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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Make no mistake, Braves will miss Gattis’ big bat

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On a night when the Braves matched their season-high five-game winning streak with a stirring, up-off-the-mat, 5-3 comeback win against the Mets, the most significant development Monday was a negative one: El Oso Blanco is down.

An MRI revealed that Evan Gattis has a bulging thoracic disc in his upper back, not the muscle strain that was originally diagnosed after he left Friday’s game at Philadelphia. He was placed on the 15-day DL last night, retroactive to Saturday, the day after his last game.

The Braves will have to to make do for a while without Evan Gattis, who led the team in June in average, OBP, slugging percentage, homers and RBIs.

The Braves will have to to make do for a while without Evan Gattis, who led the team in June in average, OBP, slugging percentage, homers and RBIs.

He told us after Monday’s game that he didn’t know if it all happened on the one swing where he felt it pinch, and said he didn’t know how soon he might return, although he was told that surgery was not required in 90 percent or more of patients with this type of injury. Repeat, surgery usually not required.

(I was assured today by someone else familiar with this situation that it’s very unlikely Gattis would need surgery.)

“I’ll get an epidural at some point,” said Gattis, who was expected to get that injection today. “After that we’ll just see. I’m not sure what he timetable will be. I don’t think it will be too long term. Obviously, disappointing, but I’m just ready to get back out there.”

So there’s some reason for optimism for the Braves and their fans.  Because frankly folks, if this thing became something that took months instead of weeks to recover from, it would be a major blow to the Braves’ chances of making the playoffs. Yes, they’ve overcome injuries before, but this is a particularly inconsistent offense, and Gattis has carried a bigger load than anyone could’ve imagined he would need to – or that many believed he was capable of carrying.

They will unquestionably miss his big bat in the middle of the lineup for however long he’s out, and the injury comes at a time when Gattis has been on fire.

His .558 slugging percentage is 55 points higher than the team’s next best (Justin Upton’s .503). He’s tied with Upton for the team home-run lead with 16 in 224 at-bats (62 fewer ABs than Upton). Those numbers aren’t as shocking as this: He’s tied with Freddie Freeman for the team lead in batting average at .290. That’s an indication of how far Gattis has come in his overall hitting approach after making a couple of adjustments to his swing this season.

Gattis leads the team with 12 homers and a .516 slugging percentage against right-handers, and his .375 average (15-for-40) against lefties ranks second on the team to Chris Johnson’s .447. Gattis and Justin Upton have slugged .750 against lefties.

At Turner Field, Gattis has hit .323 with nine homers, 24 RBIs and a team-best .626 slugging percentage in 29 games and 99 at-bats. Yes, he has an even higher home slugging percentage than Justin Upton, who has hit .328 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in 37 games (137 at-bats) at Turner Field.

On the road, Freeman (.521) and Gattis (.504) are the only Braves with slugging percentages as high as .400.

With runners on base, Gattis leads the Braves with a .315 average (29-for-92) and seven homers, and his .598 slugging percentage with runners on base is more than 100 points higher than the team’s next-best (Freeman .484).

For the month of June, Gattis led the Braves in average (.353, 30-for-85), OBP (.402) and slugging percentage (.635), and despite playing only 22 games he also led them in home runs (seven) and RBIs (17).

So yeah, they’re going to miss him. Period.

“It’s a huge blow to lose anybody like that who comes to the field every day, wants to play, is dangerous in the box, and he’s hungry,” Heyward said after last night’s game, before finding out the extent of Gattis’ injury. “He wants to to get it done every night on both sides of the ball. Just seeing him take some big strides this year, behind the plate and at the dish – we’re going to miss that.

“I mean, (injuries are) part of the game unfortunately. Everybody deals with them. But I’m happy for him, the season he was having for us so far.”

If there’s anything good that could possibly come out of this, it’s that catcher Christian Bethancourt, the Braves top position-player prospect and a guy we’ve been talking about for several years, will get a real opportunity to play a lot and show if he’s ready or how close he is to being ready.

