NEW YORK – He’s been somewhat overshadowed in the Braves offense by the resurgence of Jason Heyward, the All-Star performance of leadoff man Michael Bourn and the exploits of 40-year-old Chipper Jones, but consider for a moment just what Freddie Freeman has done this season.
Despite being slowed for several weeks, first because of vision problems and then a finger injury, Freeman has hit .281 with 27 doubles (second on the team to Martin Prado), 14 homers, an .821 OPS and a team-high 74 RBIs in 100 games.
Since getting healthy he has a .327 average with six homers, 37 RBIs and a .946 OPS in his past 45 games, including .362 (17-for-47) with 14 RBIs in his last 13 games before tonight’s series finale against the Mets on ESPN.
“He’s maturing and growing up as a major league right in front of our eyes,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Freeman drove in five runs in Saturday’s 9-3 win with a two-run double in the first inning and a mammoth – or “mammo” in Chipper-speak – three-run homer to straightaway center in the second.
Freeman began today tied for sixth in the NL in RBIs, and just one of the other 13 NL leaders in that category had as few or fewer at-bats as he did – Buster Posey, who had 75 RBIs in 370 at-bats. No other Brave is within 15 RBIs of Freeman.
“He’s taking the next step toward stardom,” Jones said. “I mean, he’s going to drive in 100 runs. That’s something that’s pretty big for guys in the middle of the lineup, especially young guys. Do it once and get some confidence, know that you can go out there and do it every year. Freddie’s a guy that, if he stays healthy, he can run off a few 100-RBI seasons in a row.”
Chipper should know, considering he had eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons through age 31 in 2003.
In 28 games since the All-Star break, Freeman has hit .330 (33-for-100) with 13 extra-base hits, 25 RBIs and a .957 OPS, looking more and more like he did when he won two NL Player of the Week awards in the first six weeks of the season, before his eyes dried out and he spent weeks trying to find the right medicated drops or contacts or glasses that would help him see straight.
When he finally got that situation worked out, he got hit in the hand by a Jose Reyes throw while sliding into second base, which somehow didn’t break his finger but left it throbbing and painful to grip the bat for weeks.
“I’m getting there,” Freeman said, when I asked him after last night’s game about being healthy again. “I’m still battling my finger and all that, but everything is healthy enough where I can control it now. I’m getting back where I’m able to drive balls to the middle, like I did today.”
To say he drove that ball to center field last night would be like saying sprinter Usain Bolt is a confident fella.
Freeman seriously hammered it. The estimate was 455 feet, or 10 feet shy of the Citi Field-record blast by Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton last year.
This after Freeman drove in the first two runs of the game with a double off Johan Santana in the first inning. The double came with two out on a first-pitch fastball – in other words, basically a perfect Freeman hitting situation.
By that I mean, Freeman leads the NL with 36 two-out RBIs and leads the majors with a .556 average (30-for-54) when he puts the first pitch in play, with nine doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs and an .889 slugging percentage. (Heyward is fifth in NL with a .471 average in 31 at-bats when he puts the first pitch in play.)
With runners in scoring position and two outs, Freeman’s .404 average (21-for-52) is the NL leader among hitters with at least 25 such at-bats.
“That [two-out RBIs) is my favorite,” he said. “It really hurts the other team when you get a two-out ribbie. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, and I’ve actually done a good job this year with that.”
Chipper has been known as a clutch hitter and RBI machine throughout his career, but he and Freeman go about it altogether differently. The veteran switch-hitter studies pitchers, commits to memory thousands of pitches he’s faced and situations where he’s comes through with a big hit or failed to deliver, so he can do it again or try to avoid making the same mistake. Chipper often goes to the plate looking for a specific pitch and has the discipline to lay off other pitches until he gets that pitch.
Freeman? He’s an admitted free-swinger, a guy who’s swung at 44.7 percent of the first pitches he’s seen this season, more than anyone in the majors except Ian Desmond and Josh Hamilton. And in almost any count he’s liable to swing at pitches a bit inside or outside, high or low, fastballs or breaking balls.
It’s not an approach that works for a lot of guys, but it does for him.
Freeman is a big dude (nearly 6 feet 5 and 245 pounds) with a short, compact swing, not something you see too often.
“It’s not like he’s only looking for one pitch,” Bourn said. “He can wait back [for a breaking ball], and he can take advantage of the fastball at the same time. He’s one of those hitters that, if he’s on, he can see the ball pretty good. And right now, it looks like he’s seeing it pretty good.”
