Braves starter Paul Maholm will try to push Atlanta's early season record to 2-0 when he takes the mound against the Phillies tonight. Maholm is 4-2 with a 5.16 ERA in nine career starts against the Phillies.
Reuters News Service
ATLANTA — Atlanta Braves starter Paul Maholm had a good spring and closed it strong.
Now it’s time to see if that carries over.
The left-hander was 4-1 with a 1.53 ERA in seven starts and didn’t allow an earned run in his final 24 2/3 innings over five Grapefruit League outings.
The 30-year-old is starting the middle game of the opening three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies today because Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted to alternate right-handers and left-handers in the first four spots of the rotation. Hudson started the opener and Kris Medlen will pitch the series finale against the Phillies on Thursday.
Maholm was acquired by the Braves from the Chicago Cubs before the July trade deadline last season and finished a combined 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA. He was 4-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 11 starts for the Braves.
Maholm is 4-2 with a 5.16 ERA in nine career starts against the Phillies.
All eyes, meanwhile, will be on Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay. And not just because he’s a win shy of reaching the 200-victory milestone.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner, who will make $20 million this year, struggled last season and again this spring.
Is he healthy?
Has age caught up with him?
Can he return to the pitcher he once was?
So far, there are more questions than answers.
Halladay, who turns 36 in May, fell off to 11 victories last season as his ERA jumped to 4.49 and he did nothing to indicate he was ready to bounce back during his Grapefruit League outings, posting a 6.06 ERA.
If the Phillies are to contend in the National League East, they need Halladay to at least come close to the pitcher he was when he went a combined 40-16 with an ERA under 2.50 in 2010-11.
Halladay, who was 0-2 with an 11.21 ERA in four starts against the Braves a year ago, has a career record of 199-100. He is 4-3 with a 4.21 ERA in 11 games versus Atlanta.
BRAVES’ BAT EXPLODE ON OPENING NIGHT: Justin Upton, acquired in a big offseason trade, hit one of Atlanta’s three home runs and the Braves opened with a 7-5 victory against Cole Hamels and the Phillies on Monday night before a sellout crowd of 51,456 at Turner Field.
Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla also homered off Hamels, who was victimized by the long ball in his first opening-day start
“We’ve got guys one through eight (in the order) who can really swing the bats,” Gonzalez said. “Freeman had a great night. Justin the same thing.”
Freeman, who homered with one on in the first inning, had three hits and drove in three runs as he built off a spring in which he hit .342 with seven homers.
“I think the sky is the limit with him,” Gonzalez said.
It was Upton, acquired from Arizona, who drew even more cheers with a memorable debut home run.
“You always want to get off to a good start,” he said. “It felt good. The crowd was great.”
Brother B.J. Upton, signed as a free agent, was hitless in his first game for the Braves, but it didn’t matter. His new team had plenty of offense.
Newcomers Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird joined the hit parade with two hits each.
The Braves needed a good night at the plate.
Staked to a 4-0 lead, starter Tim Hudson didn’t last long enough to get the win, allowing six hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out three, throwing 90 pitches in his sixth career start on Opening Day.
Luis Avilan got out of a bases-loaded jam after relieving Hudson and was credited with the victory. Craig Kimbrel retired the Phillies in order in the ninth inning for the save.
NEXT PITCH: Uggla reported to spring training 10 pounds lighter after rededicating himself over the winter. But his ramped up workout program and better eating didn’t bring immediate results on the field.
The veteran second baseman hit just .200 in Grapefruit League play and struck out 25 times in 75 at-bats. He also struggled in the field, committing six errors in 26 games.
The Braves have to be at least a little concerned. Despite his new physique, the 33-year-old appears to be the same player who mostly struggled after the first two months of last season.
Uggla hit .220 with 19 homers and 78 RBI. All were career lows. He also struck out 168 times, although he did draw 94 walks.
With the additions of Justin and B.J. Upton, the Braves aren’t as reliant on Uggla’s bat as they once were. But Braves fans have grown disenchanted.
Much was expected of Uggla when he was acquired from the Miami Marlins before the 2011 season and given a five-year contract worth $62 million. He’s had his moments, including a 33-game hitting streak during his first season. But his slumps have been just as pronounced.
If Uggla starts slowly, fans will clamor for Tyler Pastornicky, who hit .375 in spring training before being sent to Class AAA Gwinnett.
JUAN GETS THE NOD TODAY: Juan Francisco, a left-handed hitter, will start today’s game as Gonzalez starts the season with a straight platoon. Johnson started the opener against Hamels. Johnson, who had a double and single, and Francisco both swung hot bats in spring training. Johnson hit .361 with three homers and 12 RBIs, while Francisco batted .333 with six homers and 14 RBI.
MCCANN UPDATE: Brian McCann will take batting practice and continue working on his throwing during the series with the Phillies, then return to Florida to continue his rehab from surgery on his right shoulder last October. He won’t be cleared for full game action until at least April 16 and will need a minor league rehab before rejoining the Braves, likely around May 1.
MOVE OVER, CHIPPER: Jason Heyward has inherited the prime locker spot of 3B Chipper Jones, who retired after 19 seasons with the Braves and is a future Hall of Famer.
“I was kind of pushed into here a little bit,” Heyward said. “Somebody was going to have to take it.”
In a changing of the guard on the Braves, that area of the locker room now houses the new Braves outfield, with B.J. and Justin Upton next to Heyward. Jones had inherited his locker spot from John Smoltz.
INJURY UPDATE: LHP Jonny Venters (sprained left elbow) left a spring game against the Tigers on March 26, and he went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27. He is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews today ... RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He hopes to be ready to return to the rotation by late June. He has had no setbacks, and he likely will begin a minor league rehab in late May ... SS Paul Janish (left shoulder surgery in October 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He will begin a minor league rehab around April 8. He didn’t get into any spring game action only because he wasn’t allowed to dive.