Winning streaks are rare for Braves’ new mix of veterans
ATLANTA (AP) In the Braves’ new world, even small successes are to be savored.
The Braves celebrated their second straight win over the last-place Phillies on Wednesday night. The win wasn’t memorable except that it gave Atlanta its first two-game winning streak since opening the season 5-0.
It also brought the Braves, who open a weekend series at Washington on Friday night, back to .500. That’s another small success because there is a feeling – at least from outside the clubhouse – that breaking even might be too much to ask of this patchwork roster.
Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Melvin Upton were traded in a massive purge. The trades took away most of the team’s power hitters, the best closer in franchise history and the entire starting outfield.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried 28 new lineups in 28 games, mixing in veterans A.J. Pierzynski, Kelly Johnson, Cameron Maybin, Eric Young Jr., Alberto Callaspo and Jonny Gomes. He is the majors’ only manager to write a new lineup in every game.
”I’m not trying to do that. I just put it together … I swear to you,” Gonzalez said.
”But it has worked. It really has worked to keep guys fresh and … putting them in a situation where they can be successful. That’s what we’re trying to do all the time.”
Like Pierzynski and Gomes, 38-year-old closer Jason Grilli is a short-term fix while the Braves build toward the 2017 opening of their new stadium.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis are the only daily locks for the lineup. The hope is that catcher Christian Bethancourt earns his place as a fixture in the lineup, but so far he is hitting only .159.
Pierzynski, 38, has hit .344 to take some pressure off Bethancourt. Johnson, 33, has a team-leading six homers with starts at third base, left field and right field.
”We’ve got three guys we’re going to lean on every day,” Johnson said. ”All the rest of the guys, we’re going to prepare to do our best and keep putting us in a position to succeed more times than not.”
The Braves have the majors’ third-fewest strikeouts and fifth-most runs. That’s a big turnaround from recent seasons when they ranked among the leaders in strikeouts.
”I think that is because we have been able to put a lineup out there that puts the ball in play,” Gonzalez said. ”I believe it is a product of that, and not striking out.”
For fans who regularly booed such free swingers as Melvin Upton and Dan Uggla, the change has been refreshing.
Rookie second baseman Jace Peterson, is hitting .286. He was one of four prospects acquired from San Diego for Justin Upton. Another second baseman, top prospect Jose Peraza, is at Triple-A Gwinnett.
With left-hander Mike Minor on the 60-day DL with a shoulder problem, most of the rotation has struggled. The bullpen also is thin. But the offseason trades brought hope.
Right-hander Shelby Miller, acquired from the Cardinals for Heyward, has been Atlanta’s best starter. He is 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA. Hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, acquired from Houston in the Gattis trade, is 2-0 in his first two starts, despite a 5.23 ERA.
Right-hander Matt Wisler, who came from San Diego with Maybin and others for Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, holds top-prospect status at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Gonzalez said he’s enjoying the new challenges – even if winning streaks have been rare.
”I still get fired up and I do this every day, 162 times – 162 lineups,” Gonzalez said with a laugh.