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Posted: 8:12 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

La Stella still hitting balls hard, but teams have adjusted

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By David O'Brien

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

NEW YORK — Tommy La Stella has surpassed most expectations since arrived from Triple-A in May, but the Braves’ rookie second baseman has also endured a couple of slumps and experienced firsthand the differences in scouting and defensive positioning at the big-league level.

Since hitting his first major league homer on Aug. 8, La Stella was 6-for-40 (.150) in his past 13 games before Wednesday, with four walks, seven strikeouts, .175 slugging percentage. But he did have three RBIs in his past four games and several recent hard-hit balls directly at defenders.

La Stella was asked whether he’d noticed teams positioning defenders better against him after his first couple of months in the majors.

“Have I noticed it?” he said, smiling. “Yeah, they definitely know how to position the defense. They’ve got the spray charts and everything, it basically comes down to the statistics; the numbers don’t lie, pretty much. So yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that, too. It’s one of those things, all you can do is hit it hard, hopefully it falls for a hit.”

“Just going to keep swinging it. It’s definitely frustrating, though.”

Called to the majors in late May, La Stella was batting .268 with 16 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs and a .344 on-base percentage in 76 games (304 plate appearances) before Wednesday night’s game against the Mets, when the New Jersey native hit a sharp double down the third-base line to the left-field corner in his first at-bat.

La Stella hit .411 (23-for-56) in his first 16 games, then went 3-for-41 (.073) in his next 11 games. He heated up again and batted .318 with a .402 OBP and 16 RBIs over his next 30 games through the end of July, before cooling off at the beginning of August.

He’s been used in a second-base platoon with fellow rookie Phil Gosselin for the past couple of weeks.

“I think he’s swinging the bat OK,” Braves manager Fredi Gonalez said. “A .360 clip (the way he started out) is a little bit unrealistic. You look his minor league numbers where he’s got 3 ½, four years and you say, this is where he’s going to be, I think. I think sometimes we get a little carried away with (small sample-size) numbers. Water reaches its own level.

“Plus he’s got, what 250 plate appearances now? Teams seeing you a second, third time. You’ve got scouts, you’ve got (defensive) positioning.”

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