Bad, risky slide, not malicious, let’s move on

Andrelton Simmons was safe and Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar had a cut left hand after this slide by Simmons that infuriated Washington players  during Monday's 8-4 Atlanta win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
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Andrelton Simmons was safe and Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar had a cut left hand after this slide by Simmons that infuriated Washington players during Monday's 8-4 Atlanta win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

It was a hard slide, and a bad slide, but Andrelton Simmons sliding into third base Monday night and injuring Yunel Escobar’s hand while jarring the ball loose was hardly Ty Cobb going in with sharpened spikes high trying to maim.

I mean, come on. If Simmons had been trying to hurt him, he wouldn’t have slid like that – at the last moment, cleats aimed at the base and/or glove, not really a slide at all but an awkward lunge. If anyone was going to get seriously injured on that play, it was Simmons. Terrible slide, and he’s lucky he didn’t break his ankle or injure his knee.

That said, it was fully expected that the Nationals would throw at Simmons later, which they did. The Braves would’ve done the same thing. And the Braves also would’ve complained if the shoe was on the other foot and it was their third baseman injured on a similar lunge/slide. Because that’s what you do.

Andrelton Simmons was safe and Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar had a cut left hand after this slide by Simmons that infuriated Washington players  during Monday's 8-4 Atlanta win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Andrelton Simmons was safe and Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar had a cut left hand after this slide by Simmons that infuriated Washington players during Monday’s 8-4 Atlanta win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

You back your guy, and let the other team know it was noticed and won’t be tolerated, whether it was intentional, half-intentional, or completely an accident. It’s a tough sport, whether or not it’s a contact sport. Look at takeout slides at second base; there are usually one or two in every game, and those are more malicious than anything Simmons did last night.

And they’re an accepted part of the game. Guys are still allowed to go a foot or two – sometimes more – away from the bag to take out a guy without almost ever getting called for interference, and rarely do teams retaliate on that play by throwing at the batter the next time he’s up. But they might if someone got hurt; usually no one does, because the guy catching the throw and firing to first base knows it’s coming and usually gets out of the way, or at least gets his feet in the air to avoid having his foot planted when the impact occurs.

My point is, if Yunel’s hand doesn’t get cut on the play, there is no retaliation. Simmons would not have been thrown at simply for sliding hard and extremely late and dislodging the ball. Again, he put himself at greater risk than Escobar on that play. It was not a smart play if he realized how late he was sliding, because dislodging a ball to avoid an out isn’t even remotely worth the risk of breaking or spraining an ankle or tearing up your knee for any player, much less the best defensive player in baseball

More likely, Simmons got caught up in the moment, adrenaline pumping as he raced around second  base and headed to third, knowing there was going to be a play. He’s a runaway train at times anyway, not nearly as graceful and instinctive on the bases as he is playing shortstop, where he preternatural skills and instincts place him a level only he occupies among current players.

On the bases, he runs a bit bow-legged and not too fast, but he runs hard. Always. The guy plays his butt off, and wants to win as badly as anyone on the field. He doesn’t know how to back off or to play it safe, and in this instance Escobar paid the price. But it doesn’t take much of an imagination to envision a similar incident happening at second base with Escobar doing something damage to Simmons, because Escobar, too, plays the game hard and sometimes out of control and without the most sound judgement

Teams would rather have to tone guys down than turn them up, because if they have to be turned up then they usually aren’t going to be on a regular basis. So you live with guys making mistakes occasionally from trying too hard or being overly aggressive. That’s what Simmons was last night. Overaggressive. And a bad slider.

But in his heart of hearts, Escobar and anyone else who’s played against Simmons as much as most of the Nationals have, knows he wasn’t trying to hurt Escobar. He was trying to jar the ball loose, perhaps. Probably so. But when guys slide into second base and go even six inches out of the baseline to take out a leaping infielder trying to make a double play, they’re trying to prevent the back end of that play, trying to prevent an out, and they’re also putting that shortstop or second baseman in danger by doing so.

