Gwinnett Braves’ third baseman Hector Olivera made his debut at Coolray Field during the club’s recent four-game series that they swept from the Louisville Bats, and he had a chance to work with Atlanta Braves’ Minor League Infielder Coordinator Luis Lopez in preparation for the 30-year-old Cuba native’s debut in the Major Leagues.
The Braves acquired Olivera on July 30 from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team, 13-player trade that sent Major League right-handed pitchers Jim Johnson and Bronson Arroyo, and left-handers Alex Wood and Luis Avilan to the Dodgers along with former No. 1-ranked prospect Jose Peraza.
“He’s a big kid,” Lopez said of the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder. “He’s a guy who might be able to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Olivera hit two home runs in his first 28 games in America this season, but he was on the disabled list at the time of the trade because of a left hamstring strain he suffered on June 20 while playing for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
He had batted a combined .348 (24-for-69) in 19 games across three levels of the Dodgers’ organization before the trade. He began a rehab stint with the GCL Braves on August 13 and went 0-for-5 in two games before he moved to Class-A Rome for four, during which he went 1-for-12 with a run scored. Olivera played in three of the G-Braves’ four games against Louisville and went 3-for-12 with a walk and two runs scored.
Olivera also played third base in each of those games and spent time working with Lopez, who said he was impressed with what he saw.
“He’s a very intelligent gentleman,” Lopez said. “He listens. When you pay attention and pay attention to details, that will transfer into the game.”
Lopez also worked with Olivera to help instill the core values the Braves’ want to see in their infielders at every level of their organization, he said.
“To be a consistent ballplayer, you have to be able to make routine plays,” Lopez said. “That’s one of the things that we always touch on. You’re are going to make errors on aggressive plays, but you are going to become a good infielder if you make the routine plays.”
Olivera fielded each of the six grounders hit his way and did not commit an error in any the three games he played against Louisville. He has seven errors for the season, including one during his two-game stint with the GCL Braves and three while with Rome.
Lopez said he first met Olivera at the Braves’ Spring Training complex in Florida when he was there to rehab shortly after the trade, and Lopez was pleased to see Olivera appeared to be healthy.
Still, Lopez said he believes Olivera needs some time to get back in the routine of playing games every day because he went more than a month out of action because of the injury.
“I think game reps will allow him to be the guy we want him to be,” Lopez said.
Thurs: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (4-4, 3.62 ERA) vs. LHP Brandon Finnegan (0-1, 5.79 ERA), 6:35 p.m.
Fri: RHP Kanekoa Texeira (6-3, 3.61 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Lorenzen (3-1, 1.93 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sat: RHP Jake Brigham (3-0, 5. 11 ERA) vs. RHP Donn Roach (2-3, 5.20 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sun: LHP Greg Smith (6-4, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Smith (3-4, 3.88 ERA), 2:05 p.m.
The Gwinnett Braves return to Coolray Field to begin a four-game series against the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, after a 10-game road trip during which they went 5-5. They remained in second place in the International League Wild Card standings throughout the road trip and sit 3.5 games behind the Columbus Clippers for the lead. The G-Braves are also 6.0 games in back of the Norfolk Tides for first place in the IL South Division. The Clippers and Tides are in the middle of a three-game series at Norfolk. Columbus won the series opener 4-3 on Wednesday.
Louisville hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season and was 57-56 on August 5. However, the Bats have gone 3-9 in their 12 games since to drop to 60-65 and 10 games out of a playoff spot. They were outscored 48-20 in those contests, and the offense has struggled mightily during that stretch. The team has not scored more than four runs in any of those games, and it scored two runs or fewer eight times, including eight of their nine losses. The Bats also suffered three consecutive shutout losses from August 9-11. The first loss was 9-0 on the road to the Durham Bulls, and the final two were 2-0 and 3-0 home defeats to Columbus.
Pitching: The Bats also are tied for the second-highest ERA of any team in the 14-team International League with a 3.97 mark that equals the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Gwinnett, meanwhile, has a 3.19 team ERA that is the fourth-lowest in the league. The G-Braves’ pitching staff has also allowed the second-fewest hits in the IL with 994, which is 11 more than Norfolk for the lead in that category. Both teams rank toward the bottom of the league in strikeouts but in the top half in walks allowed. Gwinnett has the fifth-fewest strikeouts with 864, and Louisville has the second-fewest with 814. The G-Braves have walked 407 batters, which is the fifth-most in the IL, and Bats pitchers have issued 430 to have the fourth-most in that department.
Veterans Texeira and Smith have led the G-Braves’ pitching staff in the second half of the season. Texeira has won a career-high six consecutive starts since July 20 and has a 3.63 ERA (14 ER in 34.2 IP) in that span. The G-Braves have won each of Smith’s five starts since he rejoined the rotation on July 28 from a stint in the bullpen. He has tallied wins in three of those starts with a 1.95 ERA (6 ER in 27.2 IP). His 2.45 ERA (27 ER in 99.1 IP) for the season ranks second in the IL among qualified starters, and his 1.10 WHIP leads the league.
Finnegan, Lousville’s starter for the series opener on Thursday, was acquired by the Reds from the Kansas City Royals on July 26 as part of a four-player trade that sent right-handed starter Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. Finnegan, a 22-year-old, has made four starts for Louisville since the trade. He also appeared in 14 games for the Royals earlier this season, going 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA (8 ER in 24.1 IP). Finnegan made his Major League debut with the Royals on September 6, 2014 after they selected him in the first round (17th overall) of the June free agent draft earlier that season out of Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, TX). He also pitched in seven postseason games for Kansas City during its run to the World Series a year ago.
