Conventional wisdom states that facing a knuckleball pitcher can screw up an offense not just for that game, but afterwards as well, as the altered hitting approach necessary to fend off the knuckler can echo for days on end. Well, we can only hope so, because the small-ball approach worked wonders tonight against Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey, as the Braves utilized 16 hits (13 of them singles) to notch an 11-3 victory.
This appeared to be the plan going into the game — of the four serial overswingers on the roster, three (Bupton, Heyward, and Uggla) watched from the dugout, and the fourth (Francisco) was sent packing for good. You’ll get no requiem for Fat Juan’s departure from me — he was brought in last year IMO precisely because he was neither an accomplished veteran deserving of an established role, nor a prospect whose development needed nurturing. He was a guy who could get jerked around based on whether or not Chipper could play that day, and who might run into a fastball now and then. Chris Johnson isn’t a world-beater, but he’s better than Francisco, and without radical batting splits he doesn’t need a platoon partner.
And if today’s lineup means more playing time for Ramiro Pena, especially against RHP, so much the better. Pena employed an aggressive but controlled approach, and singled in Evan Gattis (doing his own impression of a pesky waterbug with three singles of his own) three separate times on his way to a four RBI day. Not having a lefty reliever come in to face him while the game was still in some doubt in the seventh inning was a silly mistake by Jays manager John Gibbons.
Brian McCann reached base three times as well, and had some fun playing with the Jays’ overshift. I can understand the radical shift with the bases empty, but with a runner on first and less than two outs McCann is particularly incentivized NOT to hit a hard grounder to an infielder. BMac, of course, knows this.
Every position player had at least one hit (heck, every position player had at least one single) in support of staff ace Mike Minor, who was baffling the Jays hitters at first, but ended up giving up a few too many hard hit balls to a lineup so unimposing that Mark DeRosa batted cleanup and it almost, but not quite, made sense. Still, it was a surprise when an early 3-0 Braves lead didn’t hold up. Even more shocking was the way the Jays battled back — thanks in large part to some shaky defense by Andrelton Simmons. I blame myself for angering the baseball gods by comparing him to Ozzie Smith a few days ago.
The other highlight was the major league debut of Alex Wood, who pitched the ninth and looked good. He even appeared to give some stage direction to McCann at one point, which I like to imagine occasioned a bemused smirk from BMac behind his mask. I’m no prospect hawk, so I’ll not endeavor to write him up. He’s been a starter in the minors, and I gather some folks are concerned about his being used out of the bullpen. That’s just…dumb. Trying to win a pennant here, people.
Oh yeah, Fatty McChinstrap whiffed three times tonight. I wish him ill. The Nats arrive tomorrow — Teheran vs. Strasburg at 7:30. Teheran owns Strasburg.