Braves are getting more than they bargained for from McCann

The Brian McCann who hit a career-low .212 with the Houston Astros last season hasn’t been seen at SunTrust Park lately.

The 35-year-old catcher, who returned to the Braves as a free agent in November after five seasons away, has accelerated his reemergence as an offensive force in the past week. He went 3-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs Monday night, making him 8-for-16 with four home runs and nine RBIs since June 11.

That stretch raised his batting average to .303 and his OPS to .884 for the season, with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 144 plate appearances while splitting catching duties with Tyler Flowers.

This is a lot more than the Braves bargained for when they signed McCann to a one-year, $2 million contract.

The homecoming also has exceeded McCann’s high expectations “by a lot,” he said.

“It’s not even the baseball — it’s the guys in this clubhouse,” McCann said. “They have welcomed me in. To come back here, the guys have made it amazing.”

McCann hit 176 home runs during his first stint with the Braves from 2005-13, making the National League All-Star team seven times. He signed a five-year $85 million contract with the New York Yankees as a free agent after the 2013 season and was traded to Houston three years later. He played in just 63 games and hit seven home runs in an injury-plagued 2018 season that was interrupted by midseason arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

That unproductive season — and a strong desire to return home by a player who grew up in Gwinnett County —allowed the Braves to sign him at a bargain rate by MLB standards.

McCann is now healthy, he said, for the first time in “a long time.” His success so far this season seems to be the result of health and considerable offseason work to break a habit developed in recent years of trying to pull almost every pitch.

“I just went into the offseason and kind of changed everything,” McCann said. “Me and my brother (Brad) got to work, and I stuck to it through spring training.

“I’m getting back to being a complete hitter instead of going up there looking to turn and burn every pitch. It has been a game-changer for me.”

He reached base five times Monday in the Braves' 12-3 win over the Mets, accumulating three hits and two walks. It marked the fourth game in McCann's career — all four with the Braves — that he reached base at least five times. It was his first such game since June 2009, a decade ago.

The past week has been a highlight reel for McCann. He hit two home runs against the Pirates on June 11, his 15th career multi-homer game. He became the 13th catcher in MLB history to reach 1,000 career RBIs on Friday with a two-run single to beat the Phillies, his eighth career walk-off hit. And then came Monday's firepower, which included back-to-back homers by McCann and Ozzie Albies for the second time on this homestand.

“He’s such a warrior that you just want (success) so bad for him,” Braves pitcher Mike Soroka said of McCann. “He’s on fire.

“He has caught the innings in his career that not many have. He’s got one of the excuses, if you wanted it, to show up and be slow, and he comes with energy every single day. It’s contagious. It’s a guy you can learn from.”

McCann is part of a lineup-wide power surge by the Braves, who had scored 90 runs in their past 11 games, 82 runs in their past nine games and 27 runs in their past two games through Monday.

“This is a special team,” McCann said.

He has played on good teams for most of his career, from a Braves team that won the NL East championship in his rookie season to a Houston team that won the World Series in 2017. This month, at least, this Braves team has rivaled any of them offensively.

“It’s up there,” McCann said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with some really good players, and this lineup stacks up with the best of them. This is fun.”