Hitting: The Gwinnett offense was dominant in the five victories during the road trip. The G-Braves scored eight or more runs in four of their five wins, but they were held to three runs or fewer in each of their losses. Overall, the G-Braves have a .260 team batting average that ranks fifth in the league but is .001 behind three teams tied for second in that department. Louisville ranks ninth in that category with a .255 average.
Gwinnett is still in the basement of the league home run totals with 43. The G-Braves are on pace to hit 50 this season, which is still fewer than any other IL team has at this point and would be the fewest since the Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 1980. Louisville has the fourth fewest homers with 59. The G-Braves lead the league in stolen bases, however, with 149, which is three in front of the second-place Indianapolis Indians in that category. The Bats have the fifth-fewest steals in the IL with 76.
Center fielder Mallex Smith hit .381 (16-for-42) with six steals and nine runs scored from the leadoff spot during the road trip, but that was just the third-highest average on the team during that stretch. Catcher Christian Bethancourt led the club with a .424 average (14-for 33), and outfielder Cedric Hunter batted .395 (15-for-38). Bethancourt also had six doubles, a home run and seven RBIs during the trip, while Hunter two doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs to push his team-leading total in that category to 64. Hunter also leads the club with 11 homers. Additionally, Smith is 25-for-29 in steal attempts through 50 games with the G-Braves and has 48 stolen bases on the season combined with Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi, where he began the season.
Louisville’s top hitter has been outfielder Brennan Boesch, who boasts a .331 batting average (59-for-178) in 48 games with the Bats, although outfielder Ryan LaMarre leads the team with 88 RBIs and is tied with infielder Yorman Rodriguez for the team lead in home runs with eight. The Bats’ offensive struggles in August have led to a league-low .203 average during the month, and they do not have a batter who has hit better than outfielder Juan Silva’s .244 mark during through the first 17 games of the month.
G-Bites: Infielder Joey Terdoslavich has returned to Gwinnett after his fourth stint with the Atlanta Braves this season to open a spot on the Major League roster for first baseman Freddie Freeman, who completed his rehab assignment with the G-Braves on Tuesday. Freeman batted .375 (3-for-8) with a double, two RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts in two games with Gwinnett…The G-Braves also added three relief pitchers during the road trip, although two had been with the team previously this season. Right-hander Ryan Kelly was optioned from Atlanta on August 13, and fellow righty Brigham was optioned on August 16 when the Braves recalled right-hander Peter Moylan. The Braves also claimed Danny Burawa off of waivers from the New York Yankees on August 14, and he joined the G-Braves’ bullpen on Monday but has yet to make an appearance…Once their four-game set against Louisville is complete, the G-Braves will go back on the road for a three-game series against the Charlotte Knights at BB&T Ballpark. They will come back hom on August 27 to start a four-game series vs. Norfolk.
Right-handed starting pitcher Matt Wisler became the third of four former Gwinnett Braves pitchers to make his first Major League start with the Atlanta Braves this season when he faced the New York Mets on June 19 at Turner Field.
He pitched 8.0 innings that night with one run and six hits allowed, a hit batsman and two strikeouts to earn a victory in his big-league debut, as the Braves scored a pair of runs for him in the bottom of the eighth inning to head toward a 2-1 win.
Despite all of the new experiences the 22-year-old has had in his transition to the Majors, that superb first outing was as unexpected as anything, he said.
“What surprised me was my debut going so well,” Wisler said. “I didn’t really see that one coming.”
Wisler has gone on to make 10 starts for Atlanta this season with a 5-2 record and 4.74 ERA (30 ER in 57.0 IP). He suffered his first career loss the second time his spot in the rotation came around in a road start on June 25 against the Washington Nationals, but he then won four of his next five outings.
“Being up here, feeling a part of it, I don’t feel overwhelmed or anything, which is good,” he said. “It’s not really been too much change. Obviously, hitters are better and everything, but you have to pitch the same game and you still have to get outs and everything. You’ve just got to be executing a little more consistently up here.”
Those performances followed a 12-start stint with the G-Braves to begin the season after Atlanta acquired him from the San Diego Padres on April 5, four days before Gwinnett’s season opener, in a six-player trade that sent outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. and relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel to the Padres. Wisler began the year 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA (15 ER in 20 IP) in his four April starts, but after the calendar flipped to May he posted a 3-1 record and 3.20 ERA (16 ER in 45.0 IP) across his final eight starts before his call-up.
The moment he got the news of his promotion was memorable, as well. Wisler said he went into pitching coach Marty Reed’s office confused about why he had been pulled from his regularly scheduled start in Louisville, and Reed acted as though he was upset with Wisler for questioning his authority before he told the pitcher the Braves had promoted him to the big leagues.
Wisler also said the work he and Marty did with his mechanics benefitted him as he moved into the big leagues.
“Marty was a great pitching coach for me, helped me a lot this year getting back on track,” Wisler said.
He was one-quarter of a group of starting pitchers who began the season with the G-Braves but have since moved on to Atlanta, along with fellow right-handers Williams Perez and Mike Foltynewicz, and left-hander Manny Banuelos (currently on the disabled list). That quartet has combined to go 14-12 with a 4.69 ERA (120 ER in 230.1 IP) in 46 appearances, 39 of which have been starts.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that all four of us were in Gwinnett this year and now three of us are in the rotation,” Wisler said. “It’s great that I got to know those guys a little bit before I got up here. … It’s cool to know those guys, just from a little bit (in Gwinnett), and think that we have a chance to be together for a while.”
