PHILADELPHIA — Arizona had just one more win than the Braves through the middle of the week, so imagine where the Diamondbacks might be if not for their hot-hitting Atlanta cast-offs.
Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche combined for 32 extra-base hits and 38 RBIs in the Diamondbacks’ first 30 games, and Johnson’s 10 homers were tied for the National League lead through Friday’s games.
“Kelly’s just getting lucky as hell, playing way out of his league,” LaRoche joked in a text message. “I haven’t changed a thing. Have some pretty good hitters around me, so they have to throw strikes.”
Johnson has been one of the NL’s big stories, hitting .291 with 18 extra-base hits and a 1.048 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in his first 28 games through Friday, including a .324 average and .410 on-base percentage in 71 at-bats from the leadoff spot.
All this after the Braves released him in December, rather than risk paying an arbitration salary in excess of $3 million. He hit .224 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 106 games last season and lost his second-base job to Martin Prado.
Arizona signed Johnson to a one-year, $2.35 million deal.
Braves outfielder Matt Diaz, who lived in the same neighborhood as Johnson last season and used to share a ride to Turner Field, has talked to his friend a few times this season.
“I think it was the third game, I called him afterward and said, ‘Hey someone’s raking,’” Diaz said. “He said, ‘It was one good game, Matt.’”
Johnson went 3-for-3 with two homers in that game against San Diego.
“It’s turned into a lot more than one game,” Diaz said of Johnson, who had seven homers in his past 10 games at Arizona’s Chase Field.
LaRoche often hits fifth between Mark Reynolds (nine homers) and center fielder Chris Young. Reynolds and Young had 25 RBIs apiece through Friday.
LaRoche had a meager .195 career average and .654 OPS in April before this season, when he hit .296 with a .943 OPS in the month.
The first baseman hit .325 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs in 57 games for the Braves in 2009 after coming from Boston at the trade deadline. Surprised the Braves didn’t make a free-agent offer, he said in December, “Guess I should have hit .400 while I was there.”
The Braves never made him an offer ostensibly for two reasons: One, they believed reports that LaRoche sought a lucrative three-year deal and they didn’t want to block prospect Freddie Freeman, and two, they were concerned about LaRoche’s typically slow starts.
Before this season, he had a .253 career average with a homer every 25 at-bats before the All-Star break and .300 with a homer every 17.7 at-bats after the break.
LaRoche signed a one-year, $6 million contract with Arizona, which includes a $4.5 million this season and a $7.5 option for 2011 with a $1.5 million buyout.
Lowe relates to Vazquez
Javier Vazquez, ace of the 2009 Braves staff, was 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA through his first five starts for the Yankees and twice got booed coming off the field at Yankee Stadium.
Braves pitcher Derek Lowe said he could relate to being booed off the field.
“I’ve been there,” he said, recalling his days as a Boston closer. “I struggled to a point where they stopped the game. It was Derek Lowe poster night. They threw all the posters back on the field. They stopped the game for 15 minutes.
“That’s when you know you’re struggling, when they throw all your free posters on the field. And it was for kids. They didn’t care. Three-run lead, and I gave up five in a matter of seconds.
“There were bonfires. They set them on fire outside after the game. It must have been cold that night.
“Don’t tell me about struggling.”