Braves' second half off to a strange start
ATLANTA -- Maybe it was a Friday the 13th thing. Or perhaps it was the bizarre power outage that darkened the field and brought play to a halt for 16 minutes in the top of the second inning. But whatever it was, the second half of the season got off to a strange and uneasy start for the Atlanta Braves, even though they beat the Mets 7-5 on Friday night.
The win had a kiss-your-sister feel for a couple of reasons. For starters, nobody knew who was going to play shortstop until a few minutes before the first pitch. With Andrelton Simmons in the cast for the next four weeks, there were questions all afternoon about whether or not Fredi Gonzalez would call up Tyler Pastornicky or Josh Wilson from Triple A, or whether a trade might be in the offing.
As the day wore on, no one was surprised when Jack Wilson took the field, although during batting practice Gonzalez asked left fielder Martin Prado to jump in and grab a few grounders.
"You're our emergency shortstop," Gonzalez joked.
It was no joke in the fourth inning when Wilson dove for a hard-hit ball to shallow center and came up without the ball, but holding his right hand awkwardly. Wilson went immediately to the clubhouse with a dislocated right pinky finger. While x-rays were negative, he went from presumptive three-week starter to day-to-day.
Prado moved to short for the duration of the game, making a couple of good plays in the middle innings.
"I was scared," Prado said. "I knew when (Christhian) Martinez was pitching that he's a groundball guy, and then (Eric) O'Flaherty is pitching, he's a groundball guy. I just tried to anticipate things and talk to Dan (Uggla) and get in the right spot."
The right spot seems to be wherever Prado lines up. In the clubhouse after the game catcher David Ross yelled to Gonzalez, "Hey, Skipper, I don't want to see Prado blocking any pitches or anything tomorrow."
Gonzalez laughed, but he understood what kind of asset Prado is in a tough situation. "For a day or two, he's such a good athlete and has such great instincts that you can move him in and he'll do whatever he has to do to help his team win."
Prado has been rumored as a possible replacement for Chipper Jones at third base after this season, but Gonzalez has a lot more pressing concerns now. "Hopefully we can get somebody in here tomorrow," he said.
And shortstop might not be the only pickups the Braves make in the coming days. The problem for this team has always been depth (or lack thereof) and as the games mount in the latter weeks of the season, injuries are bound to become a factor.
The other uneasy comes from the inconsistency of the pitching. Even though the Braves never trailed, Tim Hudson gave up four runs in the fourth before Gonzalez went through a plethora of relievers to seal the win.
"It just wasn't a good outing," Hudson said. "Thankfully I had some great teammates who stepped up and came through for me, and some great guys coming out the bullpen that were able to close it out."
Among those teammates was Ross, starting in place of Brian McCann who was given the night off to attend the birth of his son, Colt Michael McCann, who came in at seven pounds and one ounce.
Ross hit a three-run homer in the third to give the Braves a 5-0 lead.
Hudson gave up four runs in the fourth but Chipper Jones stepped up in the sixth with a solo shot over the left field wall to make it a two-run game. The Braves added another on an Uggla RBI, scoring Freddie Freeman.
It was as piecemeal a victory as this team could put together, but it was a good win. The Braves remain four games behind the Nationals and extended their lead to a game and a half over the Mets.
Ben Sheets, who hasn't thrown a pitch in a game in two years, will start on Sunday against the Mets, although cause for unease on the part of Fredi Gonzalez. But the skipper is taking it one step at a time.
"This was a very good win for our ballclub," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully we can come out tomorrow and the next day and get a couple more."