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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Adjustment gets Gattis back to ‘being me’ at plate

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  NEW YORK – It wasn’t just Evan Gattis’ four-hit game Wednesday at Philly, or his three homers in two games, that caused Freddie Freeman to gush a bit over the catcher’s recent offensive performance.

“I guess he likes Philadelphia a little bit,” Freeman said, smiling. “But you could tell last week that he was starting to get the hang of things. He’s going up through the middle, his swing path’s through the zone a long time. So it’s no surprise what he’s doing.”

After going 0-for-4 in the March 31 opener at Milwaukee, Gattis is 14-for-33 (.424) with two doubles, four homers, seven RBIs and six strikeouts in nine April games.  And in two-strike situations, where he really struggled as a rookie, he is 5-for-20 with three homers so far this season.

When I mentioned to him what Freeman had said about his swing path, Gattis nodded to confirm and then explained.

Julio Teheran and Evan Gattis after Teheran pitched a shutout Wednesday at Philly. (AP Photo)

Julio Teheran and Evan Gattis after Teheran pitched a shutout Wednesday at Philly. (AP Photo)

“It’s really just taking my hands directly to the ball,” he said, demonstrating how he holds the bat and moves his hands toward the ball as it approaches the plate. “I was doing it even during spring training, though the results weren’t there. I talked to Freddie a lot and to CJ (Chris Johnson) a lot. It’s really about what you try to do with the ball. I’m not trying to do too much. And lately it’s been a feel thing, trying to get finer and finer with that.

“But really, I’m just trying to take my hands to the ball. I’m not, like, guessing at pitchers or anything like that. Just trying to get a knock (hit), you know? Our first game (in Philadelphia), there was a change-up in, a two-strike change-up in. And I could just feel the bat head coming through.”

“(Facing Washington’s) Tanner Roark last week, sliders down, I didn’t bite on a couple of pitches.”

Asked if he felt better now than he has in the past, Gattis said yes, but…

“It’s still early,” he said. “But yeah.”

There might be a perception that he’s feeling more like a hitter now than a pure power hitter. But Gattis notes that before last season, when he hit .243 with 21 homers (second among MLB rookies) and 81 strikeouts in 354 at-bats, he was a .300 hitter in the minor leagues (actually .308) and also hit .303 when he had a league-leading 16 homers in Venezuelan winter ball.

“Yeah, maybe just being more myself now,” he said. “I kind of got away from that last year. I hit some home runs but my average wasn’t there; it’s the lowest I ever hit for average. I understand better defense, better pitching and all that (affecting it in the major leagues), but last year at the end of the year I still thought I didn’t hit for as good a average as I wanted to.”

On his early season improvement with two strikes, he said, “Two-strike change-ups and stuff like that, I’m trying to put the ball in play, first and foremost. And then (sometimes) you put backspin on it and it goes out.”

As he said, it’s early. Gattis knows not to get carried way by a fast start. A year ago, he hit .285 with 12 homers and a .628 slugging percentage 137 at-bats (42 games) through May 30, then hit .217 with nine homers and a .387 slugging percentage in 217 at-bats (63 games) the rest of the season.

But unlike last season, when Gattis pinch-hit and kept the catching job warm in April until Brian McCann returned, then spent most of the remainder of the season playing out of position in the outfield, this year he’s the primary catcher and will get plenty of rest on the approximately 50 days he’s not in the lineup. He’s had two knee surgeries, including an arthroscopic cleanup procedure in October, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wants to do all he can to keep Gattis healthy for the season.

By the way, Gattis has now played 30 games in April in his major league career. In those games, he’s hit .303 (33-for-109) with eight doubles, 10 homers, 23 RBIs, .342 OBP, .651 slugging percentage.

   He’s tied for with four other players for the major league lead with four road homers, and he’s hit .448 (13-for-29) with two doubles and three homers in eight night games.

  B.J. update: TheBraves have been encouraged by at least some modest progress from B.J. Upton, who is 10-for-42 (.238) with three extra-base hits, four walks, nine strikeout and a .304 OBP in his past 10 games. (Hey, if you consider how he hit last season, you’ll know why that’s progress.)

However, he’s still just 2-for-22 with runners on base, including 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. (He had a majors-worst .108 average in 93 at-bats with runners in scoring position in 2013).

Also, he’s 6-for-41 (.146) with a .146 OBP against right-handed pitchers. Upton is 5-for-17 (.294) with a .429 OBP against lefties, and faces a lefty Friday in the Mets’ Jon Niese.

Something that’s continued unabated is Upton’s alarming road work: He’s hit .139 (5-for-36) with a .205 OBP in nine road games this season, and in 70 road games as a Brave over two seasons he’s hit .176 (43-for-245) with two homers, seven RBIs (in 70 games!) and a .244 OBP and .233 slugging percentage.

