It doesn’t sound as if Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is planning significant changes to his lineup. So don’t expect to see Jason Heyward batting second anytime soon.
Plenty of fans and baseball analysts have opined that Gonzalez should move slugger and on-base-percentage machine Heyward up from his current sixth slot. The No. 2 position – Nate McLouth’s current spot — is a preferred destination of many critics.
The AJC asked Gonzalez about the lineup again before Wednesday’s game, the day after the Braves’ 5-0 win against Florida that included a long Heyward homer and at least one hit from all eight starting position players.
In that Tuesday win, McLouth had a double and a sacrifice bunt that moved a runner to third before a sac fly by Chipper Jones.
Did the performance make Gonzalez even more certain about the lineup (given that he’d already stuck with it despite a lot of bad hitting nights so far by the Braves)?
“Yeah,” he said. “When you make out the lineup, the lineup is a function of the entire lineup – eight guys, not just one guy. Statisticians, numbers crunchers and my SABR [Society for American Baseball Research] people – I’m a member – they shoot holes in that stuff. But you’re dealing with humans in the way the lineup is constructed.
“Yeah, you put this guy in the No. 2 hole, but what are you going to do to the 6-hole? What are you going to do to [No. 5 hitter Dan] Uggla when he’s hitting good?”
Gonzalez believes his current lineup is balanced, and that that balances, along with the alternating left-handed/right-handed situation up and down the order, will cause difficulties for opposing managers when most of the Braves are hitting well.
“Like the situation [Tuesday], when McLouth bunts [Martin] Prado over to third,” he said. “Now are you are going to play the infield in? Are you going to pitch to Chipper or pitch to [No. 4 hitter Brian] McCann? That kind of stuff.
“When everybody doing things like we did yesterday, hitting gappers, hitting some balls out of the ballpark, it makes [the lineup] good.”
Some critics have cited the additional 60-80 plate appearances that Heyward could get if he hit high in the order as a big flaw in Gonzalez’s lineup. He was asked specifically about that fact and if he thought it was outweighed by the overall function of the lineup.
“I think the way the lineup is constructed is more important,” he said, before applying the additional-plate-appearances reasoning to a rhetorical question to reporters: “Then why don’t we lead off [Albert] Pujols? Or [Barry] Bonds? Lead ‘em off.”
Gonzalez then came back to reiterate one of the factors he emphasizes – the “human being” aspect. He’s said several times that part of why he decided in the spring to put McLouth in the 2-hole – besides his speed and bunting ability — was that he wanted him to get more fastballs, to get him going after his career-worst 2010 season.
“Believe me,” Gonzalez said, “when a guy’s going good in a certain spot — he likes it; he’s comfortable – his whole game is [going well], let ‘em play. Let ‘em do it….
“When you’re going bad, you come up with the bases loaded every time. I mean, you can be hitting 11th and it’ll happen. When you’re going good, it doesn’t matter.
“Everybody [in the lineup] has got a function.”