Evan Gattis gave the Braves just what they hoped for when they sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett to get some at-bats — production and a little momentum on his return to Atlanta.
After getting two hits in each of the three games over the weekend against Charlotte, Gattis got hits in his first two at-bats in his return to the Braves’ lineup Tuesday night. With his third at-bat? He homered for the first time since July 24.
“It was good to have an approach against a guy, get three at-bats off the same guy,” Gattis said of the three games with Gwinnett, when he was 6-for-13 with three doubles and a homer. “I felt good.”
Gattis’ home run Sunday night was the last one hit at Knights Stadium, which will be demolished after the team moves from Fort Mill, S.C., to downtown Charlotte, N.C., next season. When asked about it, Gattis reacted with a little fist pump. Two nights later he homered to tie the score 1-1 against the Mets.
Gattis reached folk-hero status after hitting 12 home runs the first two months of his rookie season, but cooled the past few months. He had hit only .188 (22-for-117) since June 1, including 0-for-17 entering Tuesday.
Gattis hadn’t played for five days when the Braves sent him down, a move that manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves had thought about since returning from St. Louis on Aug. 25. They waited until after Friday’s game, when the Braves hosted “El Oso Blanco Night” in his honor.
“It’s funny,” said Gattis of the timing, after his family flew in from Dallas for the occasion. “The world has a sense of humor.”
Gattis will start in left field in Wednesday’s game against the Mets, according to Gonzalez, who also said he wants to start Gattis in two of the three games this weekend in Philadelphia against left-handers Cliff Lee (Friday) and Cole Hamels (Sunday).
Gattis was the latest in a line of call-ups that started with his roster replacement Jose Constanza on Saturday, followed by pitchers Freddy Garcia and Kameron Loe. Gonzalez said they might add one more position player, but he wasn’t sure when. One candidate is second baseman Tommy La Stella, who is hitting .343 for Double-A Mississippi, which begins a playoff series Thursday.
Upton leads off: With an eye toward batting B.J. Upton leadoff against the Phillies’ left-handers this weekend, Gonzalez put Upton atop his lineup Tuesday against the Mets.
Gonzalez said he had planned to give Jordan Schafer the day off after his lower back tightened as he ran out a single in Monday’s game. By Tuesday, Schafer’s back was fine, but Gonzalez used the opportunity to get Upton in a frame of mind to bat leadoff against both Lee and Hamels.
Schafer, who has batted leadoff again in Jason Heyward’s absence, is hitting .120 (3-for-25) against left-handers this season and .298 (50-for-168) against right-handers.
“Looking for a guy to lead off against a lefty, and so why not use B.J. today — he’s swinging the bat well,” Gonzalez said.
Upton was 9-for-21 (.429) with a home run in six games on this homestand and then singled in his second at-bat Tuesday. Upton was batting leadoff for the 15th time this season, but the first 12 came in April before the reality of his miserable start as a Brave had really taken shape.
“It’s been tough, but I haven’t given up,” Upton said. “Some guys might have said ‘enough.’ That’s not in me.”
Heyward progress: Heyward isn’t chewing solid food yet, but he did get a pleasant surprise during a visit to the oral surgeon Tuesday. He was cleared to begin playing some catch and swinging at balls off a tee.
Heyward’s first “baseball activity” came less than two weeks after he fractured his jaw taking a Jonathon Niese fastball to the face Aug. 21. He underwent surgery Aug. 22 and has worn braces with rubber bands to hold his jaws in place.
Heyward tested a helmet with a protective flap over his jaw and took some swings off a tee in the indoor cages Tuesday. He also played some catch with B.J. Upton in front of the Braves’ dugout.
“I was excited to get the process started,” Heyward said. “It happened sooner that I would have expected.”
The Braves hope Heyward can get some at-bats in instructional league and return to the majors before the regular season ends. They haven’t set any kind of a timetable yet, and Heyward has said his goal is returning for the playoffs. This was an encouraging first step.
So was the fact that his diet is expanding, too. Heyward no longer is on a diet restricted to protein shakes and ice cream. He’s added some solid foods that have been pureed or ground up.
“I ate Chick-fil-A the other day, and I cried,” Heyward said.