Just when things were starting to look up for the Atlanta Braves in Flushing, NY, the night turned somber in a moment.
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The Atlanta Braves, who’s bats have struggled to find a groove lately, have been trying to find a spark to ignite a potent offense that just doesn’t seem to be clicking. All of that seemed to change Wednesday, starting when Evan Gattis blasted a shot into the second deck of Citi Field. In a few short innings, their offensive problems appeared to vanish as runners were cashed in for runs and batters looked patient at the plate. Dan Uggla launched a three-run shot and Andrelton Simmons added to the lead with a home run of his own, something he’s become pretty familiar with in the last couple weeks.
But the star of the night is easily awarded to Tim Hudson, who through 7.2 innings of shutout ball, striking out nine on 107 pitches. He didn’t finish with the shutout, as two runners belonging to him crossed the plate, but I’m getting there. In the seventh inning, Eric Young Jr. hit a bloopy groundball that created a stir near first base as Hudson ran to cover and catch the feed from Freddie Freeman. As he stepped on first, Hudson appeared to lag for a moment, unsure of whether or not his foot was in the right spot and as he did so, Young stepped right on his ankle, twisting it.
Needless to say, it was pretty much a horror show.
There are a few injuries I can recall watching live, including Hideki Matsui breaking his arm on a diving play in center field. This is going near the top of the list. It was a pretty awful sight to see and it won’t leave my mind any time soon.
I’ll leave at that for the moment, as I’m writing this before any word has come down about the severity of his injury and I’m not going to speculate, but I can tell you it’s not going to be good. It was clear in the faces of his teammates and the tear streaks running down Young’s face as he stood off to the side, waiting for the chance to apologize to Hudson. UPDATE: They’re calling it an ankle fracture now, but won’t say anymore until the swelling has subsided and he heads back to Atlanta for further treatment and possibly surgery.
While I’m on the topic, let me just point out that Young’s reaction and display of sportsmanship was actually touching, which isn’t a usual emotion for sports. But when you see it happen, it means a lot. Young is, well, young and hasn’t been in the majors long and clearly realizes the impact on not just a person, but his career and an entire team. I’m just saying, it’s worth noting.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about baseball, and we, just like the Braves, must press on.
Before tonight’s game, my plan was to scold the Braves publicly. Their three-game set against the White Sox was a series of missed opportunities and bad plate discipline. Their loss last night to the Mets was more of the same. Even the first game in NY was along the same lines and, if not for some late inning heroics, would go into the same column as the previous three games. However, two things happened Wednesday that changed my tone. One, the bats seemed to come back to life. Not everyone and not all the way. But as we well know, baseball is a fickle game, and sometimes even one inning can change the course for the rest of the year. Two, Hudson’s injury, in addition to being horrific, is going to change the Braves’ plan in both the short and long terms.
With rookie Alex Wood making his second start in Thursday’s finale against the Mets and Brandon Beachy making what will likely be his last rehab start earlier tonight, the rotation was already going to see some major changes. Add to that the pitching woes of Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm, who subsequently was put on the DL last week, and in less than seven days, the face of this rotation will most likely look completely different.
Like I said, I don’t want to speculate on Hudson and his timetable, but I can confidently say he won’t be seeing any time on the mound anytime soon.
Which means a couple things. Maholm becomes the oldest member of the pitching staff. The addition of Wood makes two rookies on the staff in the starting five. Beachy will be recovering from Tommy John and may have a limited pitch count per game or over the course of the rest of the season. That’s not even counting what Hudson brings to the team in terms of being the veteran and the anchor.
Events like last night can have one of two effects, the way I see it. Losing Hudson can become the final straw that breaks the back of the Braves or it can become the fuel that lights them up from here on out. Obviously, as a fan, I’d love the latter, and I do believe the Braves are the kind of team that will pull together rather than fall apart.
No matter what happens, though, make no mistake about it: This cost the Braves big.
For the time being, it looks like Medlen’s spot in the rotation is safe. Wood’s performance Thursday carries a little more weight. Maholm’s return and attempts to overcome his disappointing stretch becomes more important. And as the trade deadline approaches, it may just be that Frank Wren’s sights move from strong bullpen help to some available starters around the league.
There’s no doubt this hurts the Braves big. But there’s still time left in the season to make a new plan and continue forward.