The Pirates' series against the Braves kicks off at 7:05 PM Friday, so here's a brief interview with Braves blogger Martin Gandy of Talking Chop. (UPDATE: I answer some questions about the Pirates here.)
Bucs Dugout: How's Mike Gonzalez working out for you?
MG: He's working out great! He and Rafael Soriano are ending the game for the opponent after the seventh inning. After the bullpen disaster we had last year, it's a very refreshing change to have guys who can shut the other team down in not just the ninth, but the seventh and eighth innings.
BD: Do you see Brent Lillibridge starting for the Braves in the near future? If not, what will his role be?
MG: I do. He's got loads of talent and really likes leading off. We are pretty deep at the shortstop position, though, and he's sort of twice blocked by Edgar Renteria and Yunel Escobar, so I'm not sure when he'll get his chance. He's also not having as dominant of a year as he did last season.
BD: Anthony Lerew will make his second career start for the Braves on Sunday. What's the scouting report on Lerew, and will he be good enough to end the Mark Redman experiment?
MG: Lerew is a changed pitcher from the last two seasons. Our pitching coach, Roger McDowell, got him to scrap his split-finger fastball and taught him to throw a sinking two-seam fastball to go along with a great four-seam fastball he already had. His first start the other day was very impressive. He was getting batters out with low sinking pitches as well as throwing high fastballs by hitters. Not that being good enough to end the Mark Redman experiment is that much of a compliment, but yes, with another good start or two it will hopefully be over.
BD: Are you surprised by Kelly Johnson's performance so far? He's quietly been one of the best second basemen in baseball.
MG: I guess I am. If you look at it a bit more in depth, he has been exactly what I thought he'd be, which is a very streaky hitter. The first two weeks of the season he struggled, then he hit lights out for the next two and now he's struggling again. What I guess I have been surprised about is how good his defense has been. That, and his patience at the plate in drawing walks has allowed him to cover up his offensive streakiness.
BD: Will the Braves still be at or near the top of the NL East standings in September?
MG: It's going to be tough to best the Mets, and the Phillies will probably get better, so it will be a very tough division. I think it's way too early to call it or even say that we'll be there, but I hope we will be.
BD: Craig Wilson has a lot of fans in Pirate internet circles, but he's been terrible this season. Do you think he'll stick with the Braves the whole year?
MG: It all depends on how Scott Thorman performs and if anyone else from the minor leagues can push him from the lineup or the roster. We weren't afraid to cut Raul Mondesi a couple of years ago (though that was a bit different), and we were amazingly unafraid to trade Ryan Langerhans after his terrible start this year. I think Wilson's a pretty quirky and interesting guy, but that can wear really thin when you're not performing.