MILWAUKEE – His first week as the Braves’ starting first baseman was not easy for Braves rookie Freddie Freeman, who went 1-for-4 on Thursday against Milwaukee and actually raised his batting average by 25 points.
That’s because he was hitting .105 when the day began.
The Braves knew that the 21-year-old would struggle at times, but are confident that he will make adjustments and thrive, much like he did at every level in the minor leagues.
“To me, and talking to L.P. [hitting coach Larry Parrish], it looks like he’s expanding the strike zone a little bit, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Probably trying to create stuff that’s not there. That’s the case sometimes with young players.
“He’ll look at some film and L.P. will look at some film, kind of settle him down a little bit and he’ll get going. He’s hit everywhere he’s been, and he’s going to hit.”
The Braves are counting on Freeman as a lineup regular and have no plans to platoon him or have another player get more than an occasional start at first base. Eric Hinske started Tuesday, but that was more to get Hinske at-bats than to rest Freeman.
The big rookie has started six of seven games and .130 (3-for-23) with a double, one RBI, two walks and six strikeouts.
Freeman has flashed his considerable defensive skills already with the Braves, scooping balls and using his 6-foot-4 frame to stretch for errant throws.
He made a questionable play in the seventh inning of Thursday’s loss, when he fielded Prince Fielder’s bases-loaded grounder and threw home instead of getting the sure out at first base. Rickie Weeks scored ahead of the throw to push the Brewers’ lead to 4-2.
“I think it would have been difficult” to get the out at home, Gonzalez said, “but with him and his arm – for me he’s not a normal first baseman. He’s got range and he’s got a plus-plus arm. So… I’m not going to get on him about needing to get the out at first base, because I’ve seen him do some stuff that other first basemen cannot do.
“Maybe if he charges it and makes a little better throw, he might be out at the plate.”
As far as hitting, Freeman had a pattern in the minor leagues of struggling initially after a promotion. He did it when he was bumped to Double-A two years ago, and slumped at the beginning of the 2010 season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Once he got acclimated, he excelled. He hit .319 with 18 home runs, 87 RBIs and a .378 on-base percentage in 124 games at Gwinnett.
He had only 24 at-bats and four hits in a September callup with the Braves, but one of the hits was a long home run off Phillies ace Roy Halladay in Philadelphia.