MIAMI – He went 4-for-4 with two RBIs in the Braves’ 7-5 win against the Marlin on Monday to raise his team-best batting average to .303, and three of Martin Prado’s four hits came with two strikes.
This was not unusual for the most versatile – and patient — Brave, who swings at fewer first pitches than any National League hitter, and has a higher two-strike batting average (.281) than anyone in the majors except Washington’s Jayson Werth (.298).
“He doesn’t have to cheat [on a pitch] and he protects the plate,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s not afraid to take a strike, any situation. Bases loaded, sometimes you’re thinking, ambush him right here [on first pitch]. But he’ll take strike 1, and then still come up and get a big hit.”
Prado swings at only 8.3 percent of first pitches. By contrast, teammate Freddie Freeman swings at 45.2 percent of first pitches, second-most in the NL.
In three of his four at-bats Monday, Prado took first-pitch strikes, and in one he took the first two pitches for strikes. Again, he went 4-for-4 in the game.
Prado actually had more doubles (23 doubles), home runs (five) and RBIs (36) when batting with two strikes than he did when batting with less than two strikes.
His four-hit game matched a career high and raised his NL-leading total to 55 multi-hit games. Prado was the only Brave who stayed hot throughout the team’s recent offense malaise, hitting .333 with 15 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and an .871 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his past 34 games before Tuesday.
He did that while moving between positions, from his usual left field to fill in a few games for benched Dan Uggla at second base, at third base at times for Chipper Jones, and at shortstop when the Braves needed more offense than they were getting from Paul Janish while Andrelton Simmons was on the disabled list.
He was at shortstop again Tuesday after Simmons banged up his left shoulder making a diving play Monday.
“He’s a force,” Gonzalez said of Prado. “[People] don’t realize how valuable he is, offensively and defensively. He’s been giving you great at-bats every night. Is he having numbers-wise better numbers than in his All-Star year?”
No, but close. Prado hit .307 with a .350 OBP and .809 OPS in his 2010 All-Star season, with 40 doubles, three triples, 15 homers and 66 RBIs in 140 games. This season he hit .303 with a .357 OBP and .791 OPS in 143 games before Tuesday, with 38 doubles, five triples, nine homers and 66 RBIs.
He’s had the bounce-back season he and the Brave hoped for after hitting .260 with a .302 OBP and .687 OPS in 129 games in 2011, when he had a five-week DL stint at midseason for staph infection in his legs, and struggled after returning.
He’s managed to avoid any significant injuries this season, but Prado knocks on wood and barely addressed the subject when asked. The memory is fresh not just of last season’s woes, but the groin and oblique injuries that kept him out of the 2010 postseason and the broken finger that DL’d him shortly after that 2010 All-Star game.
“I’m not going to say the whole season, because we’ve got 14 games left,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “But pretty much, yeah, pretty good so far. I’m glad that I’ve been able to stay healthy.”
As for his league-leading 55 multi-hit games, he said, “I don’t think about that stuff. I just go as far as I can go. That’s all I can do.”
Teammates say he’s the epitome of a good teammate and cares only about winning. Prado said he’s just happy to be contributing to wins in a playoff race.
“Yeah, man, that’s all that matters right now,” he said. “I go home and I’m thinking, ‘We won today. Got to keep going.’”