The Atlanta Braves started the 2011 season out on the right foot with a 2-0 victory over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington DC.
This Opening Day was different from all others with Bobby Cox not sitting on the bench and yelling encouragement to all the players.
It certainly wasn’t the same kind of open to the season as the Braves had last season in Turner Field against the Cubs, where the Braves offense exploded for 16 runs in their 16-5 victory, but 2-0 counts the same in the record book.
Atlanta only managed five hits against Livan Hernandez and the Washington bullpen. Fortunately, the Braves got great pitching from starter Derek Lowe and a near perfect 3.1 innings from their relievers.
The only similarity between last season’s opening day and this season’s other than the Braves winning was Jason Heyward hitting a home run in his first at bat.
Atlanta got their offensive production in the first two innings. In the first, Chipper Jones hit a two-out double and was driven home by a Brian McCann single for the first run of the season.
In the second, Jason Heyward smoked a leadoff solo homerun that just snuck over the right field wall to put the Braves up 2-0. That was it. All of the offense happened in the first two innings and the Braves dominant pitching allowed them to win their season opener.
Derek Lowe tossed 105 pitches over 5.2 innings of shutout work and he allowed only 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6.
Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, and Jonny Venters all kept the Nationals off the scoreboard to hand the ball to Craig Kimbrel, who officially shut the door on the Nationals with his first save of the season in an easy three up three down inning highlighted by two strikeouts.
Kimbrel and Venters should alternate occasionally in the closer/setup role, but Kimbrel is going to be the main closer for most of the season.
The Braves had some opening day struggles offensively that can be expected, but they did enough to get the win. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann led the Braves offense with two hits apiece and hopefully both of them can keep it up all season. Jason Heyward had the other hit with the aforementioned solo HR in the 2nd inning.
Dan Uggla made his Braves debut going 0/4 with a pair of strikeouts. Freddie Freeman also struggled in his debut as a starter going 0/3, but it’s just one game and I don’t expect long term struggles for either player.
The Braves certainly didn’t play their best on Thursday, but they were able to win and get this season rolling the right way. There’s a 161 of these games left, but it’s nice to get the Fredi Gonzalez era started with a win.
The Braves take today off before resuming their three game set with the Nationals on Saturday afternoon as Tommy Hanson takes the hill against John Lannan.