Braves promote Jonathan Lucroy, option William Contreras

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Braves made a change at catcher Wednesday, promoting veteran Jonathan Lucroy from Triple-A and optioning youngster William Contreras to fill Lucroy’s spot in Gwinnett.

Lucroy, 35, has hit .274 while playing for eight teams across his 12-year career. He most recently was with the Nationals, where he went 5-for-14 in five games before he was designated for assignment. The Braves, needing organizational catching depth after Tyler Flowers announced his retirement, signed Lucroy to a minor-league deal in mid-May.

Lucroy, a two-time All-Star, was hitting .220 with two homers and 16 RBIs across 31 games in Triple-A. He’s appeared in only six major-league games across the past two seasons. Lucroy started Wednesday afternoon and hit eighth in the Braves’ finale in Pittsburgh. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and walk in the Braves’ 14-3 win.

“I really liked it,” manager Brian Snitker said of Lucroy’s performance. “I thought he was really, really good. I don’t think he’d caught (starter) Drew (Smyly) ever. But the experience, a 10-year veteran, he’s caught in a lot of big situations. It’s going to be good. I’m really looking forward to having him around.”

Smyly actually had worked with Lucroy during the World Baseball Classic. The left-hander allowed three runs - all via Jacob Stallings’ homer in the first frame - over five innings.

“He was great,” Smyly said of Lucroy. “It took us a little bit to get on the same page, but I got a chance to throw to him a few years ago in the WBC, so this wasn’t the first time I’d worked with him. But he was great.

“He’s been in the league 10 years and knows what he’s doing back there. He brings a lot to the team. A lot of leadership, experience. It was good to see him.”

Contreras, 23, became the Braves’ regular catcher after Travis d’Arnaud suffered a serious thumb injury in early May. He’s flashed the tantalizing offensive potential that rated him among the most promising backstop prospects, but the overall body of work wasn’t there. With the Braves’ collective struggles, patience wore out.

Contreras was hitting .204/.278/.387 with seven homers and 21 RBIs and was on a skid, hitting .173 across 23 games since June began. He had numerous defensive miscues with passed balls, though he’d shown improvement in recent weeks.

“I just had a talk with him,” Snitker said. “He’s a very talented young man. And he was thrust into a tough situation here. And I thought he handled himself really well. It’s just, he’s had limited at-bats at Double-A. It’s hard to hit here. And I think getting him backing off a little bit, it’ll be good for him. It happens to guys all the time. So it’ll be a good first experience for him.”

The young catcher’s struggles led the Braves to send him down, where he’ll join outfielder Cristian Pache, who likewise was returned to Triple-A for further development. The loss of the 2020 minor-league season because of the pandemic has complicated young players’ growth. Contreras last played minor-league games in 2019, when he finished the season with Double-A Mississippi.

He appeared in four games for the Braves last season but spent most of the campaign at the alternate training site. He competed for the backup catcher job in spring training, but the Braves went with Alex Jackson, citing Contreras’ need to play every day. He was promoted out of necessity earlier this season just before Gwinnett’s season started.

Now, under less pressure, Contreras will work to steady his offense and continue to improve his defense in Triple-A. The Braves will use Lucroy and veteran Kevan Smith (33) until d’Arnaud returns, which the teams said will happen sometime in August.

“I told (Lucroy) I’ll probably do him and Kevan just like I used to do Tyler and (Kurt Suzuki),” Snitker said. “Just alternate it and keep them both going.”

The Braves also transferred lefty Grant Dayton (shoulder inflammation) to the 60-day injured list to open a 40-man spot for Lucroy.