FOX Sports Exclusive
Extra Innings: Do Braves need slugger?
Bonus notes from our MLB on Fox broadcast of the Braves-Reds game on Saturday . . . and other assorted items from around the league . . .
Brandon Phillips helps Dontrelle Willis try on a makeshift bow tie.
If you saw the game, you may have heard Phillips jokingly blame a minor fielding miscue on my bow tie, claiming it distracted him.
And if you saw our postgame interview, you may have heard Phillips say that he couldn’t tell which was bigger, me or my bow tie.
Now those are fightin’ words!
Phillips, as always, was just having fun — check out the photo I took of him in the dugout with Reds lefty Dontrelle Willis (that’s D-Train modeling the mock bow tie.)
One other Phillips note:
His interaction with fans on Twitter — Phillips, @datdudebp, has more than 110,000 followers — continues to produce some incredible stories.
On Thursday, an off-day for the Reds, Phillips solicited advice from his followers on where to go for good chicken wings. He wound up visiting Quaker Steak and Lube in Milford, Ohio, and bought food for a number of fans who stopped by.
MEA CULPA ON B.J.
I hate when people — owners, GMs, media members — make definitive statements about trade possibilities. Executives often send mixed messages to downplay expectations or disguise their intentions. Not even the best reporters know exactly what is happening behind the scenes.
Is it my opinion that the Rays will trade Upton? Yes. But my remark came off sounding as if I knew the Rays’ exact intentions. I don’t. And if the Rays somehow reduce the gap to the Red Sox and Yankees this week, they could decide to keep Upton and go for it.
Live television can be tricky — sometimes you say things that don’t quite come out right. This was one of those times. If the Rays trade Upton, you won’t hear me say, “I told you so.” I shouldn’t have spoken so definitively in the first place.
BRAVES SLUGGERS COMING THROUGH
As I wrote earlier this week, the Braves are going to get a right-handed hitter. But you know what? If second baseman Dan Uggla and right fielder Jason Heyward surge, the team’s need for another slugger will not be as urgent as it presently appears.
Uggla finally is hot, batting .347 with six home runs in his past 14 games. Heyward’s progress is more measured, but he, too, shows signs of snapping out of it — he’s 5 for 18 with four extra-base hits in his past four games, admittedly a small sample.
It is doubtful the Braves would demote Heyward, whose OPS has dropped from .849 as a rookie in 2010 to .738 in ’11. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said in a meeting with the FOX broadcasters before Saturday’s game that he basically has told his players to check their egos at the door — the Braves will make whatever moves that they deem necessary to win.
Maybe that move is Carlos Beltran. Maybe it’s Ryan Ludwick. Maybe it’s B.J. Upton or Jonny Gomes. In any case, the Braves’ offense will improve significantly if Uggla and Heyward simply perform to expectations. If that happens, anything else the team adds will be a bonus.
BRAVES BACKING OFF VENTERS
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez says that he and pitching coach Roger McDowell resolved at the All-Star Break to reduce the workload of lefty Jonny Venters and stop using him when down by one run.
Venters, 26, is on pace for 91 appearances; the Braves, Gonzalez says, want to limit him to 78 to 80. It helps that Venters averages only 14.5 pitches per inning, 11th best among NL relievers. Still, Gonzalez knows he is riding Venters and rookie closer Craig Kimbrel hard.
“We’re going to be real conscientious,” Gonzalez says. “We’re not dummies. We’re successful because of those guys.”
Venters leads the NL with 56 appearances. Kimbrel is tied for second with 51 and lefty Eric O’Flaherty is fourth with 50.
REDS’ COZART: LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1
I didn’t get to tell this story on air before Reds rookie shortstop Zack Cozart left Saturday’s game with a hyperextended left elbow. And frankly, I’m not sure Reds fans will want to hear it.
Growing up in Memphis, Cozart’s favorite player was none other than Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.
One of Cozart’s earliest youth coaches was Charlie Lea, the former major league pitcher with the Expos and Twins. Lea was friendly with Smith, and would tell the kid stories about him. Cozart adopted Smith’s defense-first philosophy and began wearing Smith’s No. 1.
Alas, Cozart couldn’t wear No. 1 in Triple A because it belonged to — ahem — the Louisville Bats’ mascot, Buddy Bat. Cozart wears No. 2 with the Reds for a more legitimate reason — the team retired No. 1 for its former manager, Fred Hutchinson, in 1965.
THE MAGIC OF BASEBALL, CHAPTER 6,749
Amazing how baseball works sometimes.
Reds manager Dusty Baker walked over to me on the field before Sunday’s game to inform me of a little secret – shortstop Edgar Renteria was ill and unavailable.
Baker said he didn’t want us to reveal the news on the broadcast immediately. He already was not starting right fielder Jay Bruce, who had an inner-ear issue. He didn’t want the Braves to know he was down two players – Bruce and Renteria.
