Braves 2B Peterson’s surge has him up to .293/.362

Jace Peterson, here avoiding a slide by the Reds' Brandon Phillips, has played solid defense and raise his average above .290 with a 15-game surge. (AP photo)
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Jace Peterson, here avoiding a slide by the Reds' Brandon Phillips, has played solid defense and raise his average above .290 with a 15-game surge. (AP photo)

 

  CINCINNATI – Amid Braves late-innings defeats, blown leads and/or impressive game-tying rallies to no avail during the 1-4 start to this nine-game road trip, there have also been plenty of encouraging signs, most of them from the offense and none more than Jace Peterson.

The second baseman, in his first full season in the majors, has played 30 games, the second 15 of which have yielded entirely different results than the first 15.

Jace Peterson, here avoiding a slide by the Reds' Brandon Phillips, has played solid defense and raise his average above .290 with a 15-game surge. (AP photo)

Jace Peterson, here avoiding a slide by the Reds’ Brandon Phillips, has played solid defense and raise his average above .290 with a 15-game surge. (AP photo)

After hitting .171 (7-for-41) with two RBIs, a .239 OBP and .220 slugging percentage through 15 games, Peterson has hit  .392 (20-for-51) with seven RBIs, a .458 OBP and .412 slugging percentage in his past 15 games entering tonight’s series finale against the Reds.

“I feel great,” said Peterson, who turned 25 on Saturday. “Really I haven’t changed much, just trying to be aggressive. Get a good pitch to hit and really just trust my swing, trust what I worked on, and I think that’s starting to kind of fall in place a little bit. Hopefully it keeps on coming.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been perhaps Peterson’s biggest fan going back to the first week of spring training, and has been playing him almost every day after a brief period of platooning.

“He’s getting good at-bats,” Gonzalez said. “We forget that he’s down there just kind of plugging away, and he’s hitting what, .280?” (Actually, he’s up to .293 with a .362 OBP after a two-hit night Wednesday that was his fifth multi-hit game in seven.) “He’s lined out with people on base – Uggla doubled somebody off the other day. Two (times) in that game.”

Peterson walked seven times and struck out just four in that latter 15-game span, and his stats would indeed be even more impressive if not for some line drives speared by opponents with runners on base, something that’s happened a few times on this trip already including the aforementioned diving play by former Braves second baseman Uggla with two on and none out Sunday at Washington.

(I’ll pause. “Uggla,” Braves Country mutters, shaking its collective fist.)

Despite those erased potential RBIs, in his past seven games Peterson is 11-for-25 (.440) with one strikeout, two stolen bases, a .500 OBP. Tuesday night, he had fifth multi-hit game in that seven-game span — he doubled, scored a run, drew a walk and stole a base in a 4-3 loss to the Reds, who won on a walkoff double by Devin Mesoraco against Braves closer Jason Grilli.

Even when Peterson wasn’t producing good stats early, teammates, coaches and team officials pointed out how many balls he was hitting hard right at people. He’s been a positive presence from Day 1 with his work habits and upbeat demeanor, and when he started getting some hits to fall, teammates seemed especially pleased for him.

What was the message he got from Braves veterans and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer during those first 15 games when he wasn’t getting much to go his way offensively?

“Chill out, keep working, keep playing yard, keep competing, keep believing,” Peterson said. “I mean, baseball’s a tough game. When it’s not good, it’s not good, and when it’s good, it’s great. So you’ve just got to go through ups and downs and not get too down, not get too up. Prepare the best you can, and at the end of the day, whatever happens, you’ve got to live with it.

“But as long as you put forth effort and do you best and play as hard as you can, I think the outcome will be good.”

  • Grilli’s recent struggles: After posting a 1.29 ERA, .087 opponents’ average and seven saves in his first seven appearances, Jason Grilli is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA, .444 opponents’ average and three saves in his past six appearances.

He allowed two hits, one run and two walks with 11 strikeouts in seven innings in his first seven appearances through April 25, and has allowed eight hits, five runs and two walks with six strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings in four appearances since.

He’s 0-2 with a blown save, an 8.10 ERA and .438 OA in his past four appearances against the Reds, two last season and two this season. Grilli allowed seven hits, three runs and two homers in 3 1/3 innings of those four appearances, only one of which – Tuesday’s game — came at Cincinnati’s cozy ballpark.

After missing three games with back spasms and not pitching in six days, Grilli gave up consecutive one-out hits in the ninth inning Wednesday to Brayan Pena, who is 2-for-3 against Grilli, and Devin Mesoraco, who is 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs against Grilli after his walkoff double.

Those two batters happen to have the highest averages among current Reds against Grilli, although Joey Votto is 2-for-6 with five walks and a .636 OBP against him.

Grilli said afterward that his back felt fine.

“A little rusty, maybe. But otherwise I felt fine,” he said. “Could have probably made a better pitch to (Pena). They’re a strong team at home.”

I asked him again at that point about the back, and he said there were no issues with it Tuesday.

