Braves notebook: Rookie catcher Bethancourt embracing opportunity
Christian Bethancourt’s second major league call-up could potentially force him to miss some time at All-Star weekend — the setting of his past two All-Star breaks. But after being showcased as one of the top catcher prospects in baseball in 2012 and 2013, he’ll gladly accept the alternative.
"When I got the call, it was exciting because I was going to be in my third straight game in the Futures Game," Bethancourt said. "If I’ve got to be here, I’d prefer a thousand times to be here."
Bethancourt made his 2014 debut in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader agains the Philadelphia Phillies, logging his first career MLB hit and showing off his Grade A arm in a successful stolen base attempt from speedy Philadelphia outfielder Ben Revere. He looked the part behind the plate, as he has for the past few seasons in the minors, and he allowed viewers a small window into his improvement at the plate during his age-22 season.
Bethancourt will make his second big league start on Monday night against the Mets.
"I’ve just been working all season," Bethancourt said of his work at the plate. "I haven’t changed anything since the first throw of the month I had in April. I mean, I didn’t change anything. I just keep working. My hitting coach (Garey Ingram) was like, ‘You’re fine. You just got to keep working.’ Just trying to be more consistent at the plate. I think that’s what I’ve been doing the last two months."
The big story concerning Bethancourt this season has revolved around his improved batting numbers and how the franchise might utilize him moving forward. After hitting .273/.304/.372 and three home runs in 247 plate appearances during his first shot at Triple-A, he’s been inching toward the majors.
All it took was an opportunity, which he received when Evan Gattis began experiencing spams in his right rhomboid muscle after a swinging miss at the plate in Houston.
The Braves sent reliever Juan Jaime down to make room for their newest addition behind the plate.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has immediately taken advantage of Bethancourt’s presence, starting him in two of the past three games. That’s not necessarily an indication that the Panamanian product has taken on a definitive role in the catcher rotation, though. His usage, on the other hand, is more about protecting the team’s other catching option and putting Bethancourt in good situations.
"I don’t want to run (backup catcher Gerald) Laird into the ground," Gonzalez said. "I think he caught five out of six days: two (games) in Houston — he got the first game and last game in Houston — and then three in Philly. Actually four straight, because he went Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. He missed the second game of the doubleheader. … So I don’t want to run him into the ground and run him into a possibility where we lose him or something."
Another part of Bethancourt’s usage has to do with the pitching options. Saturday night’s starter David Hale had worked with the young catcher plenty during their days in the minors — although the two players furiously texted back and forth prior to the game when Bethancourt’s arrival at Citizen’s Bank Park was delayed — while Monday’s rotation choice, Alex Wood, worked with him at both Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.
That could be a pattern to monitor moving forward, as long as Gattis remains unavailable.
"I was nervous last year, because I wasn’t expecting what day I was gonna play. It’s different this year," Bethancourt said. "I don’t like the way I got called up, because Evan Gattis was injured, and I’m here just to do my job. They called me. I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity. And that’s what I’m gonna do. … As a player, you don’t want to like over-think too much, you just want everything to happen."
Gonzalez said during his pregame media session that the reports had not yet come back on Gattis’ MRI on the injury. The team continues to keep Gattis off the disabled list until more information is available. Bethancourt’s time on the major league club — barring an unforeseen major change to the roster makeup — is likely contingent on those results and the subsequent timetable.
And if he misses the Futures Game, then so be it.
Injured Braves starter Gavin Floyd entered the Braves clubhouse and was soon horsing around with a soccer ball with his shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, on Monday afternoon. That’s about the only type of activity he can participate in at the moment, though, as his right arm remains in a full brace.
It’s a sight that’s been all too common with this Braves staff — Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy wore similar contraptions earlier in the year — and one that Floyd has been in ever since being diagnosed with a fractured right elbow during Atlanta’s recent road trip. X-rays found the fracture in the olecranon, a prominent bone in the elbow joint.
Floyd underwent season-ending surgery on Thursday. The big picture remains unclear, though.
"We gotta let it heal first," Floyd said of his rehab and future plans. "That’s the thing: everybody heals differently. Just gotta take the pictures and when I see everything up there (in New York City) and see how it’s healing, we’ll get a timetable after that probably. … It’s the bone. I guess that’s the bright side of this: it’s not the Tommy John (surgery). It’s just the bone and bones heal. I get to see on the 24th of July, I go back up there, take an X-ray and see how things are going."
Floyd was 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA through 54 1/3 innings pitched after coming off Tommy John surgery this past offseason. It was the best he had pitched in years, and he felt he was improving with every start. But after his second elbow surgery in as many seasons, he has not received definitive word that he will pitch again.
"Now, it’s kind of the healing process," he said. "It takes time for the bone to heal. Just praying and waiting."