September 27, 2022

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Braves see positives in finale vs. Padres

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SAN DIEGO — The Braves probably can’t turn the final page on “The Freddie Freeman Story” until he visits Truist Park in June wearing an opposing uniform for the first time.

But they certainly have flipped more than a few pages in the early days of the 2022 season and will move ever closer to resolution when they face Freeman on Monday at Dodger Stadium.

“It will be neat to see him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Once the game starts, I’ll be aware of where he is in the lineup, coming up and all that. It’ll be fine. I haven’t really thought about it.”

After a 2-1 loss to the Padres on Sunday evening at Petco Park, Snitker has his attention on Braves matters at hand, not the inevitable media storyline that awaits him in Los Angeles. The defending World Series champions are off to a 5-6 start after a four-game split in San Diego, and the bottom of the batting order is scuffling.

Amid the uneven beginning to 2022, there have been signs the Braves are ready to offer a few plot twists. Here are a few new characters who are authoring their own tales, hinting that the Braves’ chapter of championship-caliber baseball is still being written:

Matt Olson
Here’s the obvious place to start. His arrival in a trade with the A’s ensured Freeman’s departure as a free agent as the Braves replaced one All-Star Gold Glove first baseman with another. Olson has been everything the Braves hoped, reaching base 27 times in the first 11 games. That includes two hits Sunday off Padres ace Yu Darvish, who yielded only four over his 6 2/3 innings.

Olson leads the National League in on-base percentage (.551) and is second in batting average (.421). He left his former Oakland manager, Bob Melvin, impressed.

“He’s become such a good hitter now,” said Melvin, now San Diego’s skipper. “He goes the other way now with two strikes. Isn’t trying to pull all the time. Bat path’s a little bit better.”

As for the first Olson-Freeman summit?

“It is what it is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all water under the bridge,” Olson said. “I’m an Atlanta Brave, and I’m trying to win games and take it to the World Series and win that. I know there’s always going to be stuff to be talked about, but it feels like it’s in the past.”

Bryce Elder
Pitching depth is essential to championship contention, and Elder has given the Braves another homegrown rotation piece. The right-hander’s second Major League start was more bumpy than the first – five walks and a hit batter in 4 1/3 innings – but he showed the competitive nature that helped him rise from fifth-round Draft pick to the bigs in less than two years.

Elder put himself in bases-loaded, one-out situations in each of the first two innings and limited the damage to two runs. In the first inning, he used his cut fastball to induce weak infield popups from hot hitters Eric Hosmer and Jurickson Profar, each batting from the left side.

“I think it’s really going to be a good pitch for me,” Elder said. “I didn’t start throwing it until recently, really the last couple months. I think it’s going to continue to get better.”

Spencer Strider
Another rookie right-hander, Strider made his fifth big league appearance and delivered 3 2 /3 innings of hitless relief to keep the Braves in the game. His fastball topped out at 100.2 mph. All seven 100 mph pitches thrown by the Braves this year have come courtesy Strider, who was drafted one round ahead of Elder in 2020.

“I’m grateful to earn some more trust and be in a game like there where we’re in it and any moment we can tie it up,” Strider said. “All I can do is go out there and keep the score where it is, give us a chance.”

There’s one underlying theme to all these intertwining storylines: Even a championship club can’t stand pat. Snitker, for one, is eager to see the homegrown pitchers’ story arc.

“It’s hard to go out and find that,” the manager said. “”These kids, they have two years of professional experience between them. To have that limited experience and to see what I’ve seen out of both of them, it’s pretty good — it’s really good.”

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