubtedly get more at bats as well.

Diaz looks to be in great shape. He hit the ball very well. I had thought coming in here that since Diaz cannot play center field he might be in jeopardy as a fourth outfield candidate. But heck, this guy can play right and left, and Omar Infante can play center in a pinch. Diaz will probably be on this roster.

From everything I heard tonight, Josh Anderson is almost guaranteed the starting center field spot. Yes, there's a lot of baseball left to go, but with Jordan Schafer nursing a nagging shoulder injury it has opened up the door for Anderson. Schafer could be back in a day or two, but Anderson is playing well. They'll probably go ahead and let Schafer go down to Gwinnett (oops almost typed Rich…) and then determine when he's ready later in the year.

I spoke with Clint Sammons tonight. He's my favorite Brave because of where he went to college: the University of Georgia. Clint said Jo Jo looked real good and again mentioned the confidence he sensed Reyes now has on the mound. Sammons is in a good frame of mind, despite the addition of veteran catcher David Ross. That will probably get Sammons a ticket to Triple-A, but he knows he could get the call at anytime.

I still believe Clint Sammons is a major leaguer. Yes, he struggled when he came up last season, but the guy is an excellent receiver. And remember, Clint had been a starter forever, and then all of a sudden last year he was a backup when he took over for Corky Miller. That's not easy to adjust to overnight.

He'll never be known for his offense, but this guy is just money behind the plate. Sammons is what you want in a catcher: he's in control of the game, works well with his pitchers, and can throw out runners consistently. Clint will be in Gwinnett, but he'll get his opportunity at some point once again.

With Garrett Anderson making us reporters wait until after he took a shower to get a two minute interview, I missed watching Boone Logan. He got them out one, two, three and continues to be impressive.

I did see Jeff Bennett throw two innings, and Bennett looked great. He told me afterwards he was much better tonight compared to his first two appearances, when he left the ball up a bit. Bennett was outstanding late last season, posting a 2.73 ERA in 31 games after the All Star Break.

So what will Bennett's role be this season? Well, he's out of options, which will not work in his favor with Blaine Boyer being out of options. With his success in the second half last season, with Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan on the sidelines with injuries, you have to wonder if Bennett will be an option in the seventh or eighth inning.

Soriano still hasn't pitched, and while the Braves don't seem too concerned right now, he still hasn't pitched. Yes, it was a illness that put him behind, but the Braves need to see him on the mound sometime soon. If not, Bennett may be in the catbird seat to get that top right-handed setup role behind lefty closer Mike Gonzalez.

Peter Moylan is trying to convince everyone around here that he'll be ready to go by Opening Day, and it's obviously a possibility. That could knock Bennett down a notch. But is he battling Boyer for one of the spots, especially if the Braves do decide to go with a second lefty (Logan or O'Flaherty) behind Gonzalez?

It seems hard to believe the Braves would send Bennett down, but since he does have options it could make it dicey, unless Soriano and Moylan are unable to go. If they are unable to be ready, it will force Bennett and Boyer to be in the pen. And Manny Acosta is still around, and while he has options left he's still a possibility.

Bennett can pitch. He's more of a pitcher now instead of a thrower, as he was when he came up with the Brewers a few years ago. He threw gas then, and while he did hit 96 and 97 last season, Bennett seems to feel more comfortable sneaking in a two-seamer every once in a while an relying on his change of pace. Chances are he's going to have a spot in the rotation, but it's just a question of what his role will be this season.

Phil Stockman didn't make his appearance tonight. More back trouble. The Braves are a bit frustrated at Stockman's inability to stay healthy enough to truly see what they have with him. I looked for him after the game but he must have been getting treatment. We'll try to find out if he's okay tomorrow.

Back to the game for a minute, I watched Jeff Francoeur and his new stance very carefully tonight. His front left foot looks a little different, and his bat is wiggling a bit. That's a change from when he held his bat so tight and left it steady. Francoeur's new stance looks like the way Mark Teixeira looked from the right side, and heck if Jeff gets Tex's results, or something similar, we'll all know the new stance worked.

Either way, Jeff looked more comfortable at the plate, which has to be a first step in getting him back on track.

Okay, the hotel's wireless Internet is not working, so I'll unfortunately have to post this on Saturday at some point. I'm staying at Disney Saturday to watch the 70 or so minor leaguers who are in camp. I'll pass on going over to the zoo in Tampa to watch the Yankees. I'll watch the minor league guys tomorrow and then get back to the major leaguers Sunday when Tommy Hanson takes the hill against the Phillies.

It's good to watch some baseball again. This team is interesting – very, very interesting.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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