Braves’ slow start should be a concern

March 13, 2012 

It’s spring training. It’s mid-March. There’s absolutely no reason to panic and worry about the Atlanta Braves being 1-10-1 in the Grapefruit League.

Right?

Well, it’s easy to believe that, but reality is settling in pretty quickly. The Braves haven’t had a good spring, and after coming off a bad September to end 2011, this was the last thing they needed to happen.

They didn’t need the new starting shortstop (Tyler Pastornicky) to hit .100. They didn’t need the starting right fielder (Jason Heyward), who is in dire need of a strong comeback, to hit .143. They didn’t need the other starters to have batting averages of .136 (Freddie Freeman), .200 (Brian McCann) and .240 (Michael Bourn).

And for goodness sake, they didn’t need to look at Chipper Jones’s stats on March 14 and see that he has yet to get a hit in eight at-bats so far this spring.

If not for the good month from left fielder Martin Prado (.407) and left-handed starter Mike Minor (three scoreless appearances), there wouldn’t be anything to smile about at all.

Again, it’s still early. Opening Day is three weeks away. And maybe this wouldn’t be such a bother if the Braves hadn’t suffered through a struggling offense last September. That aftertaste has been hard to go away with the Braves seemingly picking up where they left off when they blew the comfortable lead in the wildcard race.

We’re just searching for some positive news here, and so far it’s been hard to find.

Jones shocked everyone Monday when he told a group of reporters that he didn’t know if he could make it through this season. He backed off from those comments Tuesday, as people started to speculate if he’d walk in any day and retire.

Believe me, Jones is not doing that. He’s not walking out on his teammates.

Now, if it becomes obvious that a 40-year-old Jones cannot finish the season, or if it’s obvious this will be his final season, he’ll let everyone know. Make no mistake about it, Jones struggles every day to play the game he loves so much. But with his tough spring, it’s becoming more obvious that Jones is going to be tough to count on for much this season.

Then there’s the situation at shortstop. The Braves let Alex Gonzalez go this winter. They felt confident they had some young players that could take over, and they were certain Gonzalez would get a two-year offer from another team. But it still was a huge gamble.

The front office was split on Pastornicky’s readiness for the big leagues. He played in only 27 games in Triple-A last season, but the Braves pretty much handed him the job anyway. And now, with almost no offense and three errors in the field, Pastornicky might lose the job before he even officially got it.

Atlanta is being tempted by someone with even less pro experience than Pastornicky. Andrelton Simmons won the Carolina League batting title last year, but that was High-A. He has never played in Double-A, or in Triple-A, and yet with Pastornicky’s struggles, Simmons is opening some eyes.

He has outstanding defensive skills, and even while Simmons could use more development at the plate, his ability to be a game changer at shortstop may be enough to give him an edge against Pastornicky.

The Braves have 21 games remaining in Florida, and a lot can be worked out in three quick weeks. If the Braves start the regular season playing well, this bad record in the Grapefruit League will be forgotten quickly. But after the scars from last September, just getting a win or two might be a step in the right direction.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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