Freeman returns to Braves lineup, Swanson likely not far behind

LAKELAND, Fla. – Freddie Freeman returned from the World Baseball Classic and rejoined the Braves lineup Wednesday, now manager Brian Snitker hopes shortstop Dansby Swanson’s return isn’t far behind.

Swanson has been out since March 4 with tightness in his back and side, a move the Braves said was strictly precautionary.

What Swanson initially indicated might be a one-week absence has stretched to 11 days. With opening day in 2 1/2 weeks, the rookie has played in six Grapefruit League games and has 16 at-bats (and seven hits, just one off the Braves’ lead before Wednesday).

“He’s doing everything now. He’s hitting and everything and feels great,” Snitker said before Wednesday’s game at Lakeland.

Swanson stayed back at Braves camp in Lake Buena Vista and worked out again Wednesday. After the Braves’ 8-6 loss to the Tigers, Snitker was asked again if there was any new update on Swanson and his possible return. He stopped just short of saying it was possible he could return Thursday.

“I’m just kind of waiting till they turn him loose with me,” Snitker said. “Just talking to him all the time, he’s feeling good, he’s doing everything. It’s just a matter of what point we get him back out there. I’m anxious; he needs to get out there and play a little bit now. It’s getting that time where he needs to start playing again.

“I’m hoping if he’s not in there tomor… I shouldn’t say. I’m just kind of waiting for them to turn him loose on me, so I can get him going, get him a couple of at-bats and four or five innings.”

Freeman played 5 1/2 innings against the Tigers and went 1-for-3 with a single and two strikeouts. He singled through the right side of the infield in the first inning and scored when Matt Kemp followed with a two-run double.

“Flying around the bases, you know me,” Freeman said, smiling. “Got to get those legs ready. Feel like I’m going to be doing a lot this year.”

He played in three games at Miami for Team Canada, which lost all three and was eliminated in pool play. After the last game Sunday night, Freeman drove back to his spring apartment near Braves camp, got home at 4:30 a.m. Monday, worked out Tuesday and bused with the team to Lakeland to play Wednesday.

He could have stayed back and rejoined the team for Thursday’s home game at Champion Stadium, but Freeman didn’t want to wait.

“I’ve got to get ready,” he said. “I don’t feel very good right now. Feel like I’m cutting my swing off and not staying through balls. So I need more reps. It’s always like that. I always have a week to 10 days in spring where I go 0-for-12 with 10 strikeouts, and then something will click and you go. I’m in the middle of that right now, so hopefully I can figure this out shortly.”

Freeman has hit .474 (9-for-19) with eight singles, one double and five RBIs in seven Grapefruit League games. With two weeks left before the Braves break camp in Florida, he said it shouldn’t be difficult to focus.

“Everything is on opening day now,” he said. “Obviously I was trying to get ready for the WBC. Now that’s over, so now I’ve got two weeks to get comfortable and feel good. It was actually nice to hit in a big-league stadium (in Miami), because the first time I walked out there it’s like, whoa, this is big. Because you’re not used to everything surrounding you (in a spring training ballpark). You’re used to open air beyond the batter’s eye. So that was actually a nice change.

But, he added, “I think it actually got me a little more giddy and got me out of my rhythm. Now I’ve got to reel it back in and get locked back in, because I think that actually got me so excited it took me out of my swing. Now I’ve got to get back in. But it was a great time. Now I’ve got two weeks to figure it out.”

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