Those starters are part of a group of 29 non-rehab players who have played for both Gwinnett and Atlanta this season. Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez has relied heavily on former G-Braves this season, and he said he has been impressed by the quality of players he gets after they’ve worked with G-Braves’ manager Brian Snitker, Reed and hitting coach John Moses.
“Everybody has made some kind of an impact, some kind of contribution,” Gonzalez said. “Snit, Marty and Moses have done a great job preparing those guys. It’s a luxury to have a guy like Brian Snitker as the Triple-A manager. … He’s been dead on with every guy he’s brought up. You don’t have to worry about the guys not playing the game the right way, not getting a sign. That all stems from those guys in Triple-A in Gwinnett.”
Wisler got to enjoy that high level of instruction for only two-and-a-half months, but that relatively short time had a significant affect on his development during a season that has brought numerous new experiences.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been up here. It is definitely a privilege to be here. I definitely learned a lot in Gwinnett, too. … I’m just always soaking in new information and trying to get better.”
Left-handed reliever Matt Marksberry began the season at Advanced-A Carolina in April with a goal to simply earn a promotion to one of the two highest minor league levels at some point in the following five months.
However, the 24-year-old pitcher who the Atlanta Braves drafted in the 15th round of the 2013 June free agent draft was already in the Major Leagues before the end of July.
“It was shocking because I didn’t expect it,” Marksberry said.
Marksberry went 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA (11 ER in 35.2 IP) and two saves in 22 relief outings for the Carolina Mudcats to begin his second full professional season and skipped Double-A completely, as the Braves promoted him on June 29 to Triple-A Gwinnett.
He was 0-0 with a 2.61 ERA (3 ER in 10.1 IP) and one save in 11 relief appearances for the G-Braves. Then manager Brian Snitker told Marksberry he would be headed to Philadelphia to meet up with the Braves on July 30.
Marksberry pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in his Major League debut on July 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies. He didn’t even allow a run until his sixth outing on August 9 to the Miami Marlins at Turner Field. Through eight outings, he is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA (4 ER in 8.0 IP).
“You can’t really rely on fastballs up here,” Marksberry said of the differences he’s noticed about pitching in the big leagues. “It’s a good go-ahead pitch, but in my last outing (on Wednesday at Tampa Bay) because I honestly threw way too many fastballs. In my previous outings, I mixed it a little bit better.”
The Cincinnati native spent hardly more than one month with the G-Braves, but he said he learned a lot during that short time because of the number of veterans on the squad in Gwinnett.
“It was also cool to pick their brains about stuff and figure out stuff about pitching,” Marksberry said. “Everywhere I’ve been to has been real nice to me. It’s awesome to have a bunch of older guys who have the experience they have and have the big-league time that they have, to treat me as one of them instead of like a rookie.”
The journey to the top level of baseball has made 2015 a “whirlwind” year, Marksberry said, but all of the surprises and moves have been positives for a pitcher who has been more than happy to enjoy the ride.
“It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life so far,” he said.
Fri: LHP Greg Smith (4-4, 2.34 ERA) vs. RHP Phillippe Aumont (3-4, 2.54 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sat: RHP Victor Mateo (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. LHP Jeff Francis (5-0, 1.41 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sun: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (3-3, 3.92 ERA) vs. RHP Scott Copeland (8-3, 2.11 ERA), 2:05 p.m.
The Gwinnett Braves begin a three-game series against the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, off of their best stretch of the season. The G-Braves had their season-high, six-game winning streak snapped in a 7-5 loss on Thursday to the Rochester Red Wings. Still, they have won 11 of their last 13 games to move from last place to second in the International League South Division and put them in the runner-up spot in the IL Wild Card race, 2.5 games behind the Columbus Clippers.
Buffalo entered the All-Star break on July 13 one game below the .500 mark at 45-46, but the Bisons won eight of their first 11 games after the break and have climbed into second place in the IL North, 3.5 games behind the division-leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Buffalo is also in fourth place in the Wild Card standings and 1.5 games behind the G-Braves. Gwinnett swept a three-game road series from the Bisons in the team’s first meeting this season from June 29 through July 1. The G-Braves have won the season series between the clubs in each of the past two seasons, going 11-4, overall, and 5-3 at Coolray Field during that stretch. This will be the final regular-season series the teams will play against one another this season.
Pitching: Two of the top pitching staffs in the IL will face off this weekend at Coolray Field. The Bisons boast a 3.07 team ERA that ranks second in the league behind only the Norfolk Tides, and the G-Braves follow in third with a 3.11 ERA. Both staffs go about their work in much the same way. Buffalo has a 2.29 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (804 strikeouts/352 walks), while Gwinnett has a 2.14 mark (784 strikeouts/366 walks). G-Braves’ pitchers have given up five more home runs than Buffalo, but their 54 homers allowed still are the fourth-fewest in the league. August has been particularly good for Gwinnett hurlers, as they have combined for a 2.17 ERA through the first six games of the month, which is the second-lowest in the league, to help the team to a 5-1 record in that span. In five games during which the team is 2-3, Buffalo has a 4.50 ERA.
The Buffalo rotation is led by the current IL ERA leader in Copeland, who is scheduled to pitch the series finale. He has won three of his last four starts and has not allowed more than one earned run in that span. He has given up more than two earned runs in two of his 15 appearances (14 starts) for the Bisons this season. He made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in May and has made five appearances (three starts) for Toronto, going 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA.
