Medlen shows maturity in second season
Braves reliever impresses despite hard-luck loss
SAN FRANCISCO -- While pitching the final two innings of Friday's 13-inning loss to the Giants, Kris Medlen didn't look like the same wide-eyed rookie who had stood on this same AT&T Park mound 11 months earlier and struggled through a losing 5 1/3-inning start."The first month or so in the big leagues last year, that wasn't me," Medlen said. "I know I'm a nervous guy to begin with. But I feel a lot more comfortable and it's a lot easier to just be yourself with the dudes that we have on the team." Medlen entered Friday's game in the 12th inning and managed to keep the game tied after Pablo Sandoval greeted him with an opposite-field bloop double. Sandoval advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt and then was left stranded when the Braves right-hander ended the inning with a weak groundout and strikeout. One inning later, Medlen issued a one-out walk to Juan Uribe, who advanced to third base on an errant throw from Brian McCann and then scored the winning run on Aaron Rowand's two-out infield single. While Medlen was saddled with the tough-luck loss, his effort provided Braves manager Bobby Cox even more reason to believe he's capable of serving as a versatile reliever, who can be a long man or get clutch outs during the middle innings. "He threw great [Friday]," Cox said. "He's pretty valuable."
Heyward not concerned by mini-slump
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jason Heyward could have done without the growing pains he experienced while striking out four times in the six plate appearances he compiled during Friday's 13-inning loss to the Giants. But the young Braves outfielder entered this season knowing that every day wouldn't be as memorable as his Opening Day experience."Any time you're going into a new situation, it's going to take time to get your rhythm and instincts right," Heyward said before rebounding in impressive fashion by recording three hits, including an opposite-field homer, and drawing a pair of walks during Saturday night's 7-2 win over the Giants. When Heyward smacked a 451-foot homer with the first swing of his Major League career during Monday's Opening Day victory over the Cubs, he might have fooled some into believing that he was going to avoid the inevitable frustrations that every rookie seemingly encounters. But while going 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the three games that followed, Heyward provided the reminder that he's a 20-year-old prospect who is attempting to quickly learn how to make the necessary adjustments at the Major League level. Proving that he wasn't fazed by the first rough stretch of his young career, Heyward returned Saturday night and looked at a strike before taking a swing in each of his five plate appearances. The sixth-inning homer that he powered over the left-field wall came on an 0-1 fastball delivered by Giants starter Todd Wellemeyer. "It's all an adjustment," Heyward said. "That's what is going to happen early in the season. Pitchers are going to have an advantage of a majority of the hitters." As he prepared for Saturday night's game against the Giants, Heyward sat at his locker listening to music and showing no signs that he's worried about this mini-slump. In fact, when asked about it, he pointed out that he went through a similar adjustment period when he began last year with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach. During his first six games with Myrtle Beach, Heyward went 4-for-21 with four strikeouts. His batting average sat at .222 (6-for-27) before he constructed a three-hit performance that propelled him toward putting up the numbers that led many media outlets to tab him the game's top prospect. "He'll have his struggles like any other 20-year-old who is in the big leagues," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But he's a very talented kid, and when he's not hitting, he's going to help us in the outfield."
Chipper well enough to take grounders
SAN FRANCISCO -- Chipper Jones is still feeling the discomfort caused by his strained right oblique muscle. But the Braves third baseman felt strong enough to take some grounders and remain on the field during batting practice before Saturday night's game against the Giants at AT&T Park."It feels better, but I'm still probably a day away from really testing it," said Jones, who received a cortisone shot a short time after exiting the third inning of Thursday night's game at Turner Field with the oblique strain. With rain predicted to fall on the Bay Area most of Sunday, the Braves and Giants may not be able to play their series finale. If the game is played, Jones thinks there is at least a chance that he could be in the lineup against two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. But Jones agreed that it seems more likely that he will make his return during Monday afternoon's series opener against the Padres in San Diego.
Cox keeps Diaz in left field
SAN FRANCISCO -- Braves manager Bobby Cox has told his outfielders that he isn't committed to utilizing any strict platoons and he proved this Saturday night, when he opted to put Matt Diaz in left field to oppose Giants right-handed starter Todd Wellemeyer."I told them everybody is going to play," Cox said. Entering the season, there was reason to believe Cox would utilize the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera in left field when the opposing team was starting a right-handed pitcher. While this might be the arrangement that is utilized most of the time, it appears that Diaz's time in left field won't be limited to the games when a left-hander is serving as the opposition. After playing the entirety of Friday's 13-inning loss, Cabrera was likely in line to benefit from a chance to rest. In addition, while recording just two hits in his first 18 at-bats, the former Yankee has seemingly opened the door for more playing time to be provided to Diaz, who batted a career-best .313 last year. With Cabrera out of the lineup Saturday, center fielder Nate McLouth was placed back in the leadoff role that he lost when he struggled during Spring Training.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.