Braves’ bench figured to be weakness, has been ‘big strength’

NEW YORK – Coming out of spring training, the Braves’ bench was regarded as perhaps the team’s biggest weakness. It’s turned out to be anything but.

“Big strength,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves led the majors in pinch-hit homers (nine) and pinch-hit RBIs (50) before Tuesday. “I mean, we’ve gotten a lot of pinch hits. Big situations. We’ve done a really good job in that role, and it’s not just one guy. We have a bunch of guys who’ve kind off embraced that role pretty good.”

There have been plenty of things go wrong for the Braves. The list includes underperforming and/or injured veterans such as Matt Kemp, since-traded starter Bartolo Colon and several relievers, including Jim Johnson, whose summer struggles cost him the closer job.

But the bench? It has far surpassed expectations, particularly in terms of pinch-hitting. Braves pinch-hitters drove in two more runs during Monday’s doubleheader split with the Mets to give them their most pinch-hit RBIs since the 1987 Braves also had 50. Their nine pinch-hit homers were the most for the Braves since the 2010 team had 10.

“Regardless of what we’re projected at or what people think about the bench coming out of spring or even during the season early on, we’re here, we’re professionals, and we’re going to go out there and give you a big-league at-bat,” said Jace Peterson, who was 8-for-22 (.364) with a home run as a pinch-hitter before Tuesday. “Will we always get a hit? No. But for the most part you control what you can control, and that’s having a good at-bat. 

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“You’re not always going to be able to do it, but for the most part if you can keep those at-bats good, you’ll get good results.”

Lane Adams led the way among Braves pinch-hitters with 12 hits, two homers and 12 RBIs in 45 pinch-hit at-bats before Tuesday, while Matt Adams was 6-for-23 with two homers and nine RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

Peterson’s .364 pinch-hit average ranked second in the majors among those with enough plate appearances to qualify, behind the Cardinals’ Jose Martinez (.440) and ahead of the Nationals’ Adam Lind (.356). 

A year ago, Peterson was 1-for-18 as a pinch-hitter with one walk and nine strikeouts.

“I think it’s just something that comes with learning how to do it and talking to some of the older guys that have done it,” Peterson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys and just continued to stick with my approach, stick with my game plan and continue to be ready. That’s the main thing is being ready, and when your number’s called just go compete. I’ve definitely learned a lot from pinch-hitting for the last couple of years, and this year really kