Atlanta Braves give Evan Gattis start at 1st base
The unusual journey Evan Gattis traveled to get to the majors with the Atlanta Braves took him to a new destination Friday night: first base.
Thrown into a position he hasn't played since seven games in Class A in 2011, the 26-year-old rookie took some practice grounders before Atlanta's game against the Washington Nationals.
''I knew it was a possibility, for sure,'' Gattis said about playing first base, adding: ''I mean, I didn't take it too seriously.''
Since making the opening day club despite arriving at spring training as a non-roster invitee who never had played above Double A, Gattis has been splitting time at catcher with Gerald Laird.
But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted to have Laird behind the plate Friday for the sixth career start of right-handed pitcher Julio Teheran - and also didn't want to take the hot-hitting Gattis out of the lineup. So with regular first baseman Freddie Freeman on the disabled list, Gonzalez went with Gattis at that spot and shifted Chris Johnson, who's been playing first base, across to third.
''He'll be fine,'' Gonzalez said about Gattis, who said he grew up playing first base and spent time there in college.
''We're not going to ask him to do anything crazy at first base. ... He's comfortable,'' Gonzalez said. ''(If) we're winning the game late in the game or something, we'll make a move. We'll move a better defender there. Or leave him in the game and put him behind the plate.''
The manager joked that if Nationals leadoff batter Denard Span tries bunting toward first base, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gattis might ''just tackle him.''
Gattis walked away from baseball not long after high school, and dealt with bouts with depression and drugs, and says he held a series of jobs ranging from janitor to cart boy at a golf course. He eventually returned to the game and was picked by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 amateur draft.
Making his way to spring training this year without any guarantee of a job, Gattis got some work at catcher and in left field during camp.
He hit six homers in the spring, earning a spot on the team as a catcher who would split time behind the plate with Gerald Laird while Atlanta waits for Brian McCann to recover from shoulder surgery.
And talk about taking advantage of an opportunity: Gattis entered Friday hitting .391 with three homers and six RBIs.
''It's that old adage of, I know that he's going to get four at-bats. We don't know if he's going to get four ground balls hit to him in the course of the game,'' Gonzalez said. ''He's a big part of our lineup right now, a big part of our offense.''
Harvey Valentine contributed to this report.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich