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Atlanta Braves Opening Day 2011: Jason Heyward Makes History; Derek Lowe Continues Slider Pattern

Thursday, March 31
(1-0) Atlanta Braves - 2
(0-1) Washington Nationals - 0

Box Score
Video Highlights

Jason Heyward Does It Again:
Opening Day is a day of full-blown analysis due to everyone and their grandmother being so pumped about the start of the season. Therefore, little tid bits are not hard to come by. Heyward made one pretty easy to find in Thursday's Braves win over the Nationals.

Heyward's solo home run in the second inning that put the Braves ahead by two was his second consecutive home run on Opening Day, even second consecutive home run in his first at bat of the season. He joined Kaz Matsui as the only player to do so in his first two Opening Days of his career. One of hopefully many records Heyward will reach in his career.

Andruw Jones holds the Braves record for most Opening Day home runs with four. Brian McCann, Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy have or had two or more. Heyward joined Chipper Jones, Joe Torre, Edgar Renteria, Ryan Klesko and David Justice at two each.

Derek Lowe's Slider Count:
Heyward wasn't the only Brave making waves in the Opening Day win. Lowe picked up where he left off in the opener, allowing three hits and two walks over 5.2 shutout innings, striking out six. His GB/FB ratio was 7/2. Pitches/strikes was 105/59.

More sliders were key to Lowe's September turnaround last season, and he continued the pattern in his first game of 2011. Lowe threw sliders 33% of the time in this game compared to 16% over the entire 2010 season. While that number will fluctuate game to game due to various factors, the difference between the two numbers is noteworthy.

He threw first-pitch sliders to eight of the 21 batters he faced, and the slider was an out pitch on seven of the 21. This may seem insignificant, but for a sinkerballer that relies so heavily on one pitch most of the time, this is pretty big, and I think it has a lot to do with his success when he's on.

Braves vs. Livan Hernandez:
Success against Hernandez was small and difficult to find, but what little success there was came back to the usual guys. Against Hernandez, Chipper Jones went 1-3 with a double and scored, Brian McCann went 2-3 with a RBI, and Jason Heyward went 1-2 with a home run and RBI. This trio had the best numbers against Hernandez coming in, and they showed up when the Braves needed it.

WPA (Win Probability Added) Leaders:
(ATL) Derek Lowe: .317
(ATL) Jason Heyward: .112
(ATL) Craig Kimbrel: .085

Game graph courtesy of FanGraphs:

Quotes via David O'Brien of the AJC:

Fredi Gonzalez:

On using Kimbrel clean inning, not Venters to face LaRoche first AB in 9th:

"We talked about that, and I said, we could be Johnny Manager here and left Venters face LaRoche. Roger goes, you know what, let’s just bring him in for a clean inning. If he’s got a mess, let’s let him get in own mess. In a perfect world, Venters gets him out. But if not, a base hit, now we’ve got to bring Kimbrel in with a runner on."

Fredi Gonzalez:

On Jason Heyward homering for the second consecutive Opening Day:

"Maybe we need to trick him on Saturday, tell him it’s Opening Day again. He hit that ball a ton. The very next inning, I thought Ankiel got his, and he made it the the warning track. It tells you how strong this guy Heyward is

Jason Heyward:

On the homer pitch:

"Cutter. He got it up. The last homer I got off Livan, I think he did the same thing. He just got a pitch up. I was fortunate to get a mistake."

"You go up there with a plan. You want to see something good to hit and try and jump on the first good pitch you get from Livan, because he’s able to make so many close pitches."

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