SAN DIEGO – After starting games at four different positions during the long weekend series at San Francisco, Martin Prado made it five positions in seven games Wednesday when he started at first base against San Diego.
“Oh, man, that’s impressive because you know it’s tough,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “I mean, people say they just want to be on the field or they just want to be in the lineup. That’s true, but at the same time, your mind has to operate differently at different positions.”
Prado was an All-Star second baseman in his first year as a lineup regular in 2010, and the Braves moved the former utility man to left field after trading for Dan Uggla after the 2010 season.
He quickly developed into a quality defensive left fielder, while continuing to serve as a backup at third base and second base and occasionally at first base and shortstop – his least-proficient positions, but ones that he plays at least serviceably. His start at shortstop on Friday at San Francisco was only the fourth of his career, all this season.
Contrary to what some think, playing shortstop does not come easily just because someone excels at second and third base.
“Kind of a new thing for me,” Prado said. “You see everything. You see signs, everything. More action there. Everything in the gap, you go get. You [position] people….”
His flexibility makes manager Fredi Gonzalez’s job easier, because he can play Prado anywhere without being a liability or having it affect his hitting. Prado entered Wednesday batting .296 with 48 extra-base hits including a team-high 36 doubles, and his .326 average with runners in scoring position and two outs was second among Braves regulars behind Freddie Freeman (.339).
“That’s really nice to be able to [move Prado around],” said Gonzalez, who considers him a major asset in the National League, where lineup double-switches are so useful. “Anywhere you stick him, he does fine. Probably of all the positions, shortstop [would be last] if you rank them all. But he plays them above-average, all of them.”
Prado doesn’t consider himself a natural at shortstop, but scoffed when asked if he could excel there if he worked at the position.
“If I worked there? Yeah,” he said. “God gave me the chance to play in the major leagues. If God put me in this spot, it’s because I can do it. With Him, there’s nothing I can’t do. Whenever they told me to play left field, I worked on it. I wanted to be a left fielder. I didn’t want to be a [bad] one. I want to do my job, and the only way you can do your job is to prepare yourself for that position. And that’s what I did.
“I mean, I’m not great [in left], but I can play there.”
Before Prado did it last week against the Giants, the last Brave to start four consecutive games at different positions was Jerry Royster in 1984 (left field, second base, third base, shortstop).
“That tells you how valuable he is,” veteran Braves catcher David Ross said of Prado, who was voted the third-most underrated player in baseball in a Sports Illustrated survey of major leaguers, who couldn’t vote for their own teammates in the survey.
“He’s one of my favorite teammates. Doesn’t complain about anything. Valuable piece, man. I know that,” Ross said. “He’s a good teammate, wants to play every day and gives you a good at-bat. There’s not too many guys I want in there in a big situation more than Martin. He’s going to give you a tough out. And he runs the bases. He’s just a complete player. He’s a ballplayer.”
Bullpen strong down stretch
The Braves bullpen had begun a late-season fade by this time in 2011, but this season it had been at its best as the stretch drive began. That is until Wednesday, when relievers Chad Durbin and Jonny Venters were charged with two runs apiece in the four-run eighth inning in an 8-2 loss at San Diego in the road-trip finale.
Atlanta relievers allowed just three earned runs in 23-1/3 innings during the first nine games of the 10-game trip, and led the NL with a 1.85 ERA since the All-Star break.
Braves in Ariz. Fall League
Six Braves minor leaguers have been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League for the Phoenix Desert Dogs: right-handed pitchers Cory Rasmus and Zeke Spruill (Double-A Mississippi) and Gus Schlosser (high-A Lynchburg); catcher Matt Kennelly (Mississippi); shortstop Nick Ahmed (Lynchburg); and third baseman Edward Salcedo (Lynchburg)