Upton Makes Immediate Impact
The Braves made a successful start to the post-Chipper Jones era, Monday, with a 7-5 opening day win over the Phillies. Displaying a much-changed roster from that of 2012, the new-look Braves flexed their muscles in the win, blasting three home runs including one from off-season acquisition, Justin Upton.
After a positive spring, Atlanta were keen to make a winning start to 2013. Fans will remember that they started the 2012 season by losing their first four games, including a three game sweep by the New York Mets. There was to be no repeat this time round as the Braves went after Phillies starter Cole Hamels early and often. With two outs in the bottom of the first and Jason Heyward on base, Freddie Freeman drilled a two-run shot to right field and put the Braves ahead. Following a disappointing 2012, Dan Uggla then started 2013 in perfect fashion, leading off the bottom of the second inning with a solo shot to left extending the Braves lead to 3-0. "This was an awesome start, and I'm looking to build from it," an upbeat Uggla said.
Freeman picked up his third RBI of the game in the third inning, driving home Andrelton Simmons with a base hit and the Braves seemed to be in cruise control. However, things started to unravel in the fourth for starter, Tim Hudson. The veteran had made light work of the Phillies until this point, but facing Chase Utley, he left a pitch belt-high and over the plate and Utley launched a deep home run to center to cut the deficit to three. Utley again proved Hudson’s nemesis in the fifth, driving home two runs with just one out. Manager Fredi Gonzalez then made his first call to the bullpen of the new season, ending Hudson’s day prematurely and costing the righty a chance for an opening day win. Hudson threw 90 pitches in his effort and gave up three runs on six hits, with three walks.
Hamels would not last much longer than his counterpart though and the two-run lead was restored in the bottom half of the inning with the Braves’ third home run of the night. Justin Upton showed off his power potential by taking Hamels deep for his first home run in a Braves uniform. "They're going to hit a lot of home runs," Hamels acknowledged. "To keep them from hitting home runs, you have to keep the ball down." Hamels failed to do this and the new recruit took advantage. Upton was delighted with his contribution and more importantly to come away with a win. "Everything kind of fell into place tonight," he said. "It was great that the guys came out swinging the bats well, I was able to contribute and we got a 'W' at the same time. You can't beat that night."
The night was not as successful for his brother, B.J. who went hitless in 4 at-bats. However, the Braves other off-season acquisitions came through for the team in the sixth. New third baseman, Chris Johnson doubled and later scored, whilst new catcher, Gerald Laird capped a 2-4 debut with an RBI single to conclude the Atlanta scoring. "It was amazing," Johnson said. "That was awesome. I was speechless at the beginning of the game. I was a little amped up during my first at-bat. I calmed down a little bit of course. It was a ton of fun."
There were however a few nervous moments before the Braves could celebrate the win. Utley again proved his worth to the Phillies, tripling and scoring off Eric O’Flaherty in the seventh. Then new bullpen recruit, Jordan Walden got into trouble in the eighth, giving up a run before eventually pitching out of trouble. Fittingly the game was closed out in 1-2-3 fashion by Craig Kimbrel. Showing that he has lost none of his stuff over the long winter and after a stint with Team USA at the World Baseball Classic, he made light work of the meat of the Phillies lineup, accounting for Jimmy Rollins, Utley and Ryan Howard. The series continues on Wednesday with Paul Maholm facing Roy Halladay.
1 April 2013