Sunday, June 16, 2013
Gattis thriving in pinch-hitting role
By Buster Olney
Evan Gattis has an .818 on-base percentage as a pinch hitter this season in Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- Braves slugger Evan Gattis has a total of two hits in 21 at-bats in June, so the threat of his impact on games probably outweighs his actual production.
But the mere threat is tangible, maybe because rival pitchers, catchers and managers have all seen what he can do to a baseball. Like when he crushed a neck-high Stephen Strasburg fastball beyond the bullpens back in April, or earlier this week, when he turned a pitch into a cloud of rosin -- literally -- in San Diego.
Gattis has an incredibly short and powerful swing, which makes him a perfect foil in a pinch-hitting role. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Saturday’s game that he has seen opponents navigate carefully around Gattis in the late innings -- and he saw it again Saturday, when Giants closer Sergio Romo pitched very carefully to Gattis, eventually walking him. Reed Johnson, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Gattis, eventually came around to score the tying run -- and Freddie Freeman’s single to right field ended it.
The legend of Oso Blanco -- the White Bear, as Gattis was called in winter ball -- is built on this kind of production as a pinch hitter:
• It was Buster Posey who went to Giants CEO Larry Baer after last year’s World Series victory and lobbied for a ring a little bigger than the rings that were issued after the 2010 World Series. Posey explained that when you win a second World Series in a short span, well, you look for something a little more -- and what they all got was something a little bigger, with an unusual way of reflecting light.
But the funny thing is that Posey really doesn’t wear his ring. Neither does Hunter Pence. “I’m not really a jewelry guy,” said Pence. Neither is Posey, who said, “I’ll try a watch every once in a while.”
The Giants’ players and staff generally love the ring, but there is a split of sentiment about actually wearing it. Manager Bruce Bochy does, especially when seeing family members. Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow feels a responsibility to wear it, knowing that fans will ask to see it when they see him. Brandon Belt likes wearing his, but frets that he’ll misplace it.
Third-base coach Tim Flannery plays guitar at gigs, and he’ll use the ring as part of his act. He’ll start to play, and then say, “Well, I can't play with this on,” taking off the gaudy championship ring and shoving it into his pocket -- and he’ll get huge cheers in response.
• I can sum up the reaction of about a dozen players and staff members to the series of suspensions and fines that were issued to the Diamondbacks and Dodgers thusly: They are appalled by the decisions.
In fact, after two decades of covering Major League Baseball, I can’t remember a stronger negative reaction to suspensions and fines. They have seen the same video the rest of us have, and generally, the players and staff members have three questions.
1. How the heck did Yasiel Puig not get suspended for any games despite the fact that he can be seen twice wading into the scrum and throwing punches? (And you can see Puig acting aggressively at the 2:02 and 2:50 marks of this video). The players I spoke with acknowledged that yes, in the inning before this fight, Puig was hit in the face by an Ian Kennedy pitch.
“But does that give him a free pass to go crazy when a fight breaks out?” one player asked rhetorically. “Does that mean every player who gets hit can charge the mound and go around fighting and not get suspended?”
There is a strong belief among those players I spoke with that Puig wasn’t seriously punished because he’s the biggest story of the moment. Regardless of whether that’s right or wrong, it’s not a good thing for baseball that players are thinking that way.
2. The players cannot believe that, conversely, Eric Hinske got a five-game suspension, because he was viewed as an instigator. What the players see in the video is Hinske trying to play peacemaker, and trying to keep the two sides separated, which is in keeping with what the Braves and others know of him as a teammate. Even some of the Dodgers players expressed surprise that Hinske got five games.
• At the time that Mark Teixeira was initially diagnosed, doctors estimated that there was a 70 percent chance that Teixeira would come back and be fine -- and a 30 percent chance that he would have a setback and require season-ending surgery. On Saturday, Teixeira left the game after aggravating the injury.
From ESPN Stats and Information: New York has scored four runs or fewer in eight straight games, including exactly two runs in each of their last four. They’re 3-6 on their current 10-game road trip and have scored a total of 24 runs over the nine games, which includes nine extra innings on Thursday.
• The Cardinals went into Saturday’s game hitting .339 with runners in scoring position -- and they went 7-for-14 in those situations in a victory over the Marlins. And some response will continue to be: There’s bound to be a regression. ... Unless there isn’t. And if there isn’t a regression, we’ll instead consider them an outlier that benefited from unusually good luck.
It’s one of the most common, reflexive narratives we hear these days when there’s any outside-of-the-box success.
So I’d suggest: Don’t worry about whether this production can continue, and instead just enjoy the fact that the Cardinals have a really deep lineup of talented hitters generally like-minded in thinking that their best chance to produce is to take the ball through the middle of the field.
• Carlos Beltran homered twice Saturday, giving him 350 career home runs and tying him with Chili Davis for 87th on the all-time list. Beltran and Davis are tied for fifth in career home runs by a switch-hitter.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Kershaw put the Dodgers in position to win:
A. Kershaw got five strikeouts with his curveball, and the Pirates didn't put one in play.
B. He had got six outs and two strikeouts with his slider, as Pirates hitters were 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts against his breaking pitches.
C. Kershaw started 20 of 28 hitters with a first-pitch strike, a season-high 71 percent. He retired 16 of those 20 hitters, striking out six.
Some of the times when I’ve spoken to groups, people ask why players and teams aren’t more active in the community -- a perspective which surprises me, I’ll respond, because my sense has always been that folks in baseball do a lot of work, whether it be visiting hospitals or through charitable donations. When I covered teams as a beat writer, I’d see kids and their families at the park daily, whether it be for a Make-A-Wish request or through some other charity. When my brother, Sam, and I held an event in Vermont a couple of years ago to help Vermont farmers who were hammered by Hurricane Irene, the support was overwhelming.
I’ll never forget how great the Yankees players were, a few weeks after 9/11, to Brielle Saracini, the young daughter of a pilot of one of the planes that went into the World Trade Center -- and two years ago, Brielle described that afternoon, in an interview, as the best day of her life.
So for the sake of awareness, I’ll be posting notes about charitable work of players and teams in the column daily. For starters:
Swisher donated $25,000 to the FBI Citizens Academy Foundation on May 23 in support of the FBI’s Child ID Kit program. ID kits help authorities in locating missing children, a pressing issue in Cleveland after three women were recently found in a West Side home after being held for nearly a decade. Since signing with Cleveland, Swisher and his wife, JoAnna, have supported the Providence House with a gift of $75,000. Providence House is a Cleveland crisis nursery for at-risk mothers and children.