ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman strolled into the Braves’ clubhouse after his latest workout at third base Saturday, the rehabbing All-Star’s right shoulder iced and bandaged to the point it looked like cosplay body armor.
While the erstwhile first basemen’s transition to a new position as he recovers from a fractured wrist has raised eyebrows, the reason for his desire to move is appreciative of Freeman’s vote of confidence.
“Absolutely, that’s definitely going to build your confidence whenever a (future) Hall of Famer at first base wants to move positions,” said Matt Adams, who is hitting .297/.347/.641 as the Braves first baseman with 12 homers, seven doubles, a triple and 31 RBI.
“I can’t say enough. It speaks so highly of the type of guy he is and the type of teammate he’s willing to be and, just is true competitiveness to go out there and win.”
Adams, 28, went 1 for 4 in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Brewers, and in his last 11 games, has slashed .391/.442/.826, pushing his wRC+ to 133.
That latter figure is eight-best in the National League at the position among 1Bs with at least 170 at-bats, putting Adams just behind the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (135), and ahead of the Matt Carpenter (121) — the player who took Adams’ starting job with the Cardinals.
Adams’ wRC+ is also currently near the career high 135 he had in 2013 i n St. Louis when he racked up 319 plate appearances over 108 games. He admits he hasn’t felt this in sync since that breakout season.
“Honestly, no. I don’t think so,” Adams said. “Just the atmosphere of this team has helped that out. Just coming up to a club that never gives up until the final out is recorded. That’s a good spot to be in, knowing that no matter how many runs we’re down, we’re always going to keep fighting.
“That’s fun. This team is fun to be a part of and it’s fun to go out there on a daily basis and have fun with it.”
Especially at SunTrust Park.
Adams has hit eight of his home runs in the Braves’ new home — including one when he was still with St. Louis — and has 13 extra-base hits in all in 25 games. His .973 OPS isn’t far off from another stadium where he’s been on a tear in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark (1.066 OPS in 20 games with 10 home runs).
“This is a fun park to play in for sure,” Adams said. “It’s got a good backdrop, good hitter’s eye that you can pick up the ball pretty well and good fan base too, so it’s good to go out and play in front of them.”
“I see the ball just as good as I do in Cincinnati. That’s the big thing with parks, is just knowing the drop and the hitter’s eye and how you’re picking the ball up. Some parks it’s tough to see in, and this park is not one of those parks for me.”
He’s also managed, with a chance to play every day in Atlanta — something that disappeared with St. Louis when he was moved from first to left field, and then became a bench piece — to change the narrative that he can’t hit left-handed pitching.
In that aforementioned 2013 season, Adams hit .231 in 52 at-bats against southpaws, and was given more opportunities the following season. But a .190 average in 130 chances saw his ABs in those situations dwindle.
Adams was given just 27 plate appearances vs. lefties in 2015 and 50 in ’16, and before he was traded to the Braves, St. Louis gave him only three at-bats against left-handers. He’s improved in those instances in Atlanta, hitting .250 this month with two home runs, a double and six RBI.
“Looking back on it, I’ve had the chance to face lefties coming up through the minors every year,” said Adams, “and I felt like I did have a decent job of hitting them. I felt like last year when I did hit against them I did a pretty good job at it. It’s just all about getting the reps against them and building that confidence back up to knowing that I can get the job done against lefties.”
As much as Adams has helped fill the void left behind by Freeman — who had a .302/.400/.569 line with 152 wRC+ before his injury — it’s been part of a run in which Atlanta has gone 13-9 in June to move within three games of .500 ahead of Saturday’s start.
Hence some weight behind Freeman’s push to change positions despite his being one of the best defenders at the position over the past four seasons.
Since 2013, only Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, San Francisco’s Brandon Belt, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Rizzo have made more out of zone plays than Freeman’s 115 and he’s sixth in scoops in the span with 146. But Adams has the perception of being more defensively limited, as he had minus-2 defensive runs saved in 34 1/3 innings in the outfield experiment in St. Louis, and had just one season in which has been better than a minus-2.4 defensive WAR.
Adams’ tear in an Braves uniform led to speculation that he’d be available at the July 31 trade deadline, with Freeman now eyeing a return before the All-Star break. While switching positions could provide some growing pains defensively, from an offense standpoint, the thoughts are tantalizing with Atlanta being able to put Adams, Freeman and Matt Kemp and his 12 home runs together.
Put another way, over the past 30 days, only eight teams have scored more runs than the Braves … and they’ve done it without a player who looked like an MVP candidate.
There’s also the stance that Atlanta acquired Adams for a penance — giving St. Louis low-Class A infielder Juan Yepez — and trading him when his value will never be higher could be the sanest of moves. Especially for a team that entered the day nine games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 10 1/2 out of the Wild Card race.
But with Freeman willing to move on his behalf — and diligently putting in those pregame workouts with infield coach Ron Washington to learn the new position — Adams is focused on playing at level that backs up the All-Star’s request.
“To have that chance to be his teammate now, and hopefully to be able to share the field with him, that will be pretty cool,” Adams said. “But that decision’s out of my hands and out of my control. I just keep telling myself to keep showing up, prepared and ready to compete.
“That’s all I can control, so we’ll go from there.”