‘Keep on keepin’ on’: How Braves’ Dansby Swanson has stayed hot at the plate

When reflecting on his ability to overcome slumps throughout his career, Dansby Swanson pointed to something his father, Cooter Swanson, always tells him.

“Keep on keepin’ on,” Cooter says.

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And so, that’s what Dansby does. And he’s done it over and over and over again during his career.

“It’s just how I was raised,” Dansby said after the Braves’ win over the Phillies on Wednesday.

To Braves fans, Swanson is known as a streaky hitter. He might go through rough patches. But when he’s hot? Watch out.

And right now, he’s on fire.

Asked what allows Swanson to remain calm during slumps and allows himself to escape them, Braves manager Brian Snitker said: “The mental toughness that he has and the confidence he has in his abilities.”

When discussing Swanson with reporters, Snitker often praises these traits. Swanson, he has said frequently, doesn’t change when he struggles at the plate. It doesn’t impact his defense or his base running. He works the same.

It took only a month and change for Swanson to execute one of his classic turnarounds, the kind that have (at least in part) come to define his career. He can go from ice cold to blazing hot in a matter of weeks.

Through the season’s first 14 games, he went 7-for-49 with a .432 OPS and 22 strikeouts.

Since then, he has hit .327 with a .946 OPS. He has four doubles, a triple, six home runs and 21 RBIs over that span. He has been the Braves’ best offensive player during this stretch.

The key? Sticking to his process.

“Obviously in this game, you fail seven out of 10. It’s bound to happen, you’re bound to have your ups and downs,” Swanson said. “It’s the hardest game in the world. I think there’s a lot of joy that happens in the work.”

Recently, Kyle Wright, Swanson’s teammate at Vanderbilt, cited Swanson’s competitiveness and desire to win. It’s the only thing, Wright said, Swanson cares about in the game. And following Wednesday’s game, when asked what allows Swanson to stay level during slumps so he can find his way out, Austin Riley pointed to the same quality.

“Just the competitive nature, I think, in him,” Riley said. “He wants to win more than anybody I know. That’s the thing. I think he puts that first. Whether it’s on the defensive side, offensive side, if he can help the ball team win, I think that’s all that matters. And at the same time, he’s figuring his stuff out.”

Last season, from July 16 to Aug. 16, Swanson hit .318 with a .951 OPS during a hot streak. Through a month and change of the shortened 2020 season, he hit .300 with an .833 OPS.

As of Thursday, he has a .250 batting average and a .751 OPS over his career. But he’s always been able to put together incredible stretches.

Over this first part of this season, Swanson’s glove has shined. He looks like one of baseball’s better defensive shortstops, and perhaps one of its better defenders overall. But a few weeks into the season, his bat began to come around and he began to hit.

He is still hitting.

This is only one of those torrid stretches for which he’s become known during his career.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned so far in my career is to stay driven and focused on the process,” Swanson said. “I know it’s become such a cliché saying in sports these days, ‘Just trust your work, trust your work.’ Just kind of was able to sit down and tell myself that the goal is to be the best version of Dansby Swanson, both on and off the field, and not necessarily just have it be the results. Keeping my heart and brain in that spot has really paid dividends, and that’s just how I’m going to keep rolling.”

Acuña won’t play Friday

Ronald Acuña (Grade 1 right quad strain) is “moving around nice,” Snitker said Thursday. But he was not in the Braves’ lineup.

The outfielder did some exercises with the strength-and-conditioning staff, the manager said.

“I think it’s more about firing it up to run,” Snitker said. “He looked good in there a little bit ago.”

But after Thursday’s game, Snitker said Acuña also won’t play on Friday.

Marcell Ozuna scratched from the lineup

Around an hour before Thursday’s game, the Braves announced they scratched Marcell Ozuna from the lineup with lower abdominal tightness.

Ozuna was set to bat third and play left field. Instead, Austin Riley was in the third spot, while Orlando Arcia was in left field and batting eighth.

Snitker said Ozuna will play on Friday. He was on deck to hit in the ninth inning and would have stepped into the box had Adam Duvall not struck out to end the game.

Strider excelling in multiple roles

Thus far, Spencer Strider has pitched in many roles.

He’s followed an opener. He’s hurled an inning in a high-leverage spot. He’s tossed multiple innings.

He’s doing it all for the Braves, who feel they need him more out of the bullpen than in the rotation.

In Wednesday’s win, the flamethrower gave the Braves 2-2/3 scoreless innings.

“This is what I visualized,” Snitker said after the game. “You kind of hope somebody comes and grabs that (fifth starter) opportunity where we can continue to use him in this role. We still have the option (of starting him) if we want. If something happens and we want to start him, he can do that also. But I like him doing what he’s doing.”

If rounding up the decimal points, Strider threw eight pitches that hit triple digits, and 23 that were at least 99 mph.

Braves can continue carrying 14 pitchers

Major League Baseball on Thursday announced the league and union agreed to allow clubs to carry 14 pitchers through June 19. After that, the 13-pitcher maximum will go into effect.

The sides keep pushing back the 13-pitcher maximum, which had been set to begin May 2 and then May 30.

“I think it’s great,” Snitker said. “I hope they extend it again, quite honestly. I was glad to see that.”

As it stands, the Braves are carrying 14 pitchers.

Pitching matchups for the Marlins series

These are the expected pitching matchups for this weekend’s series versus the Marlins:

  • Righty Ian Anderson will face lefty Trevor Rogers on Friday.
  • Lefty Tucker Davidson goes against righty Sandy Alcantara on Saturday.
  • Lefty Max Fried will face righty Elieser Hernandez on Sunday.