There are several reasons why backup catcher David Ross will start ahead of former All-Star Brian McCann against St. Louis in the National League wild-card game on Friday.
McCann has been battling shoulder and knee injuries for most of the season and Ross has been a hotter hitter of late. Ross also is better defensively and has caught two of Kris Medlen’s best games this year.
Still, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez battled with the decision for “three or four days” before telling McCann on Wednesday that Ross will start.
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“He’s beat up. He’s been banged up for a while,” Gonzalez said about McCann before a team workout at Turner Field on Thursday. “Again, a one-game series, you go with Rossy. In a longer series, (McCann is) going to play. He’s not that banged up.”
McCann, who hit .230 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI — career lows in each category for the six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger — has hit .201 since Aug. 1. He hit nine home runs in July, but has only two since.
Ross has been one of the Braves’ top hitters the past 10 days (five hits, two homers and four RBI).
Perhaps even more important, Medlen (10-1, 1.57), who is 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in his 12 starts since joining the rotation on July 31, had two his best starts with Ross behind the plate.
Medlen struck out 12 batters in a 6-1 complete-game win over the Rockies on Sept. 3 and then had a career-high 13 strikeouts in seven innings in a 2-1 victory over the Nationals on Sept. 14.
McCann caught Medlen on Sept. 8 (three strikeouts in six innings) and on Sept. 19 (six strikeouts in eight innings) before Ross caught him again on Sunday (four strikeouts in six innings).
“I love Brian McCann too, but throwing to Rossy, he almost invents stuff in the middle of the game, which kind of fires you up,” Medlen said. “I mean, you haven’t thrown a certain pitch the entire game, and when we need to make a pitch, he’ll call an inside changeup to a righty, and you’re just like, ‘OK. Are you sure?’ It makes you want to execute it. … He’s great behind the plate and I’m super happy that he’s catching.”
Gonzalez said he hopes the combination of Medlen, who is quick to first, and Ross will help slow the Cardinals on the bases, although they were 13th in the NL with 91 steals this season.
McCann has received two cortisone shots in his right shoulder the past two months and might be facing offseason shoulder surgery. He has come to terms with the decision.
“I wish I was playing, but I’m not. That’s it,” McCann said. “Rossy’s been playing unbelievable. And I’m his biggest fan. He’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s going to play great. I hope I get in there somehow, maybe pinch hit late. We’ll see.”