NEW YORK – After fending off a challenge for the shortstop job in spring training, Tyler Pastornicky didn’t feel as much pressure he might have before starting in his first major league opening day Thursday.
“I think that whole spring training experience helped me as far as maybe calming down and getting used to some of this,” the 22-year-old rookie said as he dressed for the Braves’ opener against the Mets at Citi Field. “I’m sure I’m going to get nervous out there, but I think that helped a lot as far as me being able to realize it’s the same game.”
He showed no signs of nervousness while going 1-for-2 with a triple and a walk and making a couple of nifty defensive plays.
“Yeah, it didn’t look like he had any [nerves] at all,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “He played great. Put together some good at-bats, smoked that one to right-center and played great defense. He’s an athletic kid and he’s got all the tools to be a great ballplayer. I’m excited – I think we’re all excited – to see what he’s capable of doing.”
Pastornicky’s parents were at Citi Field for his major league debut. His dad, Cliff Pastornicky, is a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Jays flew them in for the game. (Tyler was a former Blue Jays prospect traded to the Braves with Alex Gonzalez in the July 2010 deal that sent shortstop Yunel Escobar to Toronto.)
“Awesome,” Pastornicky said of the gesture by the Blue Jays. “I can’t believe they would do something like that. It was classy. It’s awesome.”
He said about 15 friends from his Bradenton, Fla. high school — IMG Academy — also flew up to New York on Thursday for the game.”
“To make it all that much more special,” he said. “It’s cool to get to go out there and experience that, then get to see them later on and talk about it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Gonzalez debated on whether to start Pastornicky in his first game or ease him in, maybe start veteran backup Jack Wilson in the opener. Ultimately, he decided to do it the way former manager Bobby Cox always did it.
“Talking to the coaches and the kid, [he decided to] throw him in there,” Gonzalez said. “Get it over with, his anticipation – I’m sure he didn’t sleep much at all last night. I put the lineup up yesterday before we left [Atlanta], just to make sure guys knew. He’ll be fine.”
Pastornicky drew a walk against veteran left-hander Johan Santana in his second plate appearance and tripled off Ramon Ramirez his third time up.
“He had a great game,” Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson said. “Everyone’s comfortable with him at short.”
He had the shortstop job to lose entering spring training, and Pastornicky pressed and struggled to such a degree in the early going that prospect and defensive standout Andrelton Simmons gave him a run. Pastornicky relaxed and starting to hit and field better in the last two weeks of camp, and Simmons slumped at the plate and strained a side muscle in the last week of camp.
Simmons will start the season at Double-A Mississippi, and Pastornicky started at shortstop for the Braves before a large New York crowd Thursday, facing a former two-time Cy Young Award winner whom Pastornicky remembered watching when he was barely a teen-ager.
“Oh, yeah. I watched [Santana] when he had his good stuff,” said Pastornicky, with a wide-eyed smile and a tone that made it obvious he wasn’t making a dig at the veteran left-hander.
Pastornicky grounded out in the third inning in his first major league plate appearance and walked in the fifth, the first walk issued by Santana.
“I felt great,” Pastornicky said afterward. “Surprisingly, during [batting practice] I thought I’d feel nervous and stuff. I felt great. I think I got all my nerves out in spring training, with that terrible start. I felt great [today]. Tough game, but it was good to get out there and get the first one out of the way. Tommy threw the ball great. Couldn’t have thrown any better.”
He relaxed a bit more after grounding out his first time up, Pastornicky said.
“Get that first at-bat out of the way,” he said, “and then go, ‘OK, here we go.’ It’s a good feeling to get all the firsts out of the way today.”
The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth before Michael Bourn grounded out to Santana, who left in the bottom of the fifth for a pinch-hitter.