Gwinnett pitchers held opponents to three runs or fewer in 10 of the 13 games during their hot streak despite five strikeouts or fewer in nine of those contests. The G-Braves also got seven quality starts from its starting rotation in that time span, and right-hander Peter Moylan has become a stopper at the end of games. He has gone 4-for-4 in save opportunities across his last six appearances and has not allowed a run in his last eight while he gave up three combined hits in that span. Overall, Moylan is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA (9 ER in 25.0 IP) with four saves in 24 outings since he joined the team on June 2.
Hitting: Outfielder Todd Cunningham and catcher Christian Bethancourt have caught fire of late. They have combined to hit at a .411 rate (.476 for Cunningham, .371 for Bethancourt) in the team’s last 10 games. Cunningham has driven in five runs and scored four during that span, while Bethancourt has a home run, seven RBIs and a seven runs scored. The team batting average has risen to .256 for the season, which ranks eighth in the IL. Buffalo has a .262 team batting average that is tied with Norfolk for the second-highest in the league. The Bisons do not hit for much power, however. Their 49 home runs are the third-fewest in the league, although Gwinnett’s 38 are the fewest in the league, overall. The G-Braves hold a distinct advantage on the bases with their 126 stolen bases that are the second-most in the IL. Buffalo baserunners have swiped 61 bags, which ranks 11th in the league.
Along with Copeland atop the IL pitching ranks, Buffalo also has the league’s top hitter with Matt Hague. The first baseman/third baseman leads the league in batting average (.342), hits (145), RBIs (79), total bases (202), on-base percentage (.424) and is tied for the league lead in walks (54). He also ranks second in slugging percentage (.476) and third in doubles (28). Hague played 33 games in the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates combined in 2012 and 2014, hitting a combined .222 with no home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs. He combined to hit .282 with 23 doubles, 15 homers, 76 RBIs and 60 runs scored in 106 games between the Indianapolis Indians and Buffalo in 2014, including a .377 batting average in 13 games for the Bisons.
G-Bites: The G-Braves lost utilityman Joey Terdoslavich and right-handed reliever Ryan Kelly to Major League promotions on Tuesday with the Atlanta Braves. They are both on their fourth stints with Atlanta this season…Kelly’s move opened a roster spot for right-hander Jason Hursh to make his Triple-A debut on Thursday with the G-Braves. The Braves’ first-round pick (31st overall) in 2013 threw a perfect ninth inning in his first appearance on Thursday. He began the season as a starter for Double-A Mississippi and made 15 starts, going 2-6 with a 5.63 ERA. He moved to the bullpen on 7/10 and went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in nine relief outings for the M-Braves before his promotion…The G-Braves will embark on their longest remaining road trip after the Buffalo series. They will travel to three cities in nine days for four games against the Charlotte Knights, three vs. Columbus and two against the Toledo Mud Hens…After their final day off of the regular season on August 19, the team will come back to Coolray Field for a four-game series against the Louisville Bats.
Pitching probables (All games start at 6:35 p.m.)
Mon: RHP Victor Mateo (6-6, 2.68 ERA with Double-A Mississippi) vs. RHP Jose Berrios (2-0, 3.52 ERA).
Tues: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (3-3, 4.02 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Bowden (7-3, 2.27 ERA).
Wed: RHP Kanekoa Texeira (3-3, 3.58 ERA) vs. LHP Taylor Rogers (8-8, 3.65 ERA).
Thurs: RHP Tyrell Jenkins (3-1, 2.03 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (4-6, 2.72 ERA).
The best stretch of the season for the Gwinnett Braves has launched them into the thick of the International League Wild Card race with 37 games left to play. They begin a four-game series at Coolray Field against the Rochester Red Wings 3.0 games behind the Columbus Clippers for the Wild Card spot and what would be the G-Braves’ first playoff berth since their inaugural season in Gwinnett of 2009. The G-Braves have gone 11-6 since the All-Star break and have won eight of their last nine games, including five of six against the Durham Bulls last week. They remain 7.5 games out of first place in the IL South Division but are 1.5 games behind the Charlotte Knights for second place and 4.5 games ahead of last-place Durham.
Rochester, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, has struggled since the All-Star break. The Red Wings have gone 7-10 to open the second half of the season and trail the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders by 4.0 games for the lead in the IL North. They also sit a half-game behind Gwinnett in the Wild Card race. Rochester’s rough patch included a split of a four-game series with the G-Braves at Frontier Field. Gwinnett won the first two games, but the Red Wings took the final two. That was the first time the clubs had met this season, and this will be their final regular-season series against one another 2015. The G-Braves have not won a season series against the Red Wings since 2012 when they went 5-3. They are 6-14 against Rochester since.
Pitching: Despite roster turnover that has left the G-Braves without any of their original five starting pitchers and with three relievers who started the season with the team, the Gwinnett pitching staff continues to produce at one of the best rates in the league. The team’s 3.03 ERA ranks third in the IL, and G-Braves have held opponents to three runs or fewer in 11 of their 17 games since the All-Star break. The staff has walked the fifth-most batters in the league with 355 and has eighth-most strikeouts with 764, but it has allowed the fifth-fewest home runs in the league with 52 and by far has the fewest wild pitches with 28, seven-fewer that Rochester, which ranks second in that department.