In his first two big-league starts the rangy, cannon-armed kid from Panama has impressed, particularly behind the plate. I’d seen Bethancourt’s extremely quick “pop time” – the time it takes from the moment a ball hits the catcher’s glove till it’s caught on his throw to second base – in the Arizona Fall League and spring-training games, but to see him do it in a major league game that counts, to see him nearly throw out Ben Revere in Philly despite Revere getting a huge jump, is something else.

One scout told me he had Bethancourt at 1.77 seconds on a throw to second base in his first major league start Saturday. Most major league catchers are in the 1.9-2.1 range, and an elite guy like Yadier Molina is usually in the 1.85-1.9 range. Pudge Rodriguez usually averaged around 1.85 seconds in the prime of his career.

Anyway, with Bethancourt and veteran backup Gerald Laird expected to split the catching duties – Fredi Gonzalez wouldn’t say how that split might go — while Gattis is out, the Braves are going to be as good or better defensively. Perhaps quite a bit better with Bethancourt behind the plate, although the rookie’s game-calling is obviously going to be a work in progress, much as Gattis’ game-calling has been.

But offensively? The Braves are losing a ton. Laird is a damn good backup catcher and has come up with some big hits over the past couple of years. But “G-Money” is a .222 hitter with no homers and a .289 slugging percentage in 90 at-bats this season, and Bethancourt has a total of two starts and nine plate appearances in the majors.

His offense has really come along in the past two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, and he has the speed, athleticism and improving swing to eventually become a well-above-average hitting major league catcher with decent power and a lot of extra-base hits. But anyone expecting Bethancourt to do anything remotely similar to what Gattis does at the dish, shouldn’t.

Gattis will be missed plenty. But again, if this is something that only takes a few weeks or so to recover from, it could end up being a positive for the Braves in that Bethancourt will get a chance to show if he’s ready and to get valuable experience and be there if and when the Braves need him at any point in the second half.

 • La Stella stepping up: In Monday’s comeback win Tommy La Stella had two walks and a big RBI single in the four-run eighth inning, and now the rookie second baseman is batting .282 (31-for-110) with a .360 OBP and 14 RBIs in his first 31 games, with 14 walks and 11 strikeouts.

He leads NL rookies (min. 100 PAs) in batting average, but that really doesn’t begin to tell how valuable La Stella has been to the Braves since taking over at second base in what had been a black-hole position offensively before he arrived from Triple-A.

La Stella is 12-for-40 (.300) with runners on base and 9-for-25 (.360) with runners in scoring position, including 4-for-10 with one walk and no strikeouts with RISP and two outs. With the bases loaded, he’s 4-for-5 with a double, a triple and seven RBIs – and no strikeouts.

“Tommy La Stella’s been big for us over and over and over again,” teammate Jason Heyward said after Monday’s game. “Good for him, good for us.”

With two strikes, La Stella is 17-for-59 (.288) with 11 RBIs, eight walks, 11 strikeouts and a .373 OBP.

He’s just what this team needed, a line-drive hitter who puts the ball in play, doesn’t swing for the fences, and has a smart approach in various situations — with two strikes, with runners on base, etc.

La Stella hit .411 (23-for-56) with seven walks, five strikeouts and a .476 OBP in his first 16 games after arriving from Triple-A. Then he went 3-for-41 (.073) with a .133 OBP in his next 11 games, including five in the leadoff spot.

After Fredi Gonzalez gave him a one-day rest out of the lineup and moved him back down in the order, he’s gone 5-for-13 with three doubles, a triple, six RBIs, four walks and one strikeout in his past four games, with a .529 OBP in that span.

BRAVES LINEUP Tuesday

  1. BUpton cf
  2. Simmons ss
  3. Freeman 1b
  4. JUpton lf
  5. Heyward rf
  6. Johnson 3b
  7. La Stella 2b
  8. Bethancourt c
  9. Minor p

 

 Tonight’s matchup: It’s Mike Mnor, going for his first win in nearly six weeks, against Daisuke Matsuzaka, the erstwhile “Dice-K” who’s fallen a long way from his Red Sox days, but who has pitched solidly this season both in relief and in the starting rotation.

