BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Braves glad to leave Nats’ Harper, Twitter uproar back in D.C.

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ATLANTA — Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday he would be surprised if tensions resurfaced this season against the Nationals, just a day after benches cleared when Bryce Harper reacted to being hit by a Julio Teheran pitch.

“I think the way (umpire) Joe West handled it — we played another five innings and nothing happened,” Gonzalez said. “I think those things are boys being boys and sandlot, playground stuff. I think it’s going to be baseball as normal.”

Harper took Teheran to be retaliating for Harper’s long look at the home run he’d hit two innings before, though Teheran maintained he was trying to pitch inside.

There were matters to address, though, and Braves general manager Frank Wren responded to one of them. The Braves official twitter account had tweeted “Clown move bro” during Tuesday’s game, referencing Harper’s well-documented response to a reporter’s question last year. The tweet prompted a response from @Nationals saying, “Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?”

“I think it was simply an inappropriate attempt at humor from our social media department,” Wren said. “And it doesn’t reflect how we feel or how we want to do business or who we are. You shouldn’t ever be directing anything unless it’s positive or uplifting at another team or opponent. I think that’s kind of plain and simple.”

Wren said he hadn’t reached out to the Nationals on the Braves’ behalf but would if he ran into Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.

Twitter was the cause of another issue after a photo circulated that showed McCann flashing a sign with only his middle finger showing, when Harper was at the plate. McCann said he had two fingers down but his index finger was blacked out.

“I hope those guys know it was photo-shopped,” said McCann, who spoke to at least one Nationals player during batting practice. “I wouldn’t do that.”

McCann doesn’t have a Twitter account and he pointed to Tuesday’s misunderstanding as another reason why.

“That’s why I don’t deal with Twitter or Facebook,” McCann said. “Stuff is pointless. It gives people a voice to do whatever they want to do. That’s why I don’t get involved in it.”

Wood to see more action with Maholm still ailing

ATLANTA — It will be awhile before the Braves have to worry about who to take out of their starting rotation. Paul Maholm will likely be on the disabled list until the later part of August.

Maholm was eligible to come off the DL on Monday, but it wasn’t until the weekend that he was back throwing off a mound.

If all continues to go well, he will throw live batting practice this week and then be ready to go out on a minor league rehab assignment next week.

That means that rookie Alex Wood will get at least two more starts before Maholm is ready to return and give the Braves an extra starter.

Wood has made three starts in place of fellow left-hander Maholm and pitched well in winning the past two.

The second-round draft choice last year out of the University of Georgia allowed six hits and three runs over Colorado on July 30, then two hits and one run over six innings at Philadelphia on Sunday.

Wood is 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA in four starts this season and 0-1 with a 2.37 ERA in 15 relief appearances. The 22-year-old has 41 strikeouts along with 13 walks in 39 1/3 innings overall, with opponents batting .230.

Maholm, who becomes a free agent after the season, hurt his wrist batting in Miami on July 10 and had to leave a game against the White Sox in Chicago on July 20 in the fourth inning.

The 31-year-old was charged with seven runs in that game, dropping his third straight start. He had a 10.13 ERA in July and is 9-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 20 starts this season.

Braves' bullpen emerging as MLB's best

ATLANTA — The Braves’ bullpen has quietly become one of the best in the major leagues.

Over the winning streak that reached 11 games with a 3-2 win over the Nationals on Monday, the bullpen allowed only two earned runs in 36 innings (0.50 ERA). That enabled the relievers to lower their major league best ERA to 2.41 for the season.

The bullpen is led by closer Craig Kimbrel, who has converted 24 straight saves chances. Since blowing a save on May 7 at Cincinnati, Kimbrel has allowed 13 hits and one run in his past 30 appearances (30 innings). In that span, he’s struck out 46 batters. He has 24 strikeouts over his past 13 innings. Kimbrel leads the league with 34 saves, but he was rested Monday after pitching each of the previous three games.

The right-handed setup man is Jordan Walden, who has a 1.08 ERA over his last 27 outings, with 27 strikeouts in 25 innings. Walden, who got the save Monday in place of Kimbrel, was acquired in the offseason from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Tommy Hanson.

The left-handed setup man is Luis Avilan, who has ably stepped into the role left vacant by season-ending injuries to Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Avilan has made 52 appearances and has allowed only six of 24 inherited runners to score. He ranks among the National League leaders with 19 holds. Avilan has not allowed an earned run in his past 31 outings, a stretch of 28 innings, including a one-out appearance Monday.

Scott Downs, the veteran lefty acquired from the Angels, has not allowed an earned run in 41 of his 43 games. Since 2007, Downs has an ERA of 2.25, exceeded only by Mariano Rivera.

David Carpenter has emerged as a dependable right-handed arm in the front of the bullpen. Carpenter has stuck with the big club since being recalled a second time this season on April 30, and he got the win Monday to improve to 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA.

Right-handers Anthony Varvaro and Luis Ayala have also contributed. Varvaro had a nine-game scoreless streak earlier this season and a 3.08 ERA overall. Ayala, acquired April 10 from Baltimore, has a 1.74 ERA in 10 appearances since coming off the disabled list in early July.

Atlanta enjoying biggest division lead in the majors

ATLANTA — The Braves already had the biggest division lead in the majors at the all-star break, but the team’s ultimate promise still seemed unfulfilled.

“I think the best is still ahead of us,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said then.

“We really haven’t put everything together yet,” general manager Frank Wren at the time.

Now, though, the Braves have everything clicking and it has been quite a ride.

A six-game lead in the National League East has grown to a stunning 15 1/2 games and the Braves take a 13-game winning streak into a nine-game homestand beginning Friday night against Miami.

Justin and B.J. Upton -- the team’s big offseason additions -- are clicking together for the first time, Jason Heyward has finally given the team a productive leadoff hitter and Chris Johnson is the surprise leader in the NL batting race.

The starting pitching also hasn’t missed a beat despite the loss of Tim Hudson and the lights-out bullpen, anchored by closer Craig Kimbrel, has been able to make up for the absence of Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty thanks to the work of Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and surprising David Carpenter.

“It’s been fun,” Justin Upton said. “Anytime you can win as many ballgames as we have, team morale is good and things are going well for us. So it’s definitely fun to be a part of.”

The Braves left fielder had three more hits as Atlanta completed a sweep of the Nationals in Washington on Wednesday night. He is batting .440 with five homers during the winning streak.

It is older brother B.J. that is really showing encouraging signs, though, after a dreadful first half of the season.

With four hits in the series finale against the Nationals, the center fielder is 10-for-21 in five games since coming off the disabled list and is looking more like the player the Braves envisioned when they signed him to a five- year, $75.25 million contract.

“I’m starting to get there. I’m definitely starting to feel pretty good out there,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working and maintain to keep it to where it is. This is probably the best I’ve felt.”

The Braves’ winning streak is their longest since they won an Atlanta record 15 in a row in 2000 and they are now back at Turner Field, where they are 38-15. They play three against the Marlins, then three against the Phillies and Nationals before heading back on the road.

The magic number for the Braves (70-45) to win their first division title since 2005 is 33 with 47 games to play, but that isn’t their only goal.

The best record in the National League would give the Braves home field throughout the playoffs. With their dominance in Atlanta, that’s important.