Swanson glad to be playing, not thinking about retaining rookie status

With two games remaining in the Braves season, rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson entered Saturday with 123 at-bats, seven from the limit to retain rookie status next season and be eligible for the 2017 Rookie of the Year award.

Let’s just say that this is a matter that’s been thought about and discussed by fans, reporters and others outside the organization far more than has been on the mind of Swanson. Far, far more.

Which is why Swanson was glad to be in the lineup for Saturday’s game against Detroit for the 21st time in the past 22 games, playing in what felt a bit like a playoff atmosphere, given the size of final-weekend crowds at Turner Field and the fact that the Tigers were competing for a wild-card spot.

“The ultimate goal is not for me to win Rookie of the Year, the ultimate goal is for me to be as prepared as I can be and help us win,” said Swanson, batting an impressive .301 with 10 extra-base hits and a .797 OPS in 36 games before Saturday. “You can say, ah, it’s just one game or whatever, but at the same time it’s like, that’s a day that you lose.

“I’m just trying to learn and enjoy and get to where I need to be for us to be successful.”

Whether or not he goes over 130 at-bats and loses rookie status has no effect whatsoever on contract status, future arbitration or how long the Braves have contractual control over him. The only real effect is on his eligibility for rookie awards in 2017.

Swanson’s performance has ramped up since he started playing every day. In his past 21 games before Saturday, he hit .353 (24-for-68) with three homers, 13 RBIs and a .416 OBP and .754 slugging percentage.

If he finishes with 130 or fewer at-bats, he’d be leading contender for National League Rookie of the Year entering the 2017 season. And since it’s at-bats and not plate appearances, Swanson could have, say, 10 plate appearances with three walks (that’s seven at-bats) over the final two games and still retain rookie status for 2017.

Batting in the eighth spot, which has been his usual position and was again Saturday, increased the likelihood of staying below 130 at-bats. Not to mention the fact that Sunday’s season finale is against a tough opposing pitcher, Tigers veteran Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.10).

In 1996, Phillies rookie Scott Rolen was hit by a pitch that broke his wrist on Sept. 8, ending his season. He had exactly 130 at-bats, thus retained rookie status for 1997, when he hit .283 with 21 homers, 92 RBIs and an .846 OPS and was unanimously voted NL Rookie of the Year.

In 1996, Rolen had batted .254 with four homers, 18 RBIs and a .722 OPS in 37 games before the broken wrist.

Again, it should be noted, preserving his rookie status seemed to be about the last thing on Swanson’s mind entering the final weekend of the season. Until he was asked about it.

“Honestly it didn’t even come into my mind until people starting, like, ‘Hey, like, this is a thing,’” said Swanson, who had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances (three at-bats) in Friday’s 5-2 series-opening loss, played in front of a crowd of 41,500 on a cool, just-about-perfect night at Turner Field.

That atmosphere was something he looked forward to again for the final two games, only with the Braves winning, he hoped, to complete a second-half surge that has the entire team thinking positively about 2017.

“Exactly. Something like that (playing in that environment) is more valuable than potential Rookie of the Year,” Swanson said before Saturday’s game.

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