Braves find silver lining in black-clouded start

BY foxsports • April 5, 2012

There are dark clouds and silver linings to every game.

The dark cloud for the Braves was the fact they opened the 2012 season with only four hits and lost 1-0 to the New York Mets on Thursday.

We'll come back to what went wrong for the Braves in a little bit, but right now, we're going to focus on the silver lining.

• It's the first game of a long season, one that lasts another 161 games and about six months.

• If you're a Braves fan, you have to be impressed with Tommy Hanson. He missed the last month of last season with a shoulder injury, changed his delivery and then banged his head in a car wreck on the first day of spring training, but was solid in his five innings.

• The addition of Kris Medlen will be a huge plus for the bullpen. It's tough to believe he missed nearly all of last season coming back from Tommy John surgery after watching the way he pitched in his two innings.

• Rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky hit a hard triple to right center for his first major league hit, but was even more impressive in the field. He was in the middle of a double play, and he and Dan Uggla teamed on a nifty force at the bag.

These things alone should help the most pessimistic Braves fan to feel more optimistic about this season, but obviously, almost everybody will point to the fact that the Braves had a total of four hits and left seven runners against the Mets.

The offense was practically non-existent against starter Johan Santana, who hadn't thrown a pitch in a major league game in about 19 months, and four relievers. The once Great Santana, who put his name on the AL Cy Young Award in both 2004 and '06, reminded everybody of his talent and past success, giving up only two hits in five innings.

The Braves' performance was scarily reminiscent of last season, when they were 22nd out of 30 MLB teams in runs and second to last in the majors with the bases loaded (.195). That prompted the firing of hitting coach Larry Parrish, who was replaced with Greg Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher.

Instead, the Braves did little offensively and didn't score, not that they didn't have their chances.

They loaded the bases in the fifth and left all three on base when Michael Bourn tapped back to the mound.

Brian McCann walked and Dan Uggla singled to give the Braves two runners with one out in the sixth, but they were stranded when Freddie Freeman flew out and Matt Diaz grounded out.

And in the seventh, Pastornicky's triple put a runner on third with one out, but reliever Tim Byrdak mowed down Jose Constanza and Bourn.

When it came to hitting with RISP, the Braves' offense was AWOL, going 0-for-6.

But fortunately for the Braves, Hanson reminded me of the Tommy Hanson who was their best starter for a large part of last season.

He was 10-2 from the end of April until the All-Star break, going 4-0 with a 2.62 ERA in June. Hanson then allowed only two earned runs in 14 innings in his first two July starts before the shoulder problems hit, forcing the Braves to shut him down in August. He spent the winter rehabbing and retooling his delivery, smoothing out a hitch in the hopes of putting less strain on his arm.

Hanson mixed his curve with an effective fastball and held the Mets to four hits in five innings, although he walked three batters.

"I felt really good. I didn't get tired and my shoulder felt great," Hanson said after the game. "I think just toward the end that walk, then I left a couple of pitches up to (Daniel) Murphy and (David) Wright. But I felt good, I felt strong. (Medlen) came in and cleaned up my mess."

So while Hanson, Medlen and Jonny Venters flourished, the offense floundered. But don't worry, the Braves' lineup is full of professional hitters who will put it together sooner than later.

Take a good look at all of Thursday's scores. There weren't many runs scored around the majors.

Take what you want from the season's first game, and the Braves aren't thrilled with the loss.

But overall, they certainly have to be pleased with what they saw from several people who will help them in the next 161 games.


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