When Andrelton Simmons struck out to end the seventh inning Thursday, for a moment it felt strange for him to turn and walk back to the dugout. It had been 60 at-bats and 15 games since the Braves shortstop last struck out, on July 14.
“I was a little upset I struck out that at-bat,” said Simmons, who struck out against Rockies reliever Manny Corpas on a 3-2 slider. Corpas threw only sliders in the six-pitch at-bat. “The guy came at me with sliders. When I got to 2-2, he tried something else, like he called the catcher and threw (a slider submarine-style) or something.”
Simmons took that pitch for a ball, then figured he would finally get the pitch he was looking for.
“On 3-2 I was like, OK, he’s going to finally throw me a fastball,” he said. “Nope. It looked like a fastball, but he threw a slider, pretty much the only place I would have swung and missed, middle-down.”
He swung and missed for strike 3. For the first time in more than two weeks.
“I was like, oh, that’s an awkward walk” back to the dugout, Simmons said, smiling as he told the story Friday afternoon in Philadelphia. “I don’t mind, though. I still feel good at the plate. I’m feeling comfortable.”
Simmons hit .287 with five homers, 17 RBIs and a .509 slugging percentage in July, when he actually had more triples (three) than strikeouts (two) in 108 at-bats. Before Friday night’s game against the Phillies, he was 18-for-58 (.310) with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .344 on-base percentage in 14 games since the All-Star break.
Hitting coach Greg Walker said Simmons has worked to make a significant midseason adjustment to his swing. Instead of “coming around” the ball with his shoulders like he always had done, he said Simmons has worked to swing through the ball and drive it more to the middle of the field. His grounders to third have been sharply reduced.
“Basically he was playing pepper with the left side of the infield the whole first half of the season, or the first two months,” Walker said. “Because everything was around, around. So you had a choice. He’s a great defender, do you let him keep doing what he’s doing, where he’s probably going to be a .240, .260 hitter? Or do you go in the middle of a season when you’re fighting for first place and say, ‘OK, we’re working on swing mechanics. You can be better.’
“He’s just too much of a talent to let him not reach his potential. And he’s too young. So we continue to work, and he just gets in there and works and works and works. A couple of weeks ago you started seeing a correct swing. Then it started going into games.”
Between his previous two strikeouts, Simmons collected 20 hits (three home runs), three walks and was hit by a pitch.
“Guys that are talented and have that work ethic and want to be good, they tend to figure some things out,” Walker said. “And I think he’s in the process of figuring some things out, how his swing works.”
Streaking C.J.: Chris Johnson’s three-hit game Thursday raised his NL-leading average to .346 and extended the third baseman’s hitting streak to 10 games. That including seven consecutive games with at least two hits, matching the longest such streak for the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta.
Johnson was 19-for-40 (.475) during his 10-game streak before Friday, and 16-for-29 (.552) in the seven multihit games. He matched the Atlanta-era Braves record by Matt Diaz, who had seven multihit games Aug. 22-29, 2009.
“I feel good, but I also feel like every day I come in here and try to figure it out, learn more,” said Johnson, who began the season in a platoon with since-traded Juan Francisco. “I’ve mentally figured out a little bit on how to go about playing every day and how to come in here and stay focused.”
Johnson said he hasn’t noticed pitchers approaching him any differently.
“My approach doesn’t change, so I try to not even worry about what they’re trying to do because I’m looking for what I want,” he said. “So I don’t really put too much stock into how they’re pitching me one week.”
He has hit near the bottom of the order most of the season and isn’t one of the power hitters in a Braves lineup that features plenty of them. The Braves had seven with at least 10 homers before Friday, including four with 15 or more. Johnson had six.
“Oh, yeah. I’m flying under the radar compared to some of these guys right now,” he said. “Which is great for me.”
B.J., Schafer updates: B.J. Upton played his third injury-rehab game Friday for Triple-A Gwinnett, and the center fielder was expected to be activated from the disabled list to join the Braves this weekend in Philadelphia. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Upton would probably be in Philadelphia for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against the Phillies.
Out since straining a right adductor muscle in the last series before the All-Star break, Upton went 3-for-4 with two doubles in his second rehab game Thursday.
Backup outfielder Jordan Schafer is set to begin his rehab assignment Saturday at Gwinnett. He has missed a month recovering from a stress fracture after fouling a ball off his right ankle. Gonzalez said Schafer probably would play at three or four rehab games.
Phillies’ pitching plans: The Phillies didn’t finalize their rotation plans for the rest of the series until Friday, when they announced that left-hander John Lannan would start Saturday and ace lefty Cliff Lee on Sunday. Lee originally was scheduled to start Friday, but was bumped back two days to allow his strained neck to heal.