When Evan Gattis was activated from the DL this afternoon, Christian Bethancourt was optioned back to Triple-A as expected. The Braves have veteran backup Gerald Laird and emergency catcher Ryan Doumit, don’t have room for three full-time catchers on their 25-man roster, and besides, they want their top catching prospect Bethancourt to keep playing every day and developing, not spending most of his time on the bench.
So, Bethancourt will go back to Gwinnett after spending the past few weeks with the big club and making quite an impression with the strides he’s made since last year and even since this past spring training.
At 23, he has shown he’s ready if needed, and Bethancourt has erased most or all of the questions that some people had about how long it would take for him to put it all together, for his bat and game-calling skills to begin to catch up with his undeniably substantial physical skills including a top-of-the-scouting-charts throwing arm.
Bethancourt hit .240 (12-for-50) with a double, three RBIs, two walks and 14 strikeouts, and a .283 OBP and .260 slugging percentage in 13 games. He had a few big hits and was 7-for-27 (.259) with runners on base and 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
Not that he looks polished at the plate or ready to provide anything even remotely similar to what Gattis does with the bat. After going 6-for-20 (.300) with a double and five strikeouts in his first five games, including a three-hit game July 5, Bethancourt is 6-for-30 (.200) with two walks and nine strikeouts in his past eight games.
For what it’s worth – probably not much -- the Braves won each of his first five starts and are 3-5 in his past eight.
But watching him at the plate, any of us could see a difference in him since past spring trainings. He held his own at the plate, didn’t look overmatched, for the most part, during these past few weeks.
Braves pitchers have a 3.38 ERA in 117 1/3 innings with Bethancourt catching, a 3.22 ERA in 483 innings with Gattis catching, and a 3.47 ERA in 267 innings with Laird catching. It’s usually not a good idea to make too much of those numbers, but talking to pitchers, they all have good things to say about the job Bethancourt’s done on short notice, thrust into the regular catching role for a few weeks and quickly learning the tendencies of a group of pitchers that included mostly guys he’s never caught or caught only sparingly at spring training.
Bullpen coach Eddie Perez, a former standout defensive catcher himself, was a candid critic of Bethancourt not long ago, when he thought the talented kid was taking things for granted and expected to get to the majors on talent and reputation alone. But now Perez, who has lavished praise on Bethancourt's skills all along, has nothing but praise for how Bethancourt has worked to improve and shown the desire and awareness of his situation and what it’ll take to reach his potential.
Here’s what Perez said when I asked him about Bethancourt in the last weekend before the All-Star break, and I’ve added a few other quotes about Bethancourt from others in the past couple of weeks.
Eddie Perez on Bethancourt: “He’s a different animal now. That’s what I want to see. And everybody’s happy. I’m happy. He’s showing us that he’s ready for this.”
Just matter of maturity? “Yes. I was waiting for this from him. He’s proved to us that he’s ready, he’s working hard, he’s learning. He’s doing a lot of good things.”…
“He did it in spring training, but he knew he was going to Triple-A. He wanted to learn but he didn’t show me on the field that he was ready. But like I said, he’s a different animal now. And I’m very happy for him. I’m very happy for the whole team, the whole organization, because we’ve been waiting for him, and now he’s ready, he’s showing us that he can do a lot of things, not only catching but hitting too. It feels really good.”….
“I knew he was going to hit. He’s learning, but I always thought he was going to be OK with his bat. My main thing is catching, and he’s doing a tremendous job (with that) right now. He’s blocking. He’s not throwing too many people out because he hasn’t had many chances, but I’m very happy for him and how he’s playing.”…
“I’m excited. I think he’s got more things to show, too.”…
“He’s a quiet kid. He’s what we want to see right now. We want to see that Bethancourt. I know he’s still learning, he’s still young, you have to learn a lot as a catcher. But he’s showing us that he belongs here. We want him here.”
On handling pitchers: “He’s doing a great job, and Roger’s helping him, calling pitches and watching videos all the time. He’s doing a great job for us, man.”…
“I was waiting for him, I wanted that Bethancourt to show up. I was anxious to see him develop the tools that he’s got, but now he’s where he is and he’s going to be special. He is special. He’s showing everybody that he’s a No. 1 prospect as a catcher.”…
“He threw (out one runner) in Atlanta, when he blocked a ball. That was amazing.”…
“I talked to some of the pitchers that he caught him, like David Hale. David Hale wanted them to run. He was waiting, like, ‘Please go.’ (Bethancourt) has got a great arm.”…
“You know what I’ve noticed that’s been impressive? He wants to win. He wants to do something so the team can win. Like yesterday, the big base hit. He worries about catching and pitching, he wants the (pitchers) to do good. And that’s something that I’m surprised about him. You can have a lot of talent and do whatever and get numbers, but he’s up there working for the team. That’s what I’m surprised the most. Did you see how excited he was last night when he got to first base (after the tying RBI single). He was excited, man. That was very good. That’s what I’m surprised and I’m happy about, because he wants to win.”
