ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Freddie Freeman spent part of his weekend series switching between glasses and various pairs of contact lenses and trying out assorted eye drops in a somewhat successful effort to alleviate his dry-eyes condition.
But that didn’t distract the Braves first baseman from his approach at the plate, which includes swinging at the first pitch more than any other National League hitter.
Freeman swung at the first pitch just over 48 percent of the time (84 of 174) before Sunday, more frequently than any major leaguer except Texas slugger Josh Hamilton (56 percent).
“I’ve always done that,” Freeman said. “I’m a guy who, regardless of the count if it’s a strike, I swing. I’m not up there looking for a certain pitch or anything. I put my [front] foot down [and am ready to swing]. Usually the first pitch is the best pitch because they’re just trying to get to strike 1.”
He laughed and added, “Don’t do that to me. I’ll swing.”
And why not? It works for him. Freeman was tied for sixth in the NL with a .500 average (15-for-30) when he put the first pitch in play before Sunday, and he’d put more of them in play than any other 10 listed among the NL leaders (Chipper Jones has also hit .500 in those situations, going 11-for-22 when he puts the first pitch in play).
In the AL, Hamilton was seventh with a .485 average (16-for-33) when he put the first pitch in play, which he’d done more than 50 percent more than any other AL hitter.
For Freeman, “It works. Sometimes I’ll get a little too aggressive and I’ve got to take a step back and say all right, I’m going to switch it up and take one here. Kind of play with their minds a little bit. But other than that, if it’s coming over the white [of the plate] I’m swinging.”
His approach is the antithesis of teammate Martin Prado, who had the sixth-lowest percentage (12.0) of first-pitch swings before Sunday, having taken 154 of the 175 first pitches he’d seen.
“He’s the exact opposite,” Freeman said. “But he’ll trick some people, too, and swing. Don’t take him lightly in that situation…. Everybody’s different. I’m not up there looking for pitches, I’m up there looking for strikes. People make fun of me. People laugh and just don’t get. But it’s my philosophy. My hands are back, so it doesn’t matter what it is, I’m ready for it.
“You can throw me a first-pitch curveball like [Tampa Bay’s] James Shields did and I’ll swing. You can throw me a fastball and I’m still swinging. I’m just looking for strikes.”
Freeman had two hits and two RBIs in Friday’s 5-3 win against the Rays, and singled and scored a run in Sunday’s 2-0 series-ending win. He leads the Braves with seven homers and 32 RBIs, including 31 RBIs in his past 31 games.
Meanwhile, the quest for eye comfort continued over the weekend. Freeman has been wearing glasses up until gametime, to rest his eyes before he puts in his contact lenses. He said he finally got some relief from one of the many types of drops he’s tried out since first getting corneal abrasions after his dry eyes were further aggravated by windy, dry conditions at Colorado two weeks ago.
He said playing the weekend series in domed Tropicana Field helped because there was no wind, which is the worst irritant for him.
After his jacked-up eyes forced him to leave a game last Monday, Freeman had a late-night visit to Braves eye doctor Alan Kozarsky, who diagnosed the corneal abrasions and plugged the tear ducts beneath Freeman’s eyes. It’s a procedure for patients whose eyes don’t produce enough tears.
“If you were to get them, it’d make your eyes overflow with tears,” Freeman said. “My eyes still haven’t watered up yet.”
The contusion above Chipper Jones’ left ankle showed some improvement Sunday, two days after he was struck by a hard one-hopper that eventually forced him out of Friday’s game. But he was out of the lineup for a second consecutive day and could also miss Monday’s opener of a four-game series at Cincinnati.
Jones’ limp was less pronounced Sunday, but there was still swelling and severe discoloration over a wide area.
“He’s walking around a lot better,” manager Fredi Gonzalez. “From talking to Bubba [Braves trainer Jeff Porter], it may be two months to get it all out of there. He’s going to have to wear a protector for at least a couple of months. Because it’s his left leg. Even if he hits left-handed, I would think he would wear one just in case he gets a slider down and in or something.”
The switch-hitting Jones said he would wear a shin guard for the rest of the season when he bats.
Kimbrel is NL saves leader
Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts Sunday for his 13th save in 14 opportunities, moving him past the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon for the NL saves lead. Opponents are 9-for-50 with 25 strikeouts against Kimbrel when he’s pitched in save situations.
Sutton traded to Pirates
The Braves traded journeymen infielder Drew Sutton to the Pirates for cash considerations on Sunday. Sutton, 29, hit .267 with a .373 OBP in 37 games for Triple-A Gwinnett, with, 11 extra-base hits (no home runs) and 14 RBIs in 162 plate appearances.