Braves pitcher Kris Medlen likes to spend time talking to the position players, getting inside their heads to see what makes them tick. It helps him to better understand hitters’ approaches. But not so much with Freeman.
“I think he’s, he’s like one of those guys that doesn’t — I haven’t talked to him about hitting – I don’t know if he has a plan,” Medlen said, smiling. “Swings at everything, he’ll lay off some nasty stuff … I don’t know. He’ll hit a ball six inches off the plate, inside and outside, and like, at his head. He just puts the barrel on the ball and it goes a long way.
“He’s a big, strong kid, so … It’s crazy to see, but when he hits well it’s awesome.”
He’s hitting well now. Has been all season when he wasn’t dealing with vision issues or the finger that was too painful to grip the bat properly or catch an Andrelton Simmons throw without cringing.
Ask the Mets about what a force he can be: Freeman is 16-for-35 (.457) with five doubles and three homers in his past nine games against the Metropolitans. He has a whopping 15 RBIs in his past seven games against them entering tonight’s series finale, including five multi-RBI games.
On Saturday he hit a couple of tape-measure shots beyond the applie that rises from an enclosure built into the center-field batter’s eye beyond the fence. Then hit hit his titanic shot past it during the game.
He was eager to see first-base coach Terry Pendleton after they got back to the dugout.
“TP tells me every day [during batting practice], ‘Game, please,’” Freeman said of the message he gets from Pendleton after hitting long homers during batting practice. “So this time I actually got to tell him I did it in the game.”
• OK, let’s post this so you can read it before the first pitch. By the way, Tommy Hanson pitched well in his rehab start today for Triple-A Gwinnett, allowing three hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five scoreless innings. He threw 48 strikes in 78 pitches.
Hanson was only scheduled to make one rehab start after coming off the DL for a sore back. Now, it’s decision time.
Gonzalez said Braves officials will discuss over the next few days whether they’re going to go with a five- or six-man rotation, but reiterated that if it’s the latter, it’ll only be six starters for the remainder of the 19-games-in-19-days period they’re in now (which will be 16 in 16 days after Sunday).
• We’ll close with a sublime cut from one of the songwriting masters, the great Tom Waits. You can hear it by clicking here.
“ROMEO IS BLEEDING” by Tom Waits
Romeo is bleeding, but not so as you’d notice.
He’s over on 18th street as usual,
Lookin’ so hard against the hood of his car,
And puttin’ out a cigarette in his hand.
And for all the pachucos at the pumps
At Romero’s paint and body,
And seein’ how far they can spit,
Well it was just another night.
But now they’re huddled in the brake lights
Of a ‘58 Bel Air,
And listenin’ to how Romeo
Killed a sheriff his knife.
And they all jump when they hear the sirens,
But Romeo just laughs and says,
“All the racket in the world
Ain’t never gonna save that copper’s a**.
He’ll never see another summertime
For gunnin’ down my brother,
And leavin’ him like a dog
Beneath a car without his knife.”
And Romeo says, “Hey man gimme a cigarette,”
And they all reach for their pack,
And Frankie lights it for him
And pats him on the back,
And throws bottle at a milk truck,
And as it breaks he grabs his nu**,
And they all know they could be just like Romeo,
If they only had the guts.
But Romeo is bleeding, but nobody can tell,
And he sings along with the radio
With a bullet in his chest.
And he combs back his fenders,
And they all agree it’s clear,
That every thing is cool now that Romeo’s here.
But Romeo is bleeding,
And he winces now and then,
And he leans against the car doors
And feels the blood in his shoes.
And someone’s crying at the 5 points
At the phone booth by the store.
Romeo starts his engine,
And wipes the blood off the door.
And he broadys through the signal,
With the radio full blast,
Leavin’ the boys there hikin’ up their chinos.
And they’re all try to stand like Romeo,
With the moon cut like a sickle.
And they’re talkin’ now in Spanish about their hero.
But Romeo is bleeding
As he gives the man his ticket,
And he climbs the balcony at the movies.
He’ll die without a whimper,
Like every hero’s dream,
Like an angel with a bullet,
And Cagney on the screen.
Romeo is bleeding.
Romeo is bleeding… hey man.
Romeo is bleeding… hey man.
Romeo is bleeding… hey man.
Romeo is bleeding….
— David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog