Everything's always changing, and Camargo is moving up

LOS ANGELES – Brian Snitker was asked Thursday why Matt Adams was no longer in the Braves lineup when facing lefty pitchers, since the manager made a point of saying for weeks that he’d told Adams he’d play every day regardless of whether the opposing starter was right- or left-handed.

Ender Inciarte (right) celebrates after Johan Camargo (on ground) made a spectacular game-ending catch in the Braves' 6-3 win Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, snapping the Dodgers' 11-game winning streak. (AP photo)

The answer was straightforward, as usual with  Snitker.

“We didn’t have the players,” he said. “Freddie wasn’t there and we just had to (play Adams every day). Situation we were dealt. And he did a good job. But we have other pieces now that kind of.... Everything’s always changing.”

Everything’s always changing.

That was the part of the answer that I liked, because in that simple statement, he said what could be my answer and anyone else’s answer to 95 percent of the questions we get regarding personnel and why this veteran or that hot-shot prospect is no longer a key piece or not as highly regarded as before, or simply why someone isn’t playing every day now when they were a month or a year ago.

Adams was brought in to play first base while Freddie Freeman was on the disabled list with a fractured wrist. Adams exceeded expectations to such a degree that Freeman proposed a temporary position switch for himself to third base in order to keep Adams in the lineup after Freeman returned from the DL three weeks sooner than expected.

Couple weeks after Freeman’s injury in mid-May, Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia returned from the DL, but a few days later Garcia got hurt again, this time seriously (torn thumb ligament, surgery, out at least two months).

Rio Ruiz initially impressed at third base, then slumped and fellow rookie Johan Camargo got a chance. Camargo really impressed.  Then really, really impressed. Ruiz returned to Triple-A. Camargo became the regular third baseman, but only until Freeman returned from the DL, because suddenly there was that other option, one presented by Freeman himself.

Everything’s always changing.

The Braves didn’t want to pass up the chance to have both Freeman and Adams in their lineup together. But Adams, after getting some hits in limited at-bats against lefties initially, had begun to play more to his career norms, continuing to excel against righties but not enough against lefties to warrant the far lesser defense that the Braves would have with Freeman back at first base and Camargo in the lineup against lefties. Besides, Camargo was showing he could hit, too.

And so emerged the current platoon of Freeman/Adams at first base according to the pitcher, with Freeman starting at third base against righties and at first base against lefties. And Camargo at third against lefties. And, by the way, this kid is really good, as we’ve all noticed and the Braves already knew (there was a reason they gave him a chance to make the team in spring training, but he was still a bit nervous then and dropped some balls at shortstop and got sent back down).

While all these machinations were happening, the assumed future Co-Face of the Franchise, rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson -- co-FOF with Freeman -- was doing what more rookies than not do. Struggling. Being inconsistent. Looking really good for a few weeks, but struggling mightily at the plate before and after that stretch and even letting the frustrations seem to carry over a bit to the field, where he made some errors on routine plays even as he turned some spectacular plays flawlessly, which should remind everyone who pays close attention that he is, indeed, quite special himself and is likely to be everything the Braves believed he would be before too long.

In the meantime, Camargo is looking like everything the Braves hoped he would be – and then some. Now, not eventually. Which doesn't mean he couldn't start slumping today or tomorrow.

Everything’s always changing.

Professional sports is a results business, pure and simple. And any manager, not to mention a manager on a one-year contract with an option that might or might not be exercised, is going to make out a lineup that he believes gives his team the best chance of winning. That should be a straightforward concept, but it’s crowded out these days by social-media conspiracy theories, fantasy-team lineup concerns, strong feelings about popular players (or backlash to those same players’ popularity), or just opinions expressed publicly without real foundation and espoused or accepted as fact.

Everything’s always changing.

Johan Camargo is congratulated after scoring in a recent game at Oakland. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Camargo can play three infield positions and not just play them at a serviceable level, but at a high level. (The Braves believe he can also play in the outfield.) With Swanson continuing to struggle, Camargo has lately gotten starts at shortstop when not at third base. Let's be clear: Swanson probably does not have a bigger supporter than Snitker. The manager loves the kid. As do GM John Coppolella, president of baseball ops John Hart and all the rest of the front office.

But you know what they love even more? Winning. And right now, having Camargo in the lineup helps the Braves win, whatever position he’s in.

Everything’s always changing.

Doesn’t mean that Swanson’s future with the Braves is viewed any differently than it was three months ago. From all I’ve gathered, it’s not. No one in the organization seems to have any of the doubts that have crept into the comments of some on social media and elsewhere. He would not be the first or the 100th rookie to struggle in his first full season and go on to stardom or at least have a very long and successful career.

But baseball people know when they’re seeing something special, a talent that has “it.” And Camargo has shown a lot of “it” this season. No one is branding him the next Braves star, no one is predicting he’ll be the long-term answer at shortstop, second base or third base. Not yet. What Snitker is doing is the right thing, letting this kid spread his wings while he’s performing at this high level and feeling it, feeling the future open before him and absolutely thriving on it.

Everything’s always changing.

To ground him at this point, before he’s even shown sign of struggle? That’d be irresponsible. Even if the manager had a multi-year contract, that wouldn’t make any sense. And as I noted,  Snitker does not have a multi-year deal and is trying really hard to win now. But he’s also a 40-plus-year Brave lifer and would never do anything to harm the long-term future of the organization. Anyone who knows him knows that.

The brass aren’t about to tell  Snitker to play Swanson every day. Because his bosses know Snitker is doing the right thing and they see the same thing happening with Camargo as Snitker does. These are baseball men. Guys who, by the way, have a whole lot more vested interest in the fate of the franchise than you or I do – their careers depend on it. So they aren’t going to play favorites or let personal feelings stand in the way of the right decisions. If they do, they'll be the ones who pay for it, one way or another.

Everything’s always changing.

In Thursday night’s series opener at Dodger Stadium, Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips left the game after the top of the sixth inning with hamstring tightness. Dansby Swanson entered at that point and Camargo shifted from shortstop to second base.

With two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the Braves clinging to a 6-3 lead and the Dodgers with two runners in scoring position and the potential tying run at the plate, pinch-hitter Trayce Thompson hit a pop fly. It appeared to be headed to the no-man’s land between the infield and center field, the perfectly awful spot for defenders where a ball is too shallow for the outfielders playing back at normal depth to get to and too deep and at too deep for an infielder to get to.

The crowd roared in anticipation.

But Camargo got to it. And as Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte approached after making a dead sprint from his spot (Inciarte would’ve likely had to dive to have any chance at the ball), Camargo made the kind of running, twisting, look-overhead (not over-the-shoulder, but over-the-head) catch that will show up in highlight reels for some time. He ended up on his back, ball in glove.

“That was a hell of a play, wasn’t it? My God,” Snitker said. “That’s just kind of willing yourself to catch that ball, it looked like to me. That’s a huge play.”

Said Freeman, standing not far away when Camargo caught the ball: “It’s unbelievable. To do it with two hands, too – he impresses you every single night doing something new. He’s been taking that opportunity he’s been given and running with it.”

Camargo said through an interpreter: “I just tried to stick with it the entire time. I saw it kind of go off the bat and I knew it was going to go in a tough spot and be a complicated situation. But I really wasn’t thinking about that, I was just trying to keep my eye on it. I was able to chase it down and make the play.”

When asked if he ever lost track of the ball in flight, Camargo smiled. “Sort of, initially,” he said. “That’s why I kept running in the same direction, hoping that if I kept going where I initially saw it going, that I would be able to make an adjustment. That’s sort of what happened at the end, I just kind of tried to get to a spot and made the adjustment at the end, and just threw my glove out there to make the catch.”

The catch saved at least one run, probably two, since the runners were going. Most importantly, it ended the game. The Braves had snapped the Dodgers’ 11-game winning streak, won for only the second time in four seasons at Dodger Stadium, won a series opener against the team with baseball’s best record and its best home record.

Everything’s always changing.

• I'll close with this L.A. classic from the late, great Warren Zevon .

Warren Zevon


I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel

I was staring in my empty coffee cup

I was thinking that the gypsy wasn't lyin'

All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles

I'm gonna drink 'em up

And if California slides into the ocean

Like the mystics and statistics say it will

I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

Don't the sun look angry through the trees

Don't the trees look like crucified thieves

Don't you feel like Desperados under the eaves

Heaven help the one who leaves

Still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands

And I'm trying to find a girl who understands me

But except in dreams you're never really free

Don't the sun look angry at me

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel

I was listening to the air conditioner hum

It went mmm...

Look away

(Look away down Gower Avenue, look away)

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.