After going 2-for-21 with 10 strikeouts in his past five games, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman had no complaints about being out of the lineup Monday for the first time in 10 games.
Eric Hinske got the assignment at first base, the veteran utility man’s first start at any position this season. Manager Fredi Gonzalez likes to keep his bench players sharp with occasional starts.
“The way he’s swinging he should be in there,” Freeman said of Hinske, who was 3-for-7 with three RBIs before Monday, all pinch-hitting. “It’s hard to count on someone in the eighth and ninth inning if they haven’t played. ‘Ski somehow seems to do it. Every time he’s up there he’s hitting a guy in.
“I’ve just got to keep working hard and build off of what happened yesterday.”
What happened Sunday for Freeman was two line-drive outs to left field. When the left-handed slugger is on his game, Freeman hits a lot of balls hard to center or to the opposite (left) field. That’s something he did plenty in the last two weeks of spring training, but not during the early part of the season.
Freeman, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, had a .162 average with one extra-base hit (double) and one RBI before Monday, and was a team-worst 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“It’s two-fold,” Gonzalez said of resting Freeman. “Getting Hinske in there – he’s the last guy to get a start of the bench guys. So get him in there. We’re beginning 13 [games] in a row, so get him in there, get him a start, and give Freeman a little breather.”
Freeman, 22, said it wasn’t as easy to regain his opposite-field stroke during the season as it was during spring training.
“But [Sunday’s hard-hit balls to left] was a start, and you’ve got take a positive out of it,” he said.
Freeman was 1-for-11 against Mets right-hander Dillon Gee, the starting pitcher for Monday’s series opener. Hinske was 0-for-6 with two walks against Gee before Monday.
“If you don’t put Hinske in today, he doesn’t match up well later on,” Gonzalez said, referring to some of the upcoming pitchers are scheduled to face. “It’s not like he’s killed Gee. But anyway….”
While Freeman is trying to regain his own form, he’s been glad to see his friend Jason Heyward wielding a hot bat early. A year ago, Heyward was bothered early by a sore shoulder and slumped soon after Freeman began to surge.
Before Monday, Heyward hit .345 with a .424 on-base percentage, including 7-for-14 with two homers in his past four games.
“We all know this is Jason,” said Freeman, who roomed with Heyward for three years in the minor leagues. “It’s awesome to see. Everybody knew it and he’s finally healthy — you can see the Jason of 2010, what I got to see since 2007. It’s going to be fun to watch the rest of the year.”