In 70 home games as a Brave, Upton has hit .196 (40-for-204) with eight homers, 20 RBIs, .288 OBP and .358 slugging.

  Wood pitching like he belongs: Alex Wood is now 2-2 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts, the seventh-lowest ERA among  NL starters.  He has 24 strikeouts and seven walks in 27 innings. He allowed one run apiece in three of them and two in the other.

In his two losses, the Braves scored one and no runs.

For those who’ve asked – and there have been plenty – no, I can’t see him leaving the rotation anytime soon.

Alex Wood's strikeout on a failed sac bunt attempt Sunday was one of the few things the lefty has done wrong this season.

Alex Wood’s strikeout on a failed sac bunt attempt Sunday was one of the few things the lefty has done wrong this season. (Getty Images)

I will say I was a bit surprised Thursday when he got his first complete game (eight innings in 1-0 loss at Philly). Because  he was due up with a runner at second and none out in the top of the eighth in a then-scoreless game, and I thought the Braves would pinch-hit for him, rather than have Wood try to bunt the runner over (he failed in that attempt and struck out).

It just seemed like a good spot to pinch-hit, not like if you had, say, Tim Hudson in that situation and could be reasonably sure he’d get the bunt down. Plus, the Braves are going to be careful that Wood doesn’t throw too many innings this season. Probably around 175 would be a reasonable cap to expect, given their pattern in recent years based on a young pitcher’s previous season-high total. But they haven’t said specifically.

But so far, he’s tied for sixth in the NL with 27 innings, same as Cliff Lee. (Julio Teheran is tied for fourth with 28 innings, two off the league lead.)

Rotation is humming: The Braves rotation has been nothing short of terrific so far. Atlanta starters lead the majors with a 1.58 ERA, nearly full run better than next-best (Oakland 2.48, St. Louis 2.53). Meanwhile, the Nationals’ vaunted rotation has a 5.21 ERA that ranks 29th out of 30 teams.

And yes, we know it’s early. But given how the Braves lost two of their top three projected starters to elbow injuries in spring training, it’s been something to see them patch the holes and not just keep their heads above water, but pretty much dominate in the first 2 ½ weeks of the season.

Braves opponents have scored  two or fewer runs in eight of 14 games so far, and the starters are the ones mostly responsible for that.

Now they can look forward to adding Mike Minor, who’ll make his last scheduled rehab start tonight for Triple-A Gwinnett. Unless he decides he needs another rehab game, the lefty will move into the rotation next week with a home start either Wednesday against Miami or Friday against Cincinnati (the Braves are off Thursday).

Gavin Floyd also makes a rehab start tonight for Double-A Mississippi. Fredi Gonzalez has said Floyd might get two more minor league starts after tonight.

Braves-Phillies doubleheader: In case you missed the story we posted earlier at ajc.com, the Braves-Phillies game that was rained out Tuesday in Philadelphia will be made up as part of a split doubleheader on June 28, with start times of 2:05 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park.

The makeup game will turn the June 27-29 series at Philadelphia into a four-game series and make the three-city, June 19-29 trip into a 11-games-in-11-days grind for the Braves, who starts that trip with four games in Washington. They have an off day in Houston June 23 before a three-game series against the Astros, followed immediately by the four-gamer at Philadelphia.

The  original start time of the June 28 game has been moved up an hour from 3:05 p.m. to accomodate the split doubleheader (separate admission).

  Etc.

In his past 21 games against the Mets, Freddie Freeman is 29-for-81 (.358) with six homers and 20 RBIs….

 Dan Uggla has 11 homers and 26 RBIs in 42 games at Citi Field….

The Braves are 11-11 against the Mets since the beginning of the 2013 season, including three losses in the past four games. The Mets won two of three in Atlanta last week….

Opponents have hit .223 with a .288 OBP against the Braves, including .193 with a .251 OBP in road games

    Since being swept at home by the Nationals to start the season, the Mets are 8-4 in their past 12 games and coming off a three-game sweep against Arizona. They hit .307 with a 1.67 ERA while outscoring the Diamondbacks 21-5.

• Let’s close with one you might’ve heard from the Glimmer Twins, Mick and Keef. Click here to listen and see a great live performance.

“JUMPING JACK FLASH” by The Rolling Stones

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas.
But it’s all right.  I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas gas gasimages

I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back,
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas.
But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas gas gas

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head.
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas.
But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas gas gas

Jumping Jack Flash, its a gas
Jumping Jack Flash, its a gas
Jumping Jack Flash, its a gas
Jumping Jack Flash, its a gas

 

 

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