Freddie Freeman’s second walk-off hit of the season Saturday was further evidence of the dominant work he’s done in the clutch this season.
Entering Sunday, he was third in the National League with a .406 batting average in close-and-late situations, going 13-for-32, and matched Evan Gattis for the team lead in game-winning RBIs (six). Freeman was second in the NL only to Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran in batting average with runners in scoring position, hitting .446 (25-of-56).
Freeman has also been the Braves most consistent hitter across the board. Entering Sunday’s series finale with the Giants, he was leading the Braves in batting average (.312), RBIs (45), hits (67) and on-base percentage (.370).
Ask Freeman what’s been going right this season and he’ll simply point to good health.
“I was battling a lot of things last year and this year I finally have everything under control,” said Freeman, who spent two weeks in April on the disabled list with an oblique strain but said it’s completely healed. “It’s just a nice feeling that I can go out there and have confidence in my ability and not have to worry about something hurting if I do something wrong. I haven’t really had that since I’ve been in the big leagues.”
Freeman said he dealt with nagging knee and wrist problems in his first season-plus in the majors. Then last year he dealt with both vision problems due to dry eyes and an injured index finger which he hurt getting hit by a Jose Reyes throw sliding into second base in Miami in June.
“I couldn’t even bend it until Christmas,” Freeman said.
He didn’t wear contacts for three months in the offseason to let his eyes heal. Now he puts drops in 10 minutes before putting in his contacts for a game. Freeman wears clear glasses at first base to protect his eyes from wind and debris. He doesn’t wear them at the plate because he doesn’t like seeing the nose piece in his peripheral vision. But he’s been able to manage his contacts with drops and changing to new pairs when needed.
He knew he was in good shape when he got through the Colorado series in April, his first action coming off the DL, without any issues. The dry air and wind at Coors Field is where his problems first cropped up last season.
“That took a weight off my shoulders and I could just go out there and not worry about it,” Freeman said.
Bump for B.J.: Two home runs Saturday got B.J. Upton bumped up to fifth in the Braves lineup Sunday night, the highest he’d hit in the Braves order since batting second on May 13th. He’d hit sixth in the previous three games and continued to show progress at the plate, after hitting .145 the first two months of the season.
“You start seeing the swings getting better,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was able to split up left-handers Freeman and Brian McCann in the process. “I think moving him up to the sixth hole the last couple times freed him up a little bit on the basepaths (too).”
Upton stole two bases in two games while batting in the sixth spot. He’s spent 30 games this season in the seventh or eighth hole where it’s more difficult to run with the pitcher’s spot coming up.
Gonzalez started Ramiro Pena at second base Sunday for Dan Uggla, who was 0-for-13 with six strikeouts in his career against Tim Lincecum. McCann caught rookie Julio Teheran Sunday night but Gonzalez said he plans to start Evan Gattis for two straight days in the Mets series, including one game in Tuesday’s doubleheader. Gonzalez is planning to play him one of those games in left field and one game behind the plate.
The Braves still haven’t announced who will start the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader but left-hander Alex Wood is the most likely candidate. He took batting practice with the rest of the Braves starters for the second straight day on Sunday. The Braves wanted to leave it open in case they needed Wood to pitch in relief Sunday or Monday.
All-Star update: Justin Upton dropped from first among NL outfielders to second behind Beltran in the latest All-Star balloting released Sunday night. But Upton is still is good standing among the top three outfielders. He’s aiming for his third All-Star appearance but this would be his first as a starter voted in by the fans.
Beltran leads all NL outfielders with 2,385,240 votes, followed by Upton with 2,054,225 and Bryce Harper with 1,981,030. The next-highest vote-getter among outfielders is Ryan Braun, who has 1,645,094.
McCann dropped from fourth to fifth in the voting at catcher, while Chris Johnson remained fourth among third basemen, Freeman fifth among first basemen and Andrelton Simmons fifth among shortstops.