This player preview was written by Corey Crocker, who posts here as palioc33.
Javier Vazquez came over to the Braves from the White Sox in a December trade that sent them our "coveted", but blocked, catching prospect Tyler Flowers. Vazquez is coming off a not so spectacular 2008 season in which he posted a 12-and-16 record with a 4.67 ERA. Along with Vazquez we signed Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to bolster a starting rotation that was devastated by injuries last year. Derek Lowe was signed to be our ace, but because of Vazquez's recent mediocre seasons in Chicago people seem to forget just how dominating, and Ace-like, his stuff can be.
Over his career he comes close to about a strikeout per inning. At times he can dominate games, but he can also implode and not get out of the 3rd inning. But there is a reason the Braves traded for him and why Bobby Cox likes him so much -- it's his dominating stuff. The only issue with Vazquez appears to be his mental toughness when it comes to big games. Last year Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager, called Vazquez out in September for not being a big game pitcher. It was meant to light a fire under him, but in his 3 starts after the comments he gave up 5 runs or more each time and never got out of the 5th inning. In the 3 games before the comments he didn't give up more than 2 runs a game and pitched at least 6 innings each time out.
On the surface it looks like the comments had a negative impact on him. And how can you blame him when your team is in a pennant race and trying to make the postseason and every game you pitch is important, and your manager comes out and pretty much says he has no confidence in you. In the case of Vazquez, he might have believed him.
Now Vazquez is coming back to the National League where he had some of his best success, much of it with the Montreal Expos. He is also going to pitch for Bobby Cox who, as we all know, never criticizes his players and does nothing but give them his full support. Some might look at this as a small factor but it's not something that should be overlooked for a player like Vazquez. Having a manager that players know has complete confidence in them and supports them just might be the mental boost a guy like Vazquez needs. Not to mention a return to the NL and being closer to his family, who lives in Puerto Rico.
All these things add up to a certain comfort level that he didn't seem to have while playing with the White Sox, Arizona, and New York the past several years. With his mind in the right place, and not thinking about how he is going to implode as his manager predicted, he will be able to relax and concentrate on pitching and getting hitters out. He may not be the true ace we were hoping to get this winter but don't be shocked when he puts up some pretty good numbers and reminds some of the Vazquez from Montreal that we all coveted. And in the long tradition of Atlanta Braves pitchers, he swings a pretty decent stick.
Thanks to Corey for a great preview of our new pitcher.