The Red Wings have a team ERA of 3.68 that ranks eighth in the league but have the fewest walks of any team in the league with 300 to go with 787 strikeouts, which are the third-most in the league. Berrios, the Twins’ No. 3-ranked prospect and No. 26 overall according to MLB.com, pitched the first three months of the season for Double-A Chattanooga. He went 8-3 with a 3.08 ERA for the Lookouts before his promotion to Rochester. He got his first two Triple-A victories in his last two starts, including a 7.0 scoreless innings against the G-Braves on July 23 when he allowed four hits and two walks with one strikeout. He has fanned eight or more batters in three of his first five starts for the Red Wings.
Jenkins, who is the Braves’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, is scheduled to finish the series for the G-Braves after he notched his second consecutive win on Saturday against Durham. He struck out eight Bulls’ batters in that game, which is the most he’s had in any of his first five starts since he got called up from Double-A Mississippi on July 8. Mateo will make his Triple-A debut in the opener of the series in his 185th career minor league appearance. He signed with Atlanta as a minor league free agent in November after eight years in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system, including the last two with Double-A Montgomery.
Hitting: The G-Braves homered twice during their three-game road series at Durham but still have the fewest home runs in the league by a wide margin. Their 35 for the season is seven behind the next closest team, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, in that category. They are on pace for a franchise-low 47 on the season, which would also be the fewest of any team in the IL since the 1980 Tidewater Tides. However, Gwinnett is second in the league with 122 stolen bases and three behind the Indianapolis Indians for the lead in that department. The G-Braves also have the fewest walks (256) and strikeouts (548) of any team in the league. Their strikeout total is 104 behind the Norfolk Tides for the next lowest in that category.
Rochester is tied for the third-highest team batting average in the IL with a .262 mark. The club’s 66 home runs rank sixth in the league but its 36 stolen bases are the fewest. The Red Wings have also hit into the second-most double plays, two behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in that department. Their 54 attempted stolen bases are by far the fewest in the league, as Norfolk is next-to-last in that category with 66. They sit in the middle of the pack in both walks (10th, 348) and strikeouts (ninth, 728).
The International League named Red Wings’ first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez the IL Batter of the Week from July 26-August 2. He batted .385 with a league-high seven extra-base hits, 22 total bases, six runs scored, an .846 slugging percentage and ran his hitting streak to 10 games. He enters the series against Gwinnett with a league-high 44 extra-base hits and 64 runs scored for the season. He also ranks third in doubles (27) and total bases (176), and he is tied with outfielder Danny Ortiz for the team lead in home runs (12). Second baseman James Beresford also ranks third in the league with a .311 batting average for the season.
G-Bites: The G-Braves lost second baseman and the Atlanta Braves’ top-ranked prospect Jose Peraza in a three-team, 13-player trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 30…Right-handed pitcher Williams Perez completed his rehab assignment with Gwinnett and returned to Atlanta on July 31…Right-handed relievers David Carpenter and Ryan Kelly both rejoined the G-Braves that day after a stint with Atlanta…Mateo and infielder Luis Mateo, no relation, joined the team from Double-A Mississippi July 30 and 31, respectively….Atlanta called up relief pitchers Matt Marksberry and Jake Brigham on July 31…Utilityman Joey Terdoslavich begins the series against Rochester on a season-high 12-game hitting streak during which he has batted .364 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs, 11 RBIs and eight runs scored…The G-Braves will complete their longest remaining homestand of the season with three games against the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, from Friday through Sunday at Coolray Field.
Atlanta Braves’ Minor League Catching Coordinator Joe Breeden was at Coolray Field during the Gwinnett Braves’ most recent homestand against the Charlotte Knights and Durham Bulls that lasted from July 24-29. As part of his travels through the Braves’ entire minor-league system, Breeden spent time with G-Braves’ catcher Christian Bethancourt, as the 23-year-old backstop refines his game in preparation for a possible return to Atlanta, which is where he began the 2015 season as a big-league rookie.
Bethancourt batted .198 (20-for-102) with six doubles, a home run, nine RBIs, 12 runs scored and a stolen bases in 29 games for the Braves before they optioned him to Gwinnett on June 15. He also threw out 37.5 percent (6-of-16) of attempting base stealers, committed three errors and had five passed balls.
“Always when you’re a young guy, you’re still learning game-calling and handling the staff,” Breeden said. “That becomes the biggest part, especially when you get up to the big leagues, handling that staff, putting in your work.”
Since the return to Gwinnett, where he played 91 games in 2014, Bethancourt has one error and one passed ball to accompany a 47.8 percent (11-of-23) caught-stealing rate. He also immediately began to hit again at the Triple-A level. He had at least one base hit in nine of his first 10 starts for the G-Braves for a .354 batting average (17-for-48) in that span, which included three doubles, a home run, six RBIs, five runs scored and three stolen bases.
Breeden said Bethancourt has the best arm he has seen for a catcher in his 28 years in professional baseball, but he was pleased to see the effort Bethancourt has put into his video study with Gwinnett pitching coach Marty Reed since he rejoined the G-Braves because the catcher position demands mental preparation and game-planning on the defensive side of the game that is similar to pitchers.
He said he was also was impressed to learn Bethancourt is now running the meetings the pitching staff has at the start of each series to go over the opposing hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s where, to me, he is really taking steps to get better,” Breeden said. “You can always get better at it. It’s an on-going process.”
Breeden said he has known Bethancourt since the Panama native signed with Atlanta when he 16 years old and a member of their affiliate in the Dominican Summer League. In the proceeding eight seasons, Breeden has watched him grow both physically and mentally into a player whose athleticism reminds Breeden of former catcher Benito Santiago, who played 20 years in the Major Leagues and Breeden worked with when both were members of the Florida Marlins’ organization in 1993-94.
