Braves’ Schafer gets his chance and makes most of it (5 hits)

Jordan Schafer, here congratulating Chipper Jones after his three-run homer, had four hits Thursday.

Jordan Schafer, congratulating Chipper Jones after his three-run homer, had five hits Thursday.

(Last update: 11:15 p.m.)

Jordan Schafer has speed, bats leadoff and plays center field. If you put those three together, he probably fills the team’s greatest need – or at least ranks a close second to an oracle who can answer pesky questions like, “Should we really give this $23 million contract to a pitcher from Japan?”

For the past three years, there has been reason to wonder about Schafer. Given he carried a .211 batting average into Thursday’s game against the New York Mets, a case could be made there was still reason to wonder.

Not anymore.

After taking the plunge from a potential organizational centerpiece to a guy known for a 50-game suspension, injuries and maybe being just a little too cocky, he’s turning into a major league player — an impact one. He is saying and doing the right things. You hear about the work ethic, the humility. He showed some toughness after taking a foul ball off the face the other day and then coming back. He slides on the base paths, dives in the outfield.

We have a natural affinity for players who get their uniform dirty. Also for guys who get five hits in a  game. Schafer went 5-for-6 with three runs scored in the Braves’ 9-8, 10-inning win over the Mets. That raised his average 45 points (to .256), and equally important raised his stature in the organization.

“He’s usually showing us that he’s a prototypical leadoff hitter,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

“I think the kid’s been great since he’s come up,” Chipper Jones said. “I knew he had turned the corner when he came up to me in spring training and said, ‘What do I need to do better? What do I need to do to make this team?’ It told me that he realized he had been trying to do everything on his own, his own way, and it wasn’t good enough. He’s willing to be counseled now.”

The Braves are going to be facing a decision soon on what to do with Schafer. At this point, the answer should be obvious: keep him.

Schafer, who has been starting in center for the injured Nate McLouth, singled in each of his first four at-bats (scoring on the first three). In the 10th, following a two-out double by Diory Hernandez, Schafer kept the inning alive with an infield single when Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy failed to backhand his ground ball. Moments later, with Jason Heyward up, D.J Carrasco committed a balk, bringing Hernandez home with the winning run.

Five hits, three runs, a win — these are the nights Schafer dreams of.

“My whole objective is to get on base, no matter [how] that is,” he said. “If I can get on base five times, I figured we’ve got a good chance to win.”

Schafer brings more speed – leading the team with seven stolen bases in only 20 games – and plays better defense than McLouth. He has a stronger arm. But when Martin Prado returns from a staph infection, the Braves will have one too many outfielders (add Jason Heyward and Joe Mather) and will have to make a roster decision.

“I just want to show them I can play here and contribute and help this team win,” Schafer said. “But they have to do what they think is best.”

Words don’t clinch roster spots, but they help.

Schafer missed so much time following wrist surgery that he lost strength, timing and confidence. All of those things started to come back at Triple-A Gwinnett.

He has been carrying around a copy of a story on C.C. Sabathia, only because of this quote by the pitcher: “Once you prove to yourself what you’re capable of, you build confidence.” He also has a tattoo of a Confucius quote on his left arm: “Our greatest glory is not in rising but in the rising after the fall.”

“I got that one during the suspension,” he said. “It took a while to come back from that [emotionally]. It took a while before it was even fun again in the field.” (The 2008 suspension was for violating baseball’s substance-abuse policy, though he never tested positive and disputed the league’s decision.)

Schafer’s biggest obstacle has been fighting the urge to take a big swing and make up for three years of frustration in one at-bat.

“That’s what got me in trouble before,” he said.

Jones believes Schafer is “still learning” how to be an impact leadoff hitter, how to “hit line drives and ground balls up the middle and the other way so he can best utilize his legs. When he refines some things, he’s going to be a dynamic top of the lineup guy.”

He was just that Thursday. He may have seen Lawrenceville for the last time.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

486 comments Add your comment

Prado4President

June 16th, 2011
6:57 pm

What type of package would the Braves have to send in order to acquire a guy like Michael Bourn or Denard Span?

The Walrus

June 16th, 2011
7:08 pm

Probably a heck of a lot more than most of us are comfortable with.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:10 pm

Meanwhile, back to baseball: Who thought the Braves would be scrambling to win one home game against the New York Mets?

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:11 pm

And the sooner Jose Reyes leaves town, the better.

Sonny Clusters

June 16th, 2011
7:12 pm

Reyes on first again. Hmmm . . .

Najeh Davenpoop

June 16th, 2011
7:13 pm

“And the sooner Jose Reyes leaves town, the better.”

Unless he stays, in a Braves uniform.

When Schafer figures out how to hit line drives instead of pop ups, he’ll be a hell of a leadoff hitter.

Sonny Clusters

June 16th, 2011
7:14 pm

Reyes on second again. Hmmm . . .

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:14 pm

Good throw, better slide.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:15 pm

Najeh — Dead on with that observation.

Eric

June 16th, 2011
7:15 pm

McCann calls for fastball 0-2, I just don’t get how you don’t waste at least on pitch.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:15 pm

Justin Turner on. That sets up the triple play.

DawgDad

June 16th, 2011
7:16 pm

Schafer, young pitcher (Minor or one of the minor league prospects), and probably a bullpen arm?

gcs

June 16th, 2011
7:16 pm

I am SO sick of guys stealing on the Braves and I don’t blame McCann. I don’t think this vaunted pitching staff holds runners close enough. Sometimes they look like they don’t even care.
As soon as Reyes singled I said “well, might as well put him on second.”