Why did Baker tell me at all? Because he wanted us to know why he might refrain from using Renteria in an obvious spot during the game — say, during a double switch. He said if that happened, sure, we could explain that Renteria was unavailable.
Well, you know what happened.
Bruce delivered a pinch-hit double to start the Reds’ three-run rally from a 2-1 deficit in the sixth inning (pitcher Mike Leake replaced him as a pinch-runner). Renteria replaced Cozart, hit the go-ahead, two-run double and finished with two hits and three RBIs.
WHY LOWE WON’T GO
There has been talk of the Braves trading right-hander Derek Lowe, but the team is not all that motivated to do it, even though Lowe is earning $15 million this season and $15 million in 2012.
The Braves view their rotation depth as their greatest strength. The loss of Lowe would leave them vulnerable, even with a number of talented young replacements lined up behind him. Lowe, remember, was 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA last September, and made two strong starts against the Giants in the Division Series.
The Braves consider a number of their pitching prospects to be untouchable, in part because they might need two starters after next season. Both Lowe and right-hander Tim Hudson will be in the final years of their contracts in 2012, though the Braves hold a seemingly reasonable $9 million option on Hudson for ’13.
Reports surfaced late last week that the Mets were scouting left-hander Mike Minor, presumably as a target in their Carlos Beltran discussions with the Braves. But Minor is too valuable to trade for a rental, especially when the Braves lack a left-handed starter.
In fact, Minor could end up helping the Braves this season — if necessary, he could be a weapon in September against the predominantly left-handed hitting Phillies.
VOTTO AND ALOMAR
Pretty funny moment on the broadcast when we discussed Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who was a huge Blue Jays fan growing up in Etobicoke, Ontario, in the west end of Toronto.
Just as I was about to say Votto’s favorite player as a kid, our analyst, Mitch Williams, blurted out, “Me!” referring, of course, to the three-run homer he allowed to Joe Carter that clinched the 1993 World Series for the Jays.
Actually, Votto’s favorite player was former Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar, who on Sunday will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Votto told me that he was surprised and frustrated when Alomar was not elected to the Hall on the first ballot a year ago.
The way Votto remembers it, Alomar was just about the best player on the field every day he played — and that is exactly what you look for in a Hall of Famer.
A STERN WORD FROM CHIPPER
Schafer asked Jones what he needed to do to make the team. Jones replied that Schafer needed to swing and miss less frequently, hit the ball on the ground, on a line, spray it all over the field — play more of a little man’s game.
For Schafer, it’s a big adjustment, a totally new approach, but he’s embracing the challenge. He’s batting only .236 with a .616 OPS. Still, the Braves continue to view him as a potential .270-.280 hitter and dynamic leadoff man.
“This is the way I need to play, the way the team needs me to play,” Schafer says.
His defense is not an issue: Schafer, who turns 25 on Sept. 4, is extremely fast and throws as well as any center fielder in the game.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Yankees inquired about infielder Jeff Keppinger before the Astros traded him to the Giants.
Keppinger would have served as a backup infielder, filling the role currently occupied by Brandon Laird and soon to be filled by Eric Chavez, who is close to coming off the DL.
The Yankees had interest in Keppinger last offseason. He plays second, short and third, and even has some experience at first and in the outfield corners.
• While the Cardinals aren’t looking to trade center fielder Colby Rasmus, they will explore every possible way to improve.
Translated: They’ll listen.
Problem is, the Cardinals would be trading Rasmus at a time when his value is down. His OPS has dropped from .859 in 2010 to .730 this season.
Yes, the Padres are listening when teams call about Adams. Their position, though, remains unchanged. To make a deal, they will need to be overwhelmed.
The Reds are among the teams showing interest, along with the Phillies, Yankees and others. The Cardinals have been hotter on Heath Bell.
• A rival exec makes an interesting point on the Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who for once is a buyer rather than a seller.
The Pirates are exceeding expectations — in a sense, contending before their time. Now, suddenly, they are contemplating a change in direction.
Huntington probably does not want to trade prospects for veterans. But the team’s strong play likely will compel him to do just that.
“He’s been planting a garden for four years,” the exec says. “And now he’s going to be picking flowers out of it.”
• The craziest Adam Dunn stat in a season full of crazy Adam Dunn stats. Dunn is 2 for 65 on the season against left-handed pitching — a .031 batting average.
As I mentioned in my Full Count video, the White Sox could end up sellers. Their final five games before the deadline are home against the Tigers and Red Sox.
• And finally, two different executives mentioned to me in recent days that it would be great for the game if Carlos Beltran went to the Pirates.
For any number of reasons, the odds of such a deal happening are slim. But it’s fun to think about, isn’t it?