Chris Johnson : “He’s shown he should be up here. He’s swinging the bat well. He’s calling a good games, which I think is first and foremost, especially for the pitching staff. And he’s showing the Braves that this is where he should be.”
Justin Upton: “He’s swung the bat well, something I don’t think any of us expected so early. He’s putting together at-bats and getting hits for us. He’s done a great job, offensively and defensively.”
Fredi Gonzalez: “I’ve seen a very mature guy. I think that him playing winter ball the last couple of years has sped up the development. And we forget that he played all year at Triple-A last year. So it hasn’t surprised at all. His English has been off the charts -- it’s really, really good.”
“All the expectations that I have for him, he’s exceeded those. Offensively, you see him improving from spring training, and that’s just a matter of at-bats. All of a sudden he’s got more at-bats, more experience handling the at-bats.
• La Stella keeps coming through: He’s never been as celebrated a prospect as Bethancourt, but second baseman Tommy La Stella’s stock had risen sharply in the past couple of years when he kept getting bumped up and kept hitting at every level of the minor leagues and in the Arizona Fall League.
Now he’s done the same in his first two months at the big-league level. La Stella has hit .360 (18-for-50) with five doubles in 13 games since July 4, with four walks, nine strikeouts, a .407 OBP and .460 slugging percentage in that span.
He’s 7-for-16 with four doubles and seven RBIs in the past four games, and had the biggest hit – a three-run double – in Sunday’s 8-2 win against the Phillies.
Overall, La Stella hit .297 with a .371 OBP, 11 doubles, a triple and 21 RBIs in 165 at-bats through his first 46 major league games, leading NL rookies in average and OBP before Monday. That included a .394 average (13-for-33) with a .459 OBP against lefties and .273 (36-for-132) with a .349 OBP against righties.
The home fans have plenty of reasons to like him: He’s hitting .344 (21-for-61) with five doubles and a .437 OBP in 17 home games.
La Stella has hit .294 (30-for-102) with a .357 OBP with nobody on base, .302 (19-for-63) with a .392 OBP with runners on, .325 (13-for-40) with a .391 OBP with runners in scoring position, and .333 (7-for-21) with a .417 OBP with runners in scoring position and two outs. See a pattern there?
In the late innings of close games, he’s hit .304 (7-for-23) with a .385 OBP and three strikeouts.
In the seventh spot in the batting order, where he started out and where he’s at now, La Stella has a .373 average (41-for-110) with 10 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs, .448 OBP and .473 slugging percentage.
After getting ahead in counts 1-0, La Stella has hit .381 (24-for-63) with a .494 OBP.
In two-strike counts, he’s batting .295 (26-for-88) with 10 walks, 23 strikeouts and a .367 OBP.
After the sixth inning, he has a .357 average (20-for-66) with a .429 OBP and .464 slugging percentage. (He’s hitting .266 with a .341 OBP and .330 slugging percentage in innings 1-6.)
Oh, and here’s an unusual stat: He has 12 extra-base hits (11 doubles, one triple) and 21 RBIs in 165 at-bats, and seven of those extra-base hits and nine RBIs have come in 37 at-bats against the Phillies. He only has nine hits in all against the Phillies, but six were doubles and one a triple. He had a three-run double against them Sunday, and a three-run at Philly on June 28.
Then again, he is from New Jersey. Northern New Jersey. I hear those folks don’t all get along so well with those down in South Jersey.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Braves All-Star Julio Teheran (9-6, 2.71 ERA) against Marlins righty Tom Koehler (5-6, 3.99) in a series opener at Turner Field.
Both pitchers rank among NL leaders in lowest overall opponents’ batting average, Teheran seventh at .224 and Koehler ninth at .229. But both have also been far better at home than on the road, and this game, you probably know, is at Turner Field.
Teheran is 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and .177 opponents’ average in nine home starts (6-5 with a 4.09 ERA and .265 OA in 11 road starts). Koehler is 2-4 with a 5.37 ERA and .259 opponents’ average in 10 road starts (4-3 with a 2.75 ERA and .199 OA in nine home starts).
