DENVER — Recognition keeps rolling in for Braves infielder Omar Infante, the unlikely All-Star whose ongoing hitting surge has silenced critics of that selection and helped make him the National League’s latest Player of the Week.
The leadoff man won the award Monday after hitting .433 with three home runs, a league-leading .900 slugging percentage and majors-leading nine runs for a week that ended in spectacular fashion Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.
Infante went 4-for-4 with two home runs, four RBIs and four runs in a 16-5 win Sunday at Wrigley Field.
“I’m surprised; I wasn’t expecting it,” Infante said through an interpreter, of the Player of the Week award that’s the first of his career and the second for a Brave this season.
Martin Prado, the Braves’ other Player of the Week winner in 2010, is Infante’s friend and Venezuelan countryman. Prado has also served as interpreter for an increasing number of interviews requested of the soft-spoken Infante.
Prado handled translation duties after Infante’s huge game Sunday and again Monday after the award was announced before the Braves’ series opener against the Colorado Rockies.
“I don’t pay attention to the numbers every single day,” Infante said, in explaining why the award surprised him. “I just come to the field and do my job. It’s a great [honor].
“I’m just going to keep working like I have all these years, try to get better and help the team win.”
The versatile veteran hit a stunning .370 in 62 games since June 1, first as backup and pinch-hitter, but as a lineup regular since the end of July.
“He’s been attacking the ball pretty good,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s aggressive. And he’s all over the infield [playing strong defense].”
Infante filled in at second base and the leadoff spot while Prado was out with a broken pinkie, and there after third baseman Chipper Jones had season-ending knee surgery. Prado came off the disabled list and moved to third base and the third spot in the order.
Infante hit .406 in his past 38 games before Monday to raise his season average to .349, putting him in position to challenge for the NL batting title even if he falls short of the minimum 502 plate appearances.
He led the majors with a .358 leadoff average and .392 leadoff on-base percentage.
Infante’s overall average was 26 points higher than Cincinnati’s NL leader Joey Votto (.323) before Monday, with Prado tied for second at .318. If Infante continues to play every day – he started his 25th consecutive game Monday – he could finish with 490 or more plate appearances.
Even if he were rested or missed a handful of games and finish with 470-480 plate appearances, he could still win the batting title provided he keeps his average significantly higher than the other leaders.
A rule allows for a shortage of plate appearances (fewer than 502) to be made up as hitless at-bats for a player whose average would contend for the batting title. So if Infante were to hit .340 in 480 plate appearances, for statistical purposes an 0-for-22 could be added to his totals and his average adjusted down.
Under such a scenario, he could win the batting title if he continues his sizzling pace, or even if he cools off some.
He hit .394 during his 24 consecutive starts before Monday.
“That’s not important right now,” Infante said of the batting-title possibility. “I want to stay healthy and be part of making the playoffs, do my best to help this team get in the playoffs.
“At the end of the season, after we clinch, I’ll find out who’s going to have the batting title.”