Eric

June 16th, 2011
7:17 pm

Another 0-2 fastball give me a break

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:20 pm

Great job by Minor after the first two Mets reach base.

Eric

June 16th, 2011
7:23 pm

Now can we hit a nuckelball?

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:23 pm

How about this — Mike Minor is the only .300 hitter (.333) in the Braves lineup tonight.

clueless at the ted

June 16th, 2011
7:23 pm

this past two series are frustrating, These guys still have the mentality of getting on base, and waiting on the long ball to drive in runs. last night is an example, in the second inning as i remember, the Mets had a double steal. How old were you the last time the Braves attempted that? I as a fan , would be happier seeing effort like that than seeing a guy hit a double and the guy behind him swings at the first pitch, with a pitcher who is having control problems, then say later , I should have been trying to advance the runner. I’ve been a Braves Fan for 40 years, and I’m sad to say I don’t like the effort or approach these Braves have shown at the plate.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:23 pm

Jordan is a first class gnat once he gets to first. Kissing Chipper’s ring has helped.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:25 pm

Schafer singles to open for Braves — that’s the Jeff Schultz good luck column kiss, people. No S.I. cover jinx here!

KSchmidt

June 16th, 2011
7:26 pm

Either I haven’t seen Heyward in so long I don’t remember, but it looks like he’s holding his hand up higher when he’s batting.

Eric

June 16th, 2011
7:28 pm

First lead we have had in along time.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:29 pm

Trade help plays where? Help me! I have ideas…

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:31 pm

A lead. Baserunners. Who are these guys?

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:32 pm

This guy is taylor made for FF.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:33 pm

Uggla with men on . . .

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:33 pm

to make an out…

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:35 pm

The wind held that one in.

G-Man

June 16th, 2011
7:36 pm

so many players on this team are a waste of space….Uggla is not coming around….Epic fail

Charlie

June 16th, 2011
7:37 pm

JS,

Any rumblings from within the organization that Uggla may not come out of this? So far all I’ve heard is the “he’ll be fine” nonsense, but the longer this continues the less likely I believe that is. The guy just looks flat out lost and pathetic out there so I’m just wondering if there is any genuine concern or if they truly believe he will start hitting.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:38 pm

I like Ron Gant, but unless I want to know how to be wrestled off first base or wreck a dirt bike, please don’t tell me about a pitching release point. (last night)

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:39 pm

Charlie — Safe to say there is significant concern but, as I wrote the other day, it’s not like they have options. That’s the problem when a player responds like this in the first year of a $62 million contract. They just have to hope he comes out of it.

G-Man

June 16th, 2011
7:41 pm

Yes…I’m concerned, every Braves fan is concerned, every human being who had any sense would be concerned, but not Braves Mgmt.

headley lamar

June 16th, 2011
7:42 pm

Hopefully the Braves wont trade Minor or Teheran for a rent a player later.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:43 pm

When Uggla goes to KK for advice, I’ll be worried.

Or….Hires his translator.

Charlie

June 16th, 2011
7:44 pm

Thanks for the response. Yeah, that is the unfortunate part. I haven’t liked his cockiness either, and the fact that he thinks he is doing better based off 2 games in Houston. He can basically steal money for the next 5 years and there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe the NFL does have it right.

headley lamar

June 16th, 2011
7:44 pm

Yes…I’m concerned, every Braves fan is concerned, every human being who had any sense would be concerned, but not Braves Mgmt.

How can you say that. As Shultz said what options do they have. Especially in the first third of the first year of a multiyear deal.

urban redneck

June 16th, 2011
7:44 pm

a-gon is awesome

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2011
7:45 pm

It was just announced that Tommy Hanson has been scratched as tomorrow’s starting pitcher because of shoulder tendonitis. Randall Delgaldo will be recalled and start.

Sonny Clusters

June 16th, 2011
7:45 pm

Maybe Chipper should slide up next to Uggla in the dugout and say something like, “Uh, we really need you hitting if you’re going to be making $62 million.”

Concerned

June 16th, 2011
7:46 pm

Just heard that Hanson was scratched from his next start tomorrow because of tendenitous

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 16th, 2011
7:46 pm

headley lamar :

I believe MM is the bait…..But wait…Hanson Hurting???

urban redneck

June 16th, 2011
7:46 pm

delgado starting tomorrow in place of big red-tendonitis

urban redneck

June 16th, 2011
7:46 pm

delgado starting tomorrow in place of big red-tendonitis

Concerned

June 16th, 2011
7:46 pm

Delgado will pitch

Rally

June 16th, 2011
7:47 pm

They just announced in the press box that Tommy Hanson is out for tomorrow and that Randall Delgado will make the start. Hanson has had a nagging shoulder of late apparently.

SteveO

June 16th, 2011
7:47 pm

Randall Delgado starting!

tyler

June 16th, 2011
7:48 pm

Who did they say is gonna start for Hanson tomorrow?

urban redneck

June 16th, 2011
7:48 pm

ok, we covered that.

if we pull a trade, what position player are we trying to replace?

i don’t think they are ready to give up on the vandy southpaw yet. vizcaino maybe but i hope not.

Concerned

June 16th, 2011
7:48 pm

we all listen well dont we?