And that’s accepted. Just part of the game.

So, should making an awkward slide at third base – not a spikes-high, Ty Cobb slide, but a an awkward lunge that puts the runner at peril – really be something that needs to be an issue affecting anything more than the batter’s next at-bat? Throw at him, send a message, now move on.

Or, be ready to fight Jonny Gomes or A.J. Pierzysnki. Which would probably be more entertaining for us, anyway.

• Old dudes rule:  In their 8-4, series-opening win Monday against the Nationals, the Braves got three hits including a homer and three RBIs from Kelly Johnson, a double, walk and two runs from Nick Markakis, a hit and two RBIs on a pair of sac flies from A.J. Pierzysnki, and a fierce charge from the dugout by Gomes (who got ejected) after teammate Simmons was hit with a retaliatory pitch.

All in all, another night with plenty of contributions from the veteran quartet the Braves signed to free-agent contracts this winter in part for their clubhouse influence, in addition to the fact that all of them can obviously still play.

The combined 2015 salaries of those four 30-somethings: $18.5 million, with $11 million of that going for Markakis. (By the way, 36-year-old Jayson Werth of the Nats is making $21 million this season, and making that same salary in ’16 and ’17.)

Throw in closer Jason Grilli, who is making $4.25 million and has seven saves, a .129 ERA and 0.571 WHIP in seven appearances, and it’s pretty clear the Braves are getting some seriously strong returns on their old-man investments.

But that’s not including their value in the clubhouse, which has been significant for each and more than just significant for some including Gomes, whom  Freddie Freeman and others have credited with almost singlehandedly changing the clubhouse culture. The Braves are more confidence and enjoy being around each other more than they have the past couple of years, and the personality of the veterans is a big reason why.

Nick Markakis was an uncertainty when the season began due to December neck surgery. He ranks among NL leaders in batting average and OBP. (AP photo)

Nick Markakis was an uncertainty when the season began due to December neck surgery. He ranks among NL leaders in batting average and OBP. (AP photo)

“It’s a good mix – really good,” Johnson said of the youth, old dudes and in-betweeners that comprise the Braves roster. “It’s still early and we’re playing uneven, we started out hot and we’re trying to get back to that. I think the  most important thing is we have more guys who come to the yard every with a plan and a routine, and want to win. That’s what it’s about, man.”

Johnson played in Tampa Bay for a manager who liked to philosophize. He recalls something Joe Maddon said.

“Joe Maddon had his theory of five stages of a major leaguer,” Johnson said, “and long story short of it is, essentially, when you’re young you want to stick; at some point you want to make money; at some point you want to establish yourself; but at the end of the day, the fifth stage is you want to win a World Series.

“You’ve got to have that good blend of everything, but when you’ve got a bunch of guys that are kind of more in that mood of winning, it’s going to be something that can rub off on everyone.”

Now, the Braves aren’t going to win the World Series, I think most of us are confident in saying. But the front office wanted to stay competitive in this transitional year – a rebuilding year in the view of many, or a “remodeling” year as Braves official prefer to put it – and far they have. They’re 10-9. Hasn’t been pretty at times getting there, but before the season, and particularly after they traded Craig Kimbrel, who wouldn’t have been happy with a 10-9 record at this point?

As for the veteran presence stuff, which many outside a baseball clubhouse like to downplay or dismisse altogether, consider this:

That four-game slide on the road? Last season, that easily could have become an eight-game or 10-game slide. This time, the Braves never hung their heads, never trudged into the clubhouse the day after a loss, wishing they could be somewhere else or that the road trip would hurry up and end.

Their demeanor each day in the clubhouse prior to games was the same. They conversed, they played cards, they watched video of the opposing pitcher, they had meetings with their position coaches, they laughed, they busted each others’ (chops). They enjoyed  themselves as they went about their business.