“Yeah, back in the saddle,” Grilli said. “So, start from there.”

  • Top of order surging: The Braves’ first three hitters – leadoff man Nick Markakis, Andrelton Simmons and three-hole hitter Freddie Freeman – have continued to sizzle during the road trip.

Markakis went 0-for-12 with no walks and five strikeouts May 1-3 in the last three games of a four-game series against the Reds at Turner Field. In eight games since, he’s 12-for-34 (.343) with two doubles, four RBIs and a .395 OBP.

Simmons has hit .350 (14-for-40) with seven extra-base hits (two homers) in his past 10 games, for a .435 OBP and .650 slugging percentage in that span.

Freeman is 17-for-35 (.486) with six doubles, a homer and eight RBIs and eight runs during a nine-game hitting streak, with five walks, three strikeouts and a .550 OBP. He’s been hot longer than that, however, batting .374 (34-for-91) in his past 24 games through Wednesday with 12 doubles, three homers and a .447 OBP and .604 slugging percentage.

EY sitting, struggling:  Outfielder Eric Young Jr., in the lineup Tuesday for the first time in 10 games, went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and an ill-timed sac bunt (he did it on his own with a runner at second and pitcher Mike Foltynewicz due up next). Young is batting .159 with a .227 OBP and .275 slugging percentage, including .143 (1-for-7) against lefties and .161 (10-for-62) with a .235 OBP and .274 slugging percentage against righties.  Leading off innings, he’s 3-for-26 (.115) with a .207 OBP.

  • Close-and-late story: Braves hitters have seven homers in 178 at-bats in the late innings of close games, second-most in the NL behind the Dodgers’ eight homers in 159 at-bats in those situations. Two of Jonny Gomes’ three hits (13 at-bats) in close-and-late situations have been home runs, and Phil Gosselin is 5-for-11 with two doubles in those situations.

The problem is, Braves pitchers have ALLOWED a seven homers in close-and-late situations, tied with the Padres for most in the NL. Braves pitchers have a .287 opponents’ average in close-and-late situations, second-highest in the league. (Padres pitchers have given up a lot of homers in those spots, but their .221 opponents’ average in those situations is tied with St. Louis for second-lowest in the NL.)

Rookie Cody Martin has allowed two of them for the Braves, part of his .367 opponents’ average (11-for-30) and .600 slugging percentage allowed in close-and-late situations, and Grilli has allowed a .265 average (9-for-34) with three doubles, a homer and six RBIs in those situations.

• Tonight’s matchup: Braves lefty Eric Stults (1-3, 4.84 ERA) faces Reds rookie righty Raisel Iglesias, who is up from the minors to make his second start after allowing five hits, three runs and two walks in five innings for no decision in an April 12 loss to the Cardinals.

Stults has three quality starts in his past four games, allowing six runs and 15 hits in 18 1/3 innings of those three outings against the Mets and Nationals (twice). He got blown up two starts ago by the Reds, giving up 11 hits, six runs and two homers in seven innings at Turner Field, then allowed seven hits, three runs and two homers in six innings Friday against the Nationals.

He’s 1-2 with a  3.70 ERA in six games (three starts) against the Reds, but has only faced them once since 2013.

Against Stults, Brandon Phillips is 6-for-9 with a home run, Zack Cozart is 5-for-10, Marlon Byrd is 6-for-15 with a homer, and Todd Frazier is 1-for-8 with a homer.

  • Etc.

  The Braves led the majors with a .318 average with runners in scoring position before going 4-for-25 in the first two games of the Reds series. They have stranded at least one runner in 10 consecutive innings entering Wednesday’s series finale, but still lead the NL with a .303 average with runners in scoring position…. The Braves are 1-3 in games when tied after 8 innings, including Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss

We featured the great Afghan Whigs from Cincinnati in Monday’s blog. Today, another terrific band from these parts, The National. Enjoy this beauty.

“LITTLE FAITH” by The National

The National

The National

Little faith, follow me
I set a fire in a blackberry field
Make us laugh, or nothing will
I set a fire just to see what it kills

Now I’m stuck in New York
And the rain’s coming down
I don’t feel like we’ll go anywhere
Stuck in New York
And the rain’s coming down
Still in line for the vanity fair

Leave our red Southern souls
Head for the coast
Leave our red Southern souls
Everything goes

All our lonely kicks are getting harder to find
We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody cries
All our lonely kicks that make us saintly and thin
We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody wins

Awesome prince, get your sleep
Lose your heart in history
Make us laugh or nothing will
I set a fire just to see what it kills

Don’t be bitter, Anna
I know how you think
You’re waiting for Radio City to sink
You’ll find commiseration in everyone’s eyes
The storm will suck the pretty girls into the sky

All our lonely kicks are getting harder to find
We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody cries
All our lonely kicks that make us saintly and thin
We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody wins

Leave our red Southern souls
Head for the coast
Leave our red Southern souls
Everything goes


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