After seven years, Constanza's an overnight success

In less than two weeks, outfielder Jose Constanza has rocketed from relative obscurity as a career minor leaguer to buzz-creating .413 hitter after 12 big-league games for the Braves.

After seven years, he’s an overnight success story.

To understand how far under the radar 27-year-old “Georgie” — that’s his nickname in the Braves’ clubhouse, a reference to TV’s “Seinfeld” — had operated until recently, consider:

  • He's still listed as a switch-hitter in the Braves' media guide, although he has batted exclusively left-handed for the past several years.
  • The last time he was rated as high as a top-30 prospect by in any organization was 2007, when he was No. 26 in the Indians system by Baseball America.
  • He played 743 minor-league games in seven seasons (six with the Indians) before this, his first big-league stint.

Constanza has started 12 consecutive games and demonstrated what a disruptive force speed can be. He also has drawn curious looks for a habit of licking his bat after a foul tip.

The amiable Dominican, speaking in broken English, said he began licking his bat years ago for no real reason, other than to taste the hot spot that smells of burning wood immediately after a fastball skips off it. It became a compulsion.

He stopped switch-hitting after breaking his right index finger on a hands-first slide in 2005. He was in his first season in Class-A ball and didn’t want to stop playing.

The finger didn’t heal properly, and now there’s a grotesquely large, gnarled lump on the knuckle. “Every year, it gets bigger,” said Constanza, who stopped switch-hitting when it became too painful to bat right-handed.

“Now you’re in the big leagues, you can get it checked out,” Braves reliever Peter Moylan said to Constanza, who plans to see about possible surgery this winter.

No one could have expected this much from Constanza, even after he hit .312 with a .361 on-base percentage and 23 steals in 86 games at Triple-A Gwinnett.

After going 1-for-8 in his first two major league games, he’s 18-for-38 (.474) in his past 10 games with a double, triple, homer, eight runs, four RBIs and .500 OBP.

“Got an opportunity, trying to [take advantage],” he said. “Working hard, trying to help the team.”

The left-handed hitter is 8-for-14 (.571) against lefties, 8-for-18 with runners on base, 9-for-20 with two strikes.

“Constanza’s been amazing since he got up here,” said Dan Uggla, whose 31-game hitting streak has overshadowed Constanza and all else. “He’s really got a good idea about what kind of game he’s playing. That dude can flat-out run and get on base. Him and Michael Bourn both. Even when there’s nobody on base and they’re coming up to hit, you’re creating pressure on the defense, just from their legs alone. And both of them can handle the bat.”

Constanza had three singles Wednesday, all infield hits. He had a slap hit where he was already headed toward first base as the ball came off the bat.

“I’d rather face a guy like Barry Bonds than someone like [Constanza],” Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said. “I want somebody up there that’s trying to hit homers. You have a tendency to get those guys to swing and miss. Constanza is pesky. He’s going to put the ball in play.”