Minor’s last win was May 19, and he’s 0-3 with a 4.89 ERA and .297 opponents’ average in seven starts since then.

Let’s start with one of the troubling stats for Minor: Left-handed hitters are batting .364 (20-for-55) with six walks, 11 strikeouts and a .419 OBP against the lefty. However all 11 homers against him have been hit by right-handers, who’ve batted .272 (58-for-213) with 22 extra-base hits, 14 walks, 54 strikeouts and a .323 OBP against him. Lefties have a .491 slugging percentage against him, righties .484.

Last year he held lefty hitters to a .217 average and .260 OBP in 180 at-bats, compared to .237/.279 by righties. And in 2012 Minor allowed a .239 average and .303 OBP by lefty batters and .230/.292 by righties. So the turnaround this season, the way that lefty hitters have feasted against him, is particularly odd.

There’s more: On first pitches this season, opponents have hit .459 (17-for-37) with five doubles, two homers, .757 slugging percentage. After he gets ahead in counts 0-1, opponents 32-for-145 (.221) with .261 OBP. But after he gets behind 1-0, they’ve hit .337 (29-for-86) with a .420 OBP against him.

During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Minor never had anything similar to that type of first-pitch problem or disparity between results after 0-1 and 1-0 counts.

Minor is 1-4 with a 4.33 ERA and .297 opponents’ average in six starts at Turner Field, and he’s allowed eight homers in 35 1/3 innings at home. That included two homers among the 11 hits he gave up against the Angels in five innings of his last home start June 15. The Angels scored three against him in that game and Minor got no decision in a 7-3 win after the Braves scored all their runs following his exit.

The Braves haven’t scored while he’s been in his past three home games, and they’ve scored more than one run while he’s been in the game in just one of six home starts.

Minor is 4-2 with a 4.88 ERA in nine starts against the Mets, including 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA and .210 opponents’ average in three last season. He hasn’t faced them in 2014.

Against the Braves lefty, Ruben Tejada is 7-for-19, Luca Duda is 5-for-16 with a homer, but Daniel Murphy is 2-for-15. David Wright is 5-for-20 with two homers and seven strikeouts against Minor, but Wright has missed four games with a shoulder injury.

Matsuzaka is 2-2 with a 4.08 ERA in six starts, and has a 1.40 ERA in 17 relief appearances.

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and .111 opponents’ average in 12 home games (three starts), compared to 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA and .235 opponents’ average in 11 road games ( three starts). Matsuzaka has allowed just nine hits and four runs in 25 2/3 innings at Citi Field, and given up 24 hits and 17 runs (15 earned) in 27 1/3 innings on the road.

With runners in scoring position, Matsuzaka has limited opponents to a .104 average (5-for-48) with 10 walks, 12 strikeouts. And with RISP and two outs, opponents are 0-for-20 with six walks and eight strikeouts. That’s impressive, folks.

Against Matsuzaka, Freeman is 2-for-4 with a homer, Justin Upton is 2-for-3, Laird is 3-for-8, and Jordan Schafer is 2-for-2. The only Brave with more than eight at-bats against him is B.J. Upton, who’s 3-for-21 with three walks and six strikeouts.

• The first song  (and my favorite) off The National‘s Trouble Will Find Me album. Click here to see them do it live in Austin, and here for the album version.

“I SHOULD LIVE IN SALT” by The  National

The National

The National

Don’t make me read your mind
You should know me better than that
It takes me too much time
You should know me better than that
You’re not that much like me
You should know me better than that
We have different enemies
You should know me better than that

I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should leave it alone but you’re not right

Can’t you write it on the wall?
You should know me better than that
There’s no room to write it all
You should know me better than that
Can you turn the TV down?
You should know me better than that
There’s too much crying in the sound
I should know you better than that

I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should live in salt for leaving you behind
Behind

Think about something so much
You should know me better than that
Start to slide out of touch
You should know me better than that
Tell yourself it’s all you know
You should know me better than that
Learn to appreciate the void
You should know me better than that

I should live in salt for leaving you behind
Behind
I should live in salt for leaving you behind
Behind
I should live in salt for leaving you behind
Behind 

 

 

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