“His hands work well, he’s a sharp guy, speaks fluent English,” Breeden said of Bethancourt. “He’s a bright, bright kid. Offensively, he’s gotten stronger. Now he’s getting at-bats regularly, and you can see he is swinging the bat well.”
Through his first 32 games with the G-Braves this season, Bethancourt batted .309 with 10 doubles, two home runs, 13 RBIs, 13 runs scored and five stolen bases. He leads the team in batting average and doubles since he was optioned.
The work Bethancourt has put in during his time in Gwinnett also continues to mold him into the type of catchers Atlanta wants throughout its organization, Breeden said.
Those ideals include a player who is physically tough enough to withstand the summer heat and hazards that are inherent in the catcher position such as foul tips, he said. However, the organization also wants mentally tough players who can still guide a pitcher through a start even when the catcher is tired or beat up because of the rigors of a long season, he said.
“Being able to get a (pitcher) through when he’s having a hard time, that’s the thing we talk about,” Breeden said. “The good catchers can, when a guy’s having trouble, get him out of trouble. The guys who don’t do a good job, they’ll catch a guy into trouble when he’s going good.”
He said the organization has its catchers call their own games at every level to help them through the learning process of what works and what does not work for a variety of different pitchers.
“Everything is off the pitcher’s strength,” he said. “That’s the main thing. We’re concerned about the hitter’s weakness, but we’re more concerned with our guy’s strength. We’re going to pitch to his strength.”
Although catcher A.J. Pierzynski played well enough to earn the bulk of the playing time for Atlanta while Bethancourt was on the club, Breeden said he thinks the experience Bethancourt was able to gain during that time benefitted his development.
“We say this all the time, ‘We work, we work, we work, but sometime you’ve got to take the test, and the test is playing the game,'” Breeden said. “When you get Major League experience, that’s the highest level and when you get that it’s definitely going to help you, whether you stay up there or whether you come down.”
With the work Bethancourt has done since his first extended test in the Majors earlier this season, Breeden said he is optimistic Bethancourt will be a valuable piece of the organization for years to come.
“He works hard, and I think he’s going to be a big part of our future,” Breeden said.
Pitching probables (All games start at 6:35 p.m.)
Mon: RHP Tyrell Jenkins (1-1, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Bradin Hagens (1-1, 3.38 ERA).
Tues: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-6, 3.49 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Andriese (2-1, 1.84 ERA).
Wed: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (3-2, 3.61 ERA) vs. LHP Blake Snell (0-1, 2.25 ERA).
The Gwinnett Braves worked their way out of the cellar in the International League South Division on Sunday when they beat the Charlotte Knights 5-3 and the Durham Bulls lost 11-1 to the Norfolk Tides. That dropped the Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, a half-game behind the G-Braves for last place in the division. Gwinnett has won five of the last seven meetings between the clubs this season and leads the season series 7-6. This is the Bulls’ final visit to Coolray Field this season. After an off day on Thursday, the teams will play three more games at Durham from Friday through Sunday, and they have a two-game series at Durham Bulls Athletic Park scheduled for August 21 and September 1. The G-Braves have not taken a season series from the Bulls since they went 11-10 in 2012.
The G-Braves ran their post-All-Star break record to 6-5 with the sweep of Charlotte. Durham, meanwhile, has yet to win consecutive games in the second half and gone 4-7 in that span. The Bulls have the lowest team batting average (.229) and second-highest team ERA (4.64) in the IL for July, but they have slugged 27 home runs through 23 games during the month, which trails only Charlotte’s 33 in that category. Gwinnett’s 11 homers in the July are the second-fewest, ahead of only the nine hit by the Indianapolis Indians. The G-Braves’ .244 batting average for July ranks 11th in the league, but they have managed a 12-12 record since July 1 with the help of a 3.49 team ERA that is the fifth-lowest in the 14-team league.
Pitching: A weekend series vs. Charlotte in which the G-Braves did not allow more than three runs in any of the three victories helped lower the club’s ERA to 3.18 for the season, which is the fourth-lowest of any team in the league. Knights’ outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo hit two home runs on Friday, but those were the only long balls Gwinnett pitchers allowed, and the 51 the G-Braves’ pitching staff has combined to give up are tied for the fourth-fewest in the IL. Durham has the third-highest team ERA in the league at 3.97 and its pitchers have given up the most home runs in the IL with 86. The Bulls have struck out the second-most batters in the league with 761 K’s and issued the second-fewest walks (289), and their relievers have combined for 34 saves, which is tied for the league lead in that department. G-Braves’ hurlers have the fifth-most strikeouts with 723 and the fifth-most walks with 335, while the bullpen has 30 saves to tie for fourth in that category.
Foltynewicz has given up seven of the G-Braves’ home runs allowed total this season and is in his third stint with Gwinnett after two promotions to the Major Leagues with the Atlanta Braves. He worked as a starter in Atlanta from May 1 to June 14, going 3-2 with a 5.19 ERA in nine starts, and pitched three times out of the bullpen from July 7-11, going 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA. Four of his 10 starts for the G-Braves have been quality starts, but the team is 3-7 in those games in part because the offense has provided him the fewest runs of support of any pitcher currently in the starting rotation (14 total, 1.40 per game).
