‘Humbled’ by ovation, Braves’ Francoeur shows he’s not player of old

ATLANTA — He posed for photos with his wife, Catie, and young daughter Emma, pulling them out on to the field.

Jeff Francoeur was enjoying the moment, but in his first game back with the Braves, he wasn’t getting caught up in it.

"I’m at that point now, there’s no need to put pressure on yourself," the 32-year-old said before Monday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Nationals. "I’m too old for that, to feel like I’ve got to do that. I’ve learned my lesson."

But he couldn’t deny the reaction he received from the Turner Field crowd when Francoeur came to bat in the eighth inning as pinch hitter.

"That was a pretty humbling experience out there," Francoeur said of the ovation. "Just wish the ending could have been different for us, man. We had a couple of bad little breaks at the end of the game, but I liked the way everybody played and competed. Guys had some good at-bats off Scherzer, that’s not an easy guy."

There weren’t shades of his debut in the stadium, when he hit a three-run home run for his first major league hit. This was Francoeur 2.0, and he was doing something he didn’t do often as a Brave.

Jeff Francoeur walked.

HIs free-swinging ways defined his first go-around in Atlanta, from 2005-09, when he never had a walk rate higher than 6.0 percent, with that figure at 4.0, along with a 21.2 percent strikeout rate in ’05. But this Francoeur, the one that earned a job out of spring training as a non-roster invitee, worked a 2-1 count against Nationals reliever Felipe Rivero, before earning a free pass after seven pitches.

Four batters later, Francoeur scored when Shawn Kelley came on to pitch for Washington and walked Adonis Garcia on four pitches.

He was at his best as a pinch hitter in Philadelphia last season, a revival for the player who was once featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as The Natural, and the face of the Baby Braves, the 18 rookies who helped Atlanta extend its run of division titles. In 31 plate appearances off the bench in 2015, Francoeur hit .355/.567/.922 with a home run and 11 RBI. But this was his first walk as a pinch hitter since 2014, and just the fifth in 67 trips to the plate in the role over 12 major league seasons.

Francouer said the day felt different. The trip in to the stadium, walking into the stadium’s bowels and, for the first time since 2009, returning to the Braves clubhouse.

"I woke up this morning and was driving here with zero nerves, just looking forward to playing, getting out there today, maybe getting an at-bat, see what happens," he said. "But like I’ve said, I’ve taken a whole different approach this year."

Like drawing a walk.

Francoeur wasn’t kept on the roster to be the next Braves superstar that so many believed he would be in 2005. Jeff Francoeur has changed. He’s a veteran with a role, and that’s all the 2016 Braves need him to be.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ comes out April 12, 2016., and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.