“It goes along with the experience of just knowing that you’ll come out of it at some point,” Johnson said. “I think the preparation and everything else you do is going to be the ticket to getting through it quicker.”

And having veteran guys helps in that regard?

“Yeah, sure, that’s the idea,” Johnson said. “It’s easier when you’re young to kind of let things snowball. Being able to look at people that are young and they’re going through a struggle or whatever, you can look at them and go dude, you’re going to snap out of it. It’s not going to feel like it’s been weeks and weeks like it does in the moment. Same thing with the team.”

Speaking of Markakis: He missed much of spring training recovering from neck surgery, and entering the final week of camp there was still some question of whether he’d need to open the season on the DL. He did not, and he’s started 18 of 19 games, ranks among NL leaders in average and OBP, and moved to the leadoff spot a few days ago.

Markakis and has gone 17-for-42 (.lks, 405) in his past 12 games with three doubles, 10 walks, four strikeouts and a .519 OBP and .476 slugging percentage. For the season, he has a .333/.436/.379 slash line.

No one is saying he’ll finish with better stats than Jason Heyward, the right fielder he replaced. But so far with the Cardinals, Heyward has hit .205/.227/.356 with two homers, one stolen base, two walks and 15 strikeouts in 18 games, and is currently day-to-day with a groin injury.

Tonight’s matchup: It’s Julio Teheran against a Nationals pitcher, A.J. Cole, who’ll be making his major league debut, which has not been a good dynamic for the Braves in recent years.

The Nationals called up Cole to start in place of Max Scherzer, who injured his thumb while batting last week and would now like the rules of baseball changed and the DH adopted in the NL in order to prevent any such future injuries to pitchers. (You know, because that’s a reasonable reaction and expectation.)

Cole, 23, was a consensus top-100 prospect entering the season and ranked as high as No. 30 by Baseball Prospectus. Throws hard, has a good changeup and improving breaking ball, and fairly polished for someone so young. Cole had a 2.40 ERA in three starts in Triple-A, with 10 strikeouts, one walk and two homers allowed in 15 innings.

Teheran is 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA in his past three starts, with 12 hits and 12 runs (10 earned) allowed in 15 1/3 innings, and most alarmingly 11 walks with 14 strikeouts, including nine walks in 10 1/3 innings of two starts against the Mets.

Teheran is 3-2 with a 2.06 ERA in eight starts against the Nationals over the past two seasons, with 46 strikeouts and 17 walks in 50 innings.

Against the right-hander, Bryce Harper is 7-for-16 with two homers, Denard Span is 8-for-26 (.308), while Jayson Werth is 3-for-20 with seven strikeouts.

 • Etc.

  Andrelton Simmons has hit safely in 10 of his past 11 games, going 13-for-42 (.310) with two doubles, a homer, six RBIs, three walks, three strikeouts and a .370 OBP in that span….

  A.J. Pierzysnki has hit safely in all 10 games he’s played this year, going 14-for-37 (.378) with two doubles, three homers, eight RBIs, two walks, two strikeouts and a .405 OBP and .676 slugging percentage. He’s struck out in only one game (two K’s at Toronto on April 18, in game in which he also homered).

In nine career games against the Nationals, Pierzysnki is 15-for-36 (.417) with three doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs, two strikeouts and a .667 slugging percentage….

In 15 games against the Nationals, Jonny Gomes is 17-for-46 (.370) with four doubles, five homers, 12 RBIs and a .783 slugging percentage.

• Here’s the late, great Warren Zevon singing one of his timeless tunes.

 “ACCIDENTALLY LIKE A MARTYR” by Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon

The phone don’t ring
And the sun refused to shine
Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly
For what was already mine
For such a long, long time

We made mad love
Shadow love
Random love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

The days slide by
Should have done, should have done, we all sigh
Never thought I’d ever be so lonely
After such a long, long time
Time out of mind

We made mad love
Shadow love
Random love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

 

 

 

 


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