Hagens has made four starts (five appearances) for the Bulls this season after he began the year at Double-A Montgomery, where he posted a 4-5 record and 3.86 ERA in 16 outings (eight starts). He stuck out nine Charlotte batters in his most recent start on July 22 and has a 3.75 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (30 strikeouts/8 walks) since his move to the Triple-A level. Andriese has split the season between Durham and Tampa Bay. He has gone 3-2 with a 3.11 ERA and two saves in 12 outings (seven starts) for the Rays in his Major League rookie campaign. He was optioned to Durham most recently on July 8.
Hitting: Barrett Kleinknecht hit his fourth home run of the season with a solo shot in the seventh inning on Sunday, but the G-Braves still sit at the bottom of the IL in that department with 32 homers and trail the next closest team, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, by 10. They are on pace 46 home runs for the season, which would be the fewest in franchise history and the fewest in the league since the Tidewater Tides hit 43 in 1980. The lowest season home run totals for Richmond/Gwinnett teams is 68 set in 2001 and tied in 2006. However, the G-Braves have used their team speed to steal 114 bases and tie Indianapolis for the lead in that category. That puts Gwinnett on pace for 163 on the season but still well behind the franchise record of 195 set in 1986.
Durham is third in the league with 100 stolen haves but is also second in the IL with 90 home runs despite a team batting average of .244 that is tied for the second-lowest in the league. First baseman J. P. Arencibia has helped the team home run total with a league-high 20. The Bulls do not lay down many sacrifice bunts (14, second-fewest in the IL compared to Gwinnett’s second-highest total of 52), but they draw the third-most walks of any team in the league with 359. The G-Braves have a league-low 241 walks but also the fewest strikeouts with 503. Durham has whiffed a league-leading 863 times.
Jose Peraza’s team-high 13-game hitting streak came to an end when he went 0-for-4 on Sunday, but he is still tied for second in the league in hits with 110. He is also tied for the league-lead in sacrifice bunts (12) and sacrifice flies (seven) to go with the fourth-highest strikeouts-per-plate-appearance ratio of 12.18. Durham outfielder Taylor Motter won the IL Player of the Week award for June 29 to July 6 and has a .303 batting average for the season that ranks seventh in the league among qualified hitters. His 104 hits on the season are the fifth-most in the IL, and he leads the league in extra-base hits with 42.
G-Bites: Infielders Daniel Castro and Adonis Garcia got recalled by Atlanta on Friday. They both left the Gwinnett game in the second inning to join the Braves in St. Louis. Garcia hit his first career Major League home run in the sixth inning on Sunday, a solo shot that provided the deciding run in their 3-2 win over the Cardinals…Atlanta optioned first baseman Joey Terdoslavich on Friday to make room for first baseman Freddie Freeman’s return from the disabled list…Outfielder Cedric Hunter went 5-for-9 two RBIs and four runs scored in the series vs. Charlotte. He has batted .292 with 14 RBIs and 13 runs scored in 22 games in July to raise his season batting average to .272…With a 6.0-inning start on Saturday during which he allowed two runs (one earned), right-hander Kanekoa Texeira completed his fourth consecutive quality start, which is the longest such streak for a G-Braves’ pitcher this season…After the upcoming weekend series at Durham, the G-Braves will return to Coolray Field for a seven-game homestand from August 3-9 that includes four games against the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and three vs. the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Fri: TBA vs. TBA, 7:05 p.m.
Sat: RHP Kanekoa Texeira (1-3, 3.64 ERA) vs. RHP Erik Johnson (8-5, 2.59 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sun: RHP Williams Perez (2-1, 1.36 ERA) vs. RHP Brad Penny (5-3, 4.09 ERA), 2:05 p.m.
The Gwinnett Braves welcome the Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, to Coolray Field for the final time this season still in search of their first victory over Charlotte on their home field. The Knights have won each of the first five games the teams have played in Gwinnett and have outscored the G-Braves 24-15 in those contests, although only one of the games was decided by more than a two-run margin. The G-Braves have gone 2-3 against the Knights in Charlotte, including two wins in a three-game series at BB&T Ballpark from July 2-3 that preceded a six-game losing streak.
Gwinnett remains last in the four-team International League South Division, while the Knights sit in second place, 0.5 of a game behind the Norfolk Tides. The G-Braves face their largest deficit in the standings of the season, as they are 8.5 games behind the Tides and 8.0 games back of Charlotte for the Wild Card playoff spot. This is the first time the teams have not played a home-and-home series this season, as the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, will come in for a three-game series from July 27-29.
This will also be the first time Gwinnett has been home since the All-Star break. The G-Braves went 3-5 on a road trip that took them to Syracuse, where they lost three of four games to the Chiefs, and Rochester in a four-game series they split with the IL North-leading Red Wings. Charlotte has won five of its eight games since the break and eight of their last 11, overall, to put them a season-high 14 games above the .500 mark.
Pitching: The G-Braves’ pitching staff has allowed five or more runs four times in its last 15 games and has the fourth-lowest team ERA in the IL at 3.21. The 49 home runs G-Braves’ pitchers have allowed are also tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Charlotte has a team ERA of 3.53 that ranks seventh in the league and the 70 home runs it has allowed are the fourth-most in the IL. However, the Knights hold an advantage in strikeout-to-walk ratio. They are tied for the third-fewest walks issued with 295 and lead the league with 789 strikeouts, which are 52 more than second-place Durham in that department. Gwinnett pitchers have walked the fourth-most batters in the league with 331 free passes, and their 704 strikeouts rank fifth.
