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Atlanta Braves Opening Day 2011: Derek Lowe Looks To Build On September Stretch In Season Opener

The Atlanta Braves are on the road to begin the season, playing a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. Opening Day features two veteran starters in Derek Lowe and Livan Hernandez.

Braves Lineup:
1. Martin Prado, LF
2. Nate McLouth, CF
3. Chipper Jones, 3B
4. Brian McCann, C
5. Dan Uggla, 2B
6. Jason Heyward, RF
7. Alex Gonzalez, SS
8. Freddie Freeman, 1B
9. Derek Lowe, SP

Nationals Lineup:
1. Ian Desmond, SS
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Michael Morse, LF
6. Rick Ankiel, CF
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Ivan Rodriguez, C
9. Livan Hernandez, SP

Derek Lowe (193.2 IP, 4.00 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, 2.83 BB/9, 6.32 K/9, 58.8 GB%, 8.2 SwStr%)
(63.9 FB%, 16.1 SL%, 15.5 CH%, 4.5 CT%; 43.6 Swing%, 80.3 Contact%)
Livan Hernandez (211.2 IP, 3.66 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 4.57 xFIP, 2.72 BB/9, 4.85 K/9, 39.3 GB%, 4.6 SwStr%)
(61.4 FB%, 20.3 SL%, 10.9 CB%, 7.4 CH%; 40.6 Swing%, 88.2 Contact%)

The Opening Day matchup features two veterans who know how to pitch to their advantage. Lowe progressed as the season wore on last year, and four runs allowed in the entire month of September capped a solid second half. One of the big reasons for this success was more sliders, as he backed off the sinker a bit and pitched backward more often. It's worth watching to see how much he takes from this in his first start and whether it is a sign of things to come in 2011.

Hernandez is a well-traveled pitcher who does nothing spectacular, but he manages to post sub-four ERA's with consistency. He pitches to contact, has a miniscule strikeout rate, does not induce fly balls and yet he keeps the ball in the park for the most part while giving the Nationals a ton of innings, which is crucial for this staff. Hitting his offspeed and breaking stuff is always key.

Opposing Numbers:
Desmond has the best numbers against Lowe, hitting .357 with a double, triple, two homers and five RBI. Zimmerman is right behind with a .295 average, one double, two homers and seven RBI. Werth has one home run, as well, but Lowe seems to have a pretty good history against Nationals hitters.

Chipper has long been Hernandez's nemesis, hitting .333 with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run and 17 RBI, including 12 walks. McCann is at .348 with a homer. Prado is at .478 with three doubles. Heyward is 3-10 with a double, homer and six walks. For the most part, the Braves have had success against Hernandez, but putting it together and stringing hits can be a problem at times.

What to Look For:
Lowe needs to build on his September stretch from a year ago when he threw more breaking pitches and relied less on the sinker. Getting off to a good start on Opening Day will only help his chances of continued success.

For more on the series, Braves fans should visit Talking Chop, and Nationals fans should visit Federal Baseball.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.