SEATTLE – In their first visit to the Pacific Northwest since 2003, the Braves on Monday unveiled the largest leadoff man in the major leagues.
For the series opener against the Seattle Mariners, Jason Heyward was penciled in the leadoff spot for the first time in his big-league career.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez laughed when someone asked what hat he used to make out the lineup. As in, drawing players’ names from a hat.
“I used brain power,” he said. “I had some cod oil, supposed to be good for brain function.”
Just don’t expect the 6-foot-5, 248-pound right fielder to make many more starts there. Gonzalez explained that with the Brave facing a good left-hander, Erik Bedard, he wanted to give right-handed-hitting rookie backup Wilkin Ramirez a start.
Ramirez was in left field and Nate McLouth moved back over to center field in place of Jordan Schafer, who was 4-for-34 against lefties before Monday. Gonzalez indicated Schafer would be back in the leadoff spot on Tuesday.
“Schafer’s hitting .118 against lefties, so just give him a break today,” Gonzalez said. “Schafer is still our center fielder. And I wanted to be able to use the bench a little bit. If you’re going to use Ramirez, that’s where you’re going to use him. We’ve got three left-handed outfielders — if he’s not going to be able to spell a guy against a tough lefty, when are you going to use him? If you’re not going to use him then, he’s not going to be here.”
Veteran newcomer Julio Lugo, whose 9-for-34 history against Bedard was far and away the most extensive of any Brave, got his first start at third base, batting in Heyward’s usual second spot. Chipper Jones was designated hitter for the interleague series opener.
Jones has never liked to DH and still doesn’t, he said Monday. He finds it difficult to stay loose and involved in the game when he’s not playing defense. But he understood the move.
Switch-hitting Jones hit fourth behind catcher Brian McCann, as Gonzalez used his preferred lefty-righty-lefty-righty order.
“Give DH to Chipper, keep him in the lineup and keep his legs kind of fresh, put Lugo in there [at third]. And put Heyward at leadoff spot, because he’s an on-base guy and it also kind of splits up the lefties.”