Phillies-Braves: What you need to know

Phillies-Braves: What you need to know

April 3, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Phillies (0-1) at Braves (1-0)
7:10 p.m. – PHL17

All eyes will be on Roy Halladay Wednesday night as he goes for win No. 200 but, more importantly, looks to dispel the doubts brought about by a shaky spring.

Doc struggled with velocity and command in Grapefruit League play, finishing with a 6.06 ERA and an uncharacteristic nine walks in 16 1/3 innings. This from the guy who’s walked less than four percent of batters he’s faced since coming to the Phillies.

If Halladay (11-8, 4.49 ERA in 2012) wants to get back on track, this isn’t the ideal opponent. The Braves have given Doc more trouble than any other team since his arrival in Philly. Against Atlanta as a Phillie, Halladay is 3-3 with a 4.84 ERA in nine starts, with nine home runs allowed.

No, Halladay won’t have to worry about Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, who were a combined 20 for 46 (.435) with four home runs, but unfortunately, Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla have been nearly as successful (.363 BA, five doubles, seven homers in 91 AB).

Unless Halladay shakes off his spring struggles to turn in a solid performance, the Phils will need plenty of offense against his counterpart, lefty Paul Maholm.

Maholm’s repertoire
Maholm, 30, was traded to the Braves from the Cubs at last year’s deadline for pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. He finished the year 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA. Prior to that, he pitched seven seasons in Pittsburgh.

He’s considerably more effective against lefties (.224 career BA, .612 OPS) than against righties (.290 BA, .795 OPS).

Maholm throws four pitches: a fastball from 86-89, a low-80s slider, a low-80s changeup and a low-70s curveball. He uses his fastball less frequently than most pitchers, throwing it just 41 percent of the time last season compared to 30 percent sliders and 14 percent changes and curves.

The slider is Maholm’s best pitch, historically. It’s saved him 27 runs over the course of his career, according to Fangraphs, and both righties and lefties struggle to hit it when he gets it far enough outside. He rarely uses the changeup against left-handed hitters – ESPN’s Hot Zones shows them going 1 for 4 off the pitch last season – but utilizes it well against righties. They hit between .107 and .200 off Maholm’s change last season when he kept it out of the middle of the zone.

Having noted all that, one might think a team heavy with lefty power would struggle against Maholm, but that hasn’t been the case for the Phillies. Current Phils are batting .330 off him with 11 extra-base hits in 106 at-bats (see tonight's lineup).

Michael Young, Erik Kratz and John Mayberry are a combined 5 for 5 off him with two doubles and a homer.

Chase Utley, the offensive star of the season-opener, is 6 for 18 against Maholm with three doubles. Even Ryan Howard, who struggles against pretty much every lefty, has respectable numbers against Maholm – a .238 batting average and six RBIs in 22 trips to the dish.

The Phils did serious damage against Maholm the last time they saw him, scoring five first-inning runs on Sept. 2 last season. He shut them down the start prior to that, but in two of his last three outings against the Phillies, Maholm has allowed seven earned runs and lasted just three innings or fewer.

Success at 'the Ted'
The Phillies have won eight of their last 11 series at Turner Field dating back to August 2009.

And even after a down year against their division rivals in which the Phillies lost seven straight games to the Braves at one point and lost the season series, 12-6, the Phils own a 99-85 advantage over Atlanta since 2003.

Brown vs. southpaws
One of the best signs of Domonic Brown’s spring was his success against left-handed pitching. He went 11 for 33 (.333), which was a step in the right direction even if it came against pitchers fine-tuning their fastballs. Brown is a .206 career hitter against lefties in 110 major-league plate appearances.

The run game
The Phillies would be wise to take more advantage of Braves catcher Gerald Laird than they did in the opener, when Ben Revere was the only player to attempt a steal. It was a bizarre play in which Laird somehow didn't see Revere running and was late on his throw, which hit the dirt before reaching shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Laird used to be proficient at nabbing base-stealers but has really struggled since 2011. From 2003-10, he threw out 38 percent of base-stealers. Since 2011, he's thrown out just 14 of 73, which is just a shade above 19 percent.

UPDATE (4 p.m.): Laird is sitting tonight. Rookie Evan Gattis makes his major-league debut behind the plate for Atlanta. Gattis hit .305 with a .995 OPS and 18 home runs at three different levels for the Braves last season.

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