For anyone who questioned how much of a factor Brian McCann’s injured shoulder was in his career-worst season in 2012, his performance since coming back from the disabled list probably has answered that.
McCann went 4-for-8 with two home runs and five RBIs in the first two games of the series against the Giants on Thursday and Friday, the veteran catcher’s third and fourth games since coming off the DL, after nearly seven months recovering from October surgery for a torn labrum.
“You never know. You can’t feel what kind of pain a guy’s having, how much it’s affecting him,” Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca said. “This guy looks like the guy who won Silver Slugger awards. Whereas (last season) you could see it, you could tell — you could see him grimace sometimes at the end of a swing.”
Braves hitting coach Greg Walker had a better idea than most how much he was hurting last season, when McCann, 29, had career-worsts in batting average (.230), on-base percentage (.300) and slugging percentage (.399). He snapped a franchise-record streak of six consecutive All-Star berths in his first six full seasons.
“It was hard to watch him last year knowing how hard he was working and how hard he was trying, and it just wasn’t there,” Walker said of McCann, who had never hit below .269 or slugged below .452 in a full season. “But he kept playing and played through it — we had a good team, and it was Chipper (Jones)’s last year, and all those things. But when you’d go to the cage with him, and watch his batting practice. …
“I played my whole career with a bad shoulder. I’ve had, like, eight arm operations. There’s certain days you can’t compete. You just go out there and fight and fight, but you just don’t have the weapons that it takes to compete at this level. And he fought through it; what did he hit, 20 home runs? But he wasn’t Brian McCann. Ever.”
McCann’s 20 homers made it six times he reached that standard in seven full seasons in the majors, and the former five-time Silver Slugger award winner did it in the fewest games (121) and plate appearances (487) of his career.
He needed multiple cortisone injections and several rest periods to get through the season, and by the end the medication didn’t provide more than a few days’ relief.
“We talked about it a lot,” Walker said. “You see the things he’s doing now and you see the things he couldn’t do last year. It’s good to see him healthy. When he’s healthy, he hits. He’s a great hitter. Now that he’s healthy, we’re a better team. It balances our lineup out. You’ve got another high-average, contact hitter that we need in the middle of our lineup.”
While McCann was out, rookie Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird kept Braves catchers among the league’s more productive.
Gattis has hit .272 with six homers and 16 RBIs in 81 at-bats as a catcher, and Laird hit .300 in 30 at-bats before Saturday, when he made his 10th start behind the plate with McCann getting a day off after consecutive night games.
“Gattis and Gerald did fantastic,” Walker said. “A lot of teams can’t find one catcher, and we have three.”
J. Upton homerless stretch: Justin Upton had a .216 average during a 12-game homerless streak before Saturday, but could at least take some comfort from 11 walks and a .400 OBP during that stretch.
“I’m seeing the ball good, it’s just a matter of time before I’m putting good swings on it again,” he said.
Upton was baseball’s hottest hitter for most of April, batting .302 (26-for-86) with five doubles, 12 homers and a .779 slugging percentage in his first 23 games through April 27.
He was 8-for-37 with two extra-base hits and a .297 slugging percentage since, entering Saturday’s game.
“Your timing gets off once in a while, and you’ve got to get it back,” he said. “That’s it. I don’t feel any different. I haven’t been as productive as I like, but that happens during a season. You lose it and you’ve got to find it again.”
Despite not hitting a home run in two weeks, he still led the majors with 12 homers before Saturday. He had a triple in Thursday’s series opener against the Giants, and doubled to the center-field wall Friday.