Lowe and Heyward Win 2011 Opener for New Boss Gonzalez
Making his third consecutive opening day start for the Braves, Derek Lowe produced another gem, continuing the dominant run that saw him undefeated in September 2010. It was a first opening day for new manager, Fredi Gonzalez and Lowe’s effort was enough to give him a first victory in the Braves’ hot seat as his charges saw off the Washington Nationals 2-0.
Lowe has won all three of his opening day efforts for Atlanta, against Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs respectively prior to the game in the nation’s capital. This time out he pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and striking out six in what was a pretty flawless start. “That’s the calmest I’ve been on any opening day”, admitted Lowe, “I didn’t have to worry about mechanics, which is always my downfall. I felt very confident in the spring I had and the way I ended last year. Hopefully I can have more months like September this year”.
Lowe needed some help offensively though and received it early with a run in each of the first two innings. Back from injury, Chipper Jones hammered a double in the first and came home on Brian McCann’s RBI single before Jason Heyward continued his own opening day streak, homering off Nationals starter, Livan Hernandez to lead off the second. In doing so, Heyward became only the second player in history to begin his first two seasons with an opening day home run. The other was, surprisingly, Kaz Matsui of the New York Mets, achieving the feat in 2004 and 2005.
Besides Heyward’s early fireworks though, the Braves offense was shut down, continuing the headaches on the road that the team suffered during 2010. Fortunately for the Braves, the encounter proved a pitching duel and when Lowe was pulled after 105 pitches, the Braves bullpen did its job through Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel’s perfect ninth inning notched him his first save of the year.
Overall, the mood in the Braves camp is positive and the team were pleased to get Fredi Gonzalez off the mark. Chipper Jones noted “It was good to get that first one out of the way, for us and the fans of Atlanta”. The fans will be expecting plenty more where that came from!
April 1st 2011