Escobar still hot in cold temperatures

Not even snow and frigid temperatures could cool off Yunel Escobar's bat.

The Cuban infielder saw the white stuff for the first time as Richmond had its opening series postponed in Buffalo, then had to play in temperatures in the 30s as the International League seasons finally got started in Scranton, Pa.

But Escobar went 8-for-16 with three doubles and four RBIs in the four-game series against the New York Yankees affiliate, continuing his hot hitting from last fall and this spring despite the elements.

"I don't think I've seen anybody in baseball with less flesh exposed," R-Braves manager Dave Brundage told the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the way Escobar bundled up.

The 24-year-old is used to dealing with much greater adversity. He fled Cuba with 35 other defectors on a small boat in 2004.

It had been Escobar's dream to play baseball in the United States since longtime friend Brayan Pena defected during a youth tournament in Venezuela during 1999. Now, Escobar may be near joining Pena in Atlanta with the Braves.

"He'll be here some day soon," Pena said. "It will be great to play together again."

Escobar hit .407 to win the Arizona Fall League batting title last year, then wowed the Braves this spring by hitting .373 in the Grapefruit League while also dazzling at shortstop and third base.

"He's going to be a real good hitter, he is right now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He stays on the ball a long time, which I consider very important. He's definitely impressive, and not just with the bat."

Richmond suffered through a dismal season last year, but that is expected to change this year. One of the big reasons is the double play combination of shortstop Escobar and second baseman Martin Prado, who also had an impressive spring.

"They could both play up here right now," Cox said.

Richmond (AAA)

After going 3-1 against Scranton, the R-Braves lost their home opener to Indianapolis 6-2 on Friday. Center fielder Gregor Blanco was 2-for-3 with a walk, raising his average to .421. Indianapolis scored three runs in the fifth inning off Rich Scalamandre and added two in the seven against former Georgia pitcher Will Startup. . . . Buddy Hernandez, who hadn't pitched since May 5, 2005, picked up a win in relief and didn't allow a run in his first 42⁄3 innings. The right-hander almost made the Atlanta roster out of spring training before being struck down by a forearm problem two years ago. . . Trey Hodges, who was with Atlanta all of the 2003 season, is also coming back after surgery. The former LSU star, in the Richmond rotation, missed last season because of a hand problem.

Mississippi (AA)

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 3-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs as the M-Braves won their Southern League home opener 12-6 over Carolina. The switch-hitter also homered the next day and went into the weekend hitting .375. . . . Outfielder Matt Esquivel, who was suspended for the second half of last season, also hit a home run in the home opener and had nine RBIs through eight games. . . . Outfielder Brandon Jones, batting .364, won a game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against Carolina. . . . Reliever Lee Hyde was called up from Class A Myrtle Beach to make an emergency start and allowed just two hits in five innings as Mississippi won 5-1 to complete an opening 3-2 road series at Huntsville.

Myrtle Beach (A)

Right-hander Moises Hernandez, the older brother of the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez, won his first two starts, posting a 1.69 ERA. He was acquired from Baltimore before last season as compensation for the Orioles signing away Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone. . . . Isaiah Ka'aihue, who started the season 0-for-16, drove in four runs with a homer, double and sacrifice fly as the Pelicans beat Winston-Salem 10-1 to complete a doubleheader sweep in the Carolina League. The first baseman from Hawaii hit 28 homers last season while playing for Rome and Myrtle Beach. . . . Second baseman Diory Hernandez, hitting .393, went 4-for-4 in the nightcap victory over the Warthogs and third baseman Eric Campbell scored four runs on a single and three walks.

Rome (A)

Former Parkview and Georgia Tech pitcher Tim Gustafson got the victory as Rome ended its season-opening losing streak at six games in the South Atlantic League by beating Kannapolis 11-3. Gustafson (1-1) allowed two hits and one run in six innings, striking out six and walking none while lowering his ERA to 1.80. The right-hander has given up four hits over 10 innings in his two starts, with nine strikeouts and one walk. . . . Rome scored just five runs in the first five games. The team hadn't homered until Jordan Schafer and Chad Lundahl connected in the first victory. . . . The 1-7 opening homestand came a year after Rome had gotten off to a 20-4 start.