Gwinnett has also used 14 different starting pitchers this season. Perez and right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (1-6, 3.49 ERA) are the only pitchers currently in the rotation that also began the season in Gwinnett, although Perez is on a Major League rehab assignment from the Atlanta Braves. He has made two rehab starts since the All-Star break and gone 0-1 with one run allowed in a combined 6.0 innings, including 10 strikeouts and one walk, in those appearances. Saturday’s starter, Texeira, notched his first victory of the season in his last start, his sixth of the season among 11 relief appearances, on Monday, July 20 when he held the Red Wings to three runs on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts in a 6-3 victory.
For Charlotte, Johnson holds the third-lowest ERA in the league among qualified starters with his 2.59 mark. He trails only former Gwinnett left-handed starter Manny Banuelos, who was promoted to Atlanta on July 2, and his Charlotte teammate right-hander Kyle Drabek. Johnson leads the league in strikeouts with 105, but Charlotte left-hander Casey Jarrett holds the top spot on the club in wins with 9, which ties him for the league lead along with Durham lefty Scott Diamond. Johnson also holds the tops spot in the league with a 1.09 WHIP, while Drabek is tied for third with a 1.14 mark.
Hitting: Charlotte holds the fourth-highest team batting average at .260, while the G-Braves come in 10th with a .252 mark. Both teams have plenty of speed, as Gwinnett is second in the league with 107, one more than the Knights, but Charlotte has much more power in its lineup. The Knights have slugged a league-best 94 home runs, and the G-Braves have managed an IL-low 31. That puts Gwinnett on pace for 46 on the season, which would be the lowest of any IL team since the Tidewater Tides, who were a New York Mets’ affiliate at the time, hit 43 in 1980.
The G-Braves also have the fewest walks and strikeouts of any team in the league. They would be the first club since the 2012 Lehigh Valley IronPigs to finish at the bottom of both categories in the same season. Additionally, their league-low .304 on-base percentage would be the lowest in the IL since the Syracuse Chiefs, who were an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays at the time, had a .302 mark in 1988.
Individually, second baseman Jose Peraza, the top-ranked prospect in the Braves’ system, is second in the league with 107 hits and fourth with six triples. He enters the series on a season-high 11-game hitting streak during which he has batted .362 (17-for-47) with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and seven runs scored. He is batting .292 (107-for-367) for the season with eight doubles, six triples, three home runs, 37 RBIs, 44 runs scored and 25 stolen bases, which ties him for fifth in the IL in that category.
Charlotte second baseman Micah Johnson holds the second-highest batting average among qualified batters in the IL with a .328 mark and has the fifth-highest on-base percentage at .379 to go with the third-highest slugging percentage at .486 in 60 games. Third baseman Matt Davidson is tied for fourth in the league with 15 home runs, outfielder Trayce Thompson has the the fourth-most doubles with 23 and fellow outfielder Jason Coats’ 61 RBIs rank third in the league.
G-Bites: Right-handed reliever Brandon Cunniff rejoined the G-Braves during their most recent road trip but is on the disabled list, and righty reliever David Carpenter is back with the club after his first stint of the season with Atlanta. The Gwinnett bullpen also got back right-hander Jake Brigham from a stint with Atlanta…Righty David Peterson received a promotion to Gwinnett from Double-A Mississippi on July 17 and has yet to allow a run in his first two relief outings while picking up his first Triple-A save in his first appearance on July 18 at Syracuse…Right-handed reliever Vin Mazzaro also joined the team after Atlanta signed him as a minor-league free agent on July 10…Righty reliever Carlos Fisher threw 1.0 scoreless inning in the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 15 in Omaha, NE…Outfielder Todd Cunningham broke free of a 1-for-13 skid to bat .500 (6-for-12) with a home run, three RBIs and four runs scored during the four-game set at Rochester.
Former Atlanta Braves first baseman Fred McGriff stopped by Coolray Field for the first time during the Gwinnett Braves’ final homestand before the All-Star Break to offer his insights and knowledge to the next wave of potential Braves’ stars.
“We’ve got some good players here, some young, some a little older,” said McGriffl, who threw a ceremonial first pitch before the G-Braves’ game on July 7 against the Norfolk Tides. “It’s cool. You’ve got good coaches here.”
The man who held the first base position in Atlanta from 1993-97 returned to the organization this season as a special assistant to baseball operations. He attended Major League Spring Training and has focused on professional scouting during the season.
He said it was also his first chance to see and work with players such as center fielder Mallex Smith, second baseman Jose Peraza and right-handed starter Mike Foltynewicz, who has sinced been recalled to Atlanta for the second time this season.
“This is my first year with the Braves’ organization so I’m just trying to learn all of the different players,” he said.
So far, McGriff said he has been impressed with the number of highly talented players in the system, particularly on the pitching side of the game.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who throw real hard,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting the guys to get some experience, let them work their way through the minors and learn how to pitch so once they finally get up to the big leagues they can stay up in the big leagues.”
McGriff hit 493 home runs during his 19-year career in the Major Leagues that stretched from 1986-2004 with the Braves, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
In his new job, he said he was involved in the June free agent draft process after he spent early portions of the season scouting high school and college players, including a stop at the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, AL. He said he has also been introduced to the analytical side of the game.
“To see it from a scout’s standpoint and see what they do and everything, how they put in their scouting reports and their lingo, it’s a different lingo,” McGriff said.
He has combined those lessons with his experiences from more than two decades in the game to try to help the current generation of young players make the most of their opportunities in the sport.
“If I can help one guy, if I can say something to one kid that helps them get to the big leagues, then it’s all worth it,” McGriff said.