Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Freeman on soon-to-be Braves 3B Olivera: 'He's a big boy'


 CHICAGO – For those who’ve not seen video of Hector Olivera, or don’t put much stock into what scouts and officials from various teams have said about him, and are maybe bit worried by his 1-for-17 hitting line in his rehab games for the Braves, perhaps a brief review from Freddie Freeman will help alleviate your concerns.

After all, it’s Freeman who stands to benefit from additional protection the Braves believe Olivera will provide  when he’s added to the middle of their lineup in the near future and for as much as the next five seasons (that’s how long his contracts runs).

And it’s Freeman who is the only Brave who’s seen Olivera play other than Adonis Garcia, who knows him from Cuba and played with Olivera years ago.

Freeman spent some time with him in Florida while both were rehabbing from injuries, Olivera from a strained hamstring that he injured while excelling at the Triple-A level for the Dodgers, not long before he would likely have been called up by the Dodgers.

Olivera and Freeman took batting practice together several times and played a couple of games together in the Gulf Coast League – that’s rookie ball, and the young pitchers can be all over the place with their command, or lack thereof -- before Freeman moved up to Triple-A for his last couple of games prior to being activated from the DL on Wednesday at San Diego.

Olivera moved on to low-Single A Rome for a few games, and on Thursday the Braves bumped him up to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he's set to play tonight at Coolray Field at 6:35 p.m., for those in the Atlanta metro area who might want to get a sneak preview of sorts before his big-league debut.

Olivera, 30, was acquired by the Braves in last month’s big three-team trade that sent Braves pitchers Alex Wood, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, plus infield prospect Jose Peraza, to the Dodgers. The Dodgers signed Olivera to a six-year, $62.5 million contract this winter, outbidding the Braves, Padres, Marlins and Yankees for the services of the former Cuban national team standout. The deal included a $28 million signing bonus, which the Dodgers are paying in full.

“He’s a big boy,” Freeman said. “He can put on a show in BP (batting practice). I only saw the six at-bats in GCL; it’s hard to judge off that. But he looks good. He looks like he’s going to be an intimidating figure in the (batter's) box, he’s a big guy. I think he’s still feeling for it coming back from the hamstring (injury), so it’s hard to tell. But I think he’s going to be a run-producer in the middle of the lineup.”

Olivera can play all the infield positions except shortstop, and left field. The Braves plan to use the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed hitter at third base.

“In the GCL he lined out a couple of times to right field,” Freeman said. “He looks good. It’s just more at-bats and get his timing again, that’s all it is.”

Some pictures that circulated during the Olivera sweepstakes this winter showed a rangy-type athlete, long and slender, during his earlier years with the Cuban national team and in the Serie Nacional, the highest-level league in Cuba. He doesn’t look like that anymore. He’s probably put together better than anyone on the current Braves roster, with wide shoulders an overall muscular physique.

Freeman had seen those same photos of Olivera from years ago, and was a bit surprised when he saw him in person.

“He’s filled out, he’s a big boy,” Freeman said. “He’s super strong. Remember Barbaro Canizares? (Another Cuban and a former Braves minor league first baseman, who was listed at 6-3 and 240 pounds.) He kind of looks like him, to me. Kind of walks like him too. But Barbaro was more of .300 hitter with not a lot of power. I think Hector’s going to hit for power.”

The  highly anticipated debut of Olivera could come next week, though the Braves haven’t given a specific date yet.

• Faltering ‘pen: The Braves’ bullpen, at this point mostly a patchwork of well-traveled journeyman and rookies, gave up 10 runs 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings during the three-game series at San Diego, where the Braves were swept for the third year in a row to run their Petco Park losing skid to 10 games.

That pushed the Braves’ bullpen ERA to 4.32, ranked 27th in baseball and the second-highest ERA in the National League ahead of only the Rockies (5.03).

Of the whopping 29 pitchers who’ve made at least one relief appearance for the Braves this season, 15 have a relief ERA of 5.00 or higher, including 10 with an ERA of 6.00 or higher and seven with an ERA above 7.00.

 • Folty vs. Arrieta: The Braves face the Cubs in a four-game series at Wrigley Field that starts Thursday night, and the opening-game matchup figures to be difficult for the visitors, to say the least.

Rookie Mike Foltynewicz (4-4, 5.61 ERA) vs. Cubs ace Jake Arrieta (14-6, 2.39). Go get 'em, kid.

Arrietta is 8-1 with a 1.35 ERA and .166 opponents’ average in his past 11 starts, with 74 strikeouts and 20 walks in 80 innings. That includes a July 19 win in Atlanta when he allowed just three hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts  in seven scoreless innings, which matched his season-high strikeout total.

A.J. Pierzynski is 7-for-11 with two homers against the right-hander, while Cameron Maybin (2-for-6) is the only other Brave with more than one hit against him. Freddie Freeman is 1-for-5 with three strikeouts against Arrieta, Andrelton Simmons is 1-for-6, Nick Markakis is 0-for-6, and Nick Swisher is 0-for-18.

Foltynewicz is 1-2 with a 6.45 ERA and .322 opponents’ average in four starts since returning to the rotation, and he’s allowed two runs twice and six runs twice in that span, alternating between those two results. He gave up nine hits in each of the six-run outings, including Saturday against Arizona when he lasted 4 2/3 innings in an 8-4 loss at Turner Field.

"Folty" is 0-2 with a 4.78 ERA in eight road games (five starts), with an impressive 35 strikeouts and 11 walks in 32 innings, but also seven homers allowed. He hasn’t faced the Cubs.

Let's close with this slice of real country from Marty Robbins.

Hardly spoke to folks around him didn't have too much to say

No one dared to ask his business no one dared to make a slip

For the stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip

Big iron on his hip It was early in the morning when he rode into the town

He came riding from the south side slowly lookin' all around

He's an outlaw loose and running came the whisper from each lip

And he's here to do some business with the big iron on his hip

Big iron on his hip In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red

Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead

He was vicious and a killer though a youth of twenty four

And the notches on his pistol numbered one an nineteen more

One and nineteen more Now the stranger started talking made it plain to folks around

Was an Arizona ranger wouldn't be too long in town

He came here to take an outlaw back alive or maybe dead

And he said it didn't matter he was after Texas Red

After Texas Red Wasn't long before the story was relayed to Texas Red

But the outlaw didn't worry men that tried before were dead

Twenty men had tried to take him twenty men had made a slip

Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip

Big iron on his hip The morning passed so quickly it was time for them to meet

It was twenty past eleven when they walked out in the street

Folks were watching from the windows every-body held their breath

They knew this handsome ranger was about to meet his death

About to meet his death There was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play

And the swiftness of the ranger is still talked about today

Texas Red had not cleared leather fore a bullet fairly ripped

And the ranger's aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip

Big iron on his hip

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered round

There before them lay the body of the outlaw on the ground

Oh he might have went on living but he made one fatal slip

When he tried to match the ranger with the big iron on his hip

Big iron on his hip

Big iron Big iron

When he tried to match the ranger with the big iron on his hip


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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.