Teheran also ranks fourth among NL starters in lowest opponents’ OBP (.272) behind Kershaw (.226), Wainwright (.248) and Cueto (.250); sixth in lowest slugging percentage allowed (.343); ninth in strikeouts (116), and fifth in innings (136 1/3).
Teheran will be pitching on seven days of rest, three more than usual, after going 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA and .383 opponents’ average in his last two starts before the All-Star break. He allowed 18 hits and nine runs in 10 1/3 innings of those two games at New York and Chicago.
He got rocked for 11 hits and five runs in 3 1/3 innings at Citi Field, then bounced back with a solid start on a windy day at Wrigley, allowing seven hits, four runs and two homers in seven innings of a win in the final game before the break.
He’s 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA and .145 OA in his past five home starts, allowing one or no runs in each game, four hits or fewer in four of the five games, and lasting six or more innings in each including eight or more innings in three of the five.
Against the Marlins, Teheran is 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in six starts, including 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in two starts this season. He has 13 strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings against them this season, and allowed five hits in each of those games, lasting seven innings and allowing one run on a homer April 21 at Turner Field and surrendering two runs in 7 1/3 innings at Miami on May 30.
Against Teheran, Giancarlo Stanton is 2-for-15 with a homer, four walks and four strikeouts; Adeiny Hechavarria is 4-for-17 with four strikeouts; Lucas is 5-for-13, and Garrett Jones is 2-for-11 with a homer.
Koehler is 1-2 with a 5.22 ERA, .233 opponents’ average and four quality starts in his past seven games, totaling 39 strikeouts and 13 walks in 39 2/3 innings in that span.
Of the 10 homers allowed by Koehler, seven have been with runners on base, and nine have been hit by right-handers.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 3.62 ERA in seven games against the Braves, including 0-2 with a 4.24 ERA and .292 opponents’ average in four starts. He’s 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts against them this season, with 13 strikeouts and six walks in 13 1/3 innings.
Against Koehler, Evan Gattis is 4-for-7, Chris Johnson is 4-for-10, Freddie Freeman is 4-for-13, Justin Upton is 3-for-10, Jason Heyward is 2-for-11, and Andrelton Simmons is 2-for-11 and has the only homer by a current Brave against the right-hander.
• HOF vewing party Sunday: The Braves will open the stadium gates early (1 p.m.) on Sunday so that fans can watch Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during the 1:30 p.m. induction ceremony from Cooperstown, which will be shown live on the BravesVision video board in center field.
The Braves are 16-7 with a .260 batting average, 3.20 ERA and 109 runs scored in their past 23 games, including 4-1 with a 4.00 ERA and 36 runs in their past five games, with six homers in that latter stretch that includes games with 11, 10, six and eight runs scored. Their only loss in that five-game stretch came by a 2-1 score against the Phillies and Cole Hamels on Saturday.
In their past 45 games against the Marlins, the Braves are 32-13 with a 2.47 ERA and 202 runs scored. The Braves three games against them May 30-June 1 in Miami in the last series between the teams.
The Marlins are 6-13 with a 4.78 ERA in their past 19 games and snapped a six-game losing skid with a 3-2 win Sunday at home against the Giants and Tim Lincecum.
• Here's a great one by Eric Bachmann, aka Crooked Fingers.
“WRECKING BALL” by CROOKED FINGERS
Reaching for your gun, you had none, so you stabbed a wounded arm
And you drank the blood of a bleeding friend
And quit your lying face of trust and love you once offered traces of
Knowing well you were never meaning them
And you laughed and you danced and it let you feel fine for a while
Hanging out with the kids who you knew soon would fall out of style
And took your mark at dawn down a line of destruction you had drawn
Through a town you were never welcome in
And dug your fingers good in the cracks in the mortar, steel, and wood
As you drank your cup of sweet revenge
And you plotted and planned and you counted the days til they came
Hiding up in your tower, tuning out every fool who complained
It's so long looking down what you're on
If your speech is so lame and just goes on and on
If it makes you feel good, you can make them feel bad
It's an easy call
So when nothing remains you can stand there and claim
You've destroyed them all
You've destroyed them all
Now all your love's a grave and every year disappears
I heard someone mark the season you went wasting in
So take your walk at dawn through the line of destruction you had drawn
Through to rear your head to sink again
It's a long way to walk when you're wrong
If you're sneaking through town with your wrecking ball on
If it makes you feel good, you can make them feel bad
It's an easy call
So when nothing remains you can stand proud and claim
You've destroyed them all
It's so easy
Take a swing and watch them fall
You're a wrecking ball