During the past several weeks, as the Braves have struggled and waited for baseball’s cosmic forces to breathe life into their anemic bats, beleaguered hitting coach Larry Parrish has been consoled by his predecessor.
“[Terry Pendleton] has said to me a few times, ‘Hey, I’ve been there. I know how you feel,’” Parrish said, referencing the former hitting coach who was moved to first base by new manager Fredi Gonzalez. “I know this comes with the territory. If things don’t go well, you’re going to catch some heat. Unfortunately, you can’t just lay hands on them and heal them.”
Of course not. Otherwise, Oral Roberts would’ve been a hitting coach.
But maybe this was the beginning of some awakening. The Braves, floating in and out of consciousness on offense for most of this season, scored six runs in the first five innings against Cincinnati on Saturday night. If Derek Lowe hadn’t drop-kicked a 5-0 lead by allowing a five-run Reds fourth, it might’ve been a shorter night.
But they’ll take it. Chipper Jones singled home Jordan Schafer with the running run in the 12th inning to give the Braves a 7-6 win over the Reds at Turner Field. It was the most runs the Braves have scored in 21 games. Brian McCann homered twice. The team had 14 hits.
These are rare nights for a team that’s hitting .244 (the average went up two points). But hold applause. It’s one game, not quite a trend.
For most of the season, the Braves have mirrored their teams of the 1990s: good pitching, good defense and waiting for somebody to come up with a clutch hit.
They broke spring training with what was expected to be their most potent lineup in several seasons. In the winter, they had added a proven run-producer at second (Dan Uggla). They brought up the next great thing at first (Freddie Freeman). They returned the previous next great thing in right field (Jason Heyward) and the previous great thing Jones (who was remarkably upright and effective in spring training after major knee surgery last August).
But the offense that we’ve witnessed to date has been something closer to a dripping faucet.
They scored three runs or fewer in 26 of their first 52 games (going 7-19), and two or fewer in 18 (4-14). That’s why they were only four games over .500 while Philadelphia was plus-13 starting the night.
Uggla has been a mess. He is hitting .178 after going 0-for-5 Saturday (and is 5-for-54 in the last 15). He has been dropped to sixth in the lineup, and for all we know seventh could be the next stop. Heyward is on the disabled list. He’s getting hurt a little too often. He’s complaining of shoulder soreness, and his batting average is down to .235. In the month of May, he has more MRIs (two) than RBIs (zero).
Freeman, despite too many strikeouts, actually has done his part (he had three hits against the Reds, including a homer). But Jones has been sliding, his health once again an issue (knee and hamstring), although he showed Saturday he can still come through in the clutch.
Pitching hasn’t been the problem. A team that ranks second in the majors with a 2.99 ERA generally is going to be better than just north of break even (28-24).
“I’d rather have it this way than 14th in pitching and No. 1 in offense,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t play slow-pitch softball.”
That’s what this one looked like at the outset, although this hasn’t been the norm for the Braves. Parrish is catching a little heat, but not nearly what Pendleton would have. He’s new, and it’s early. This is the reality check for all of the yutzes out there who believe hitting coaches should be able to magically transform struggling hitters into Ted Williams.
Consider the words of the most struggling of all Braves, Uggla: “We’re the ones up there hitting. You don’t see the hitting coaches up there with a bat in their hands. He can look at film and find 17 things that are wrong with each bad swing. But I’m the one who’s in the box.”
Parrish is tweaking the best he can, but he knows his power his limited.
“As a hitting coach, when a guy struggles, you live and die with it,” he said.
For one night, the Braves let him live a little.
By Jeff Schultz