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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Clearing the bases: Ryan Braun bombs

By David Schoenfield

First base: Braun bashes. I was actually thinking about Ryan Braun this afternoon. With Prince Fielder departed for greener pastures, you heard a lot of stuff in the offseason like "Braun won't get anything to hit" or "he'll get pitched around." After all, with Fielder hitting behind Braun last season, the NL MVP received just two intentional walks. Well, entering Monday's night game in San Diego, Braun was hitting .263/.322/.500. Not bad, but certainly not MVP numbers. What's interesting is that his strike rate was way up (24.4 percent from 14.8 percent) and his walk rate was down (6.7 percent from 9.2 percent).

The decreased walk rate indicates pitchers haven't been shying away from challenging him. On the other hand, the strikeout rate suggests maybe they have, only he's been chasing pitches out of the strike zone. So which is it? Actually, it's both. Before Monday, he'd seen basically the same percentage of strikes as last year -- 46.3 percent in 2012, 45.1 percent in 2011. Braun, however, had been swinging at more pitches out of the zone -- 29.9 percent in 2011, 34.4 percent in 2012. He was also swinging at 12 percent more pitches in the zone. Braun has never been a big walker, but this increased aggressiveness perhaps indicates a hitter trying to make too much happen without the big guy hitting behind him.

Anyway, the Padres challenged Braun on Monday and he didn't miss, becoming the first player to hit three home runs at spacious Petco Park, which opened in 2004. He homered in the fourth inning off Joe Wieland, swatting a first-pitch high fastball over the fence in right-center. In the fifth, he tomahawked a 2-2 Wieland slider into the upper deck of the Western Supply Co. warehouse in left field. In the seventh, he hit a first-pitch breaking ball from Ernesto Frieri just over the fence in left-center, prompting a smile as he rounded the bases. He had a chance for a fourth home run, but settled for one-hop triple off the fence in right-center.

Suddenly, he's hitting .294/.347/.647.

The lesson for Braun: Be patiently aggressive, if that makes sense. Two of his home runs came on meaty first pitches. He said after the game he has been inconsistent with his swing. But consistency comes with patience and discipline as well. Quit chasing pitches out of the zone and maybe he'll start connecting more with those in the zone.

Second base: Andy Pettitte roughed up. Hold off on that belief that Andy Pettitte is a sure thing as an upgrade over Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes in the Yankees' rotation. He gave up six runs and 10 hits in 5.2 innings in a Class A start on Monday. On the positive side, he did strike out eight with no walks. "I feel good and it was another solid day," Pettitte said. "I felt the quality of pitches were as good as I've had in any of my starts up to now, and I was able to hold my velocity throughout. I feel like I'm ready to help the team." While Pettitte says he's ready, the Yankees are likely to give him two more minor league starts.

Third base: Pedro power. Pedro Alvarez still has an ugly .203 batting average and an awful 23/3 SO/BB ratio, but the once-heralded Pirates prospect is at least starting to show something. He hit his fifth home run of the season in the Pirates' 9-3 win over the Braves -- Pittsburgh's first game with more than five runs all month. Over his past eight games, he's hitting .345 with three home runs and four doubles. Hey, it's start. Ten days ago he was batting .067.

Home plate: Tweet of the day. We salute Mr. Braun:

That's why baseball is the greatest game there is. A routine Monday night & there's suddenly a surprise: #Brewers Ryan Braun 3 HR, 6 RBI.

— Steve Berthiaume (@SBerthiaumeESPN) May 1, 2012