Ex-AL homer champ Bautista adds punch to Braves lineup

ATLANTA — The Atlanta lineup is now considerably older and the Braves hope even more potent with the addition of veteran slugger Jose Bautista.

The 37-year-old former two-time American League home run champion doubled in his first at-bat for the Braves on Friday against San Francisco and will be back at third base — his former and now present position — for the middle game of the series on Saturday.

“It makes (our lineup) that much longer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Bautista’s addition. “Don’t think people in that other dugout aren’t aware of this guy when he’s up there? I knew we were when he was playing against us the last few years.”

The Giants (17-15) got the best of the National League East-leading Braves (19-12) in the series opener, snapping Atlanta’s five-game winning streak with a 9-4 victory.

The Braves were already leading the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, but Bautista gives them a right-handed hitter for the middle of the order.

“There are a bunch of great players here,” said Bautista, who was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game. “You can tell the energy they bring every day and the athleticism that (allows them) to do special things. The lineup didn’t need much added on, but I’m thankful that they are giving me the opportunity.”

Unsigned as a free agent prior to the season, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos called on his relationship with Bautista while general manager in Toronto and signed the six-time All-Star to a minor league contract on April 18 that will pay him a prorated portion of $1 million in the majors.

Bautista played 12 minor league games while transitioning from the outfield to his original position of third base, going 5-for-16 with a double and homer in his first four outings with Triple-A Gwinnett.

“I know I had a bad season last year,” said Bautista, who hit just .203 with Toronto in 2017. “But it’s about adjustments and my body is ready to go. … Hopefully, I hit the ground running.”

Left-hander Ty Blach (2-3, 4.10 ERA) will start for the Giants on Saturday, with veteran right-hander Brandon McCarthy (4-0, 3.09 ERA) getting the call for the Braves.

Blach pitched well last season in his only career game against the Braves, while McCarthy, in his first season with Atlanta, has struggled against the Giants no matter which team he was with.

Blach has a 2.81 ERA on the road this season compared to 5.06 at home, but it was in San Francisco last May where he limited the Braves to six hits and two runs over 7 2/3 innings in a victory.

McCarthy, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers during the winter, is 1-3 with a 7.34 ERA in seven career outings against the Giants, allowing a .313 opposing batting average.

McCarthy has brought the veteran presence to the rotation that the Braves were looking for, but he has completed the sixth inning in only one of his seven starts.

Blach has also been unable to work deep into games, but he snapped a five-start winless streak by beating the Dodgers for the second time this season in his most recent start, allowing six hits and two runs over six innings in San Francisco

McCarthy, also pitching last Sunday, won at Philadelphia while limiting the Phillies to five hits and a run over 5 1/3 innings.