After solid spring, Braves’ Bonifacio has floundered

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

MILWAUKEE – After going to Braves spring training as a non-roster invitee and earning an opening-day roster spot, Emilio Bonifacio seemed poised to get his career back on track following two dismal seasons at the major league level in 2015 and 2016.

But 20 games into the season, Bonifacio was struggling to get into a rhythm and had fared particularly poorly as a pinch-hitter, his main role. The veteran utility player was 0-for-10 with no walks and three strikeouts as a pinch-hitter before Friday, the worst statistics on a team with the least-productive pinch-hitters in the National League.

“It’s kind of like sometimes, your timing goes away,” said Bonifacio, a career .232 hitter in 95 pinch-hit appearances before this season. “I just keep working hard, man. I know at some point everything’s going to turn around. I’m just going to keep my mind positive. Have a good approach in every at-bat.”

Braves pinch-hitters were a league-worst 3-for-32 (.094) with one extra-base hit (double) before Friday night’s series opener at Milwaukee, and their .125 slugging percentage from pinch-hitters was 60 points lower than the next-worst among NL teams.

Bonfacio, 32, hit .278 (15-for-54) with a home run and a .361 OBP in 23 spring-training games. He got multiple at-bats in most of those Grapefruit League games that he played, and most hitters will tell you it’s easier to hone your swing and get your timing down when getting regular playing time rather than the sporadic nature of pinch-hitting and being a utility player.

However, Bonifacio also knows that’s a primary part of his job and that his experience as a pinch-hitter was one reason the Braves put him on the opening-day roster. If he can’t do the job, they’ll eventually try to find someone else who can.

“I know that’s part of my job, coming from the bench,” said Bonifacio, who was 2-for-18 overall (.111) with a double, two sacrifice bunts and a .158 OBP. “I want to have those at-bats like I was in spring (training). I’ve done it before, so I’ve got to keep prepared.”

Bonifacio is 0-for-10 with no walks and three strikeouts as a pinch-hitter, tied for the second-most pinch-hit at-bats in the majors and the only big-leaguer still hitless in as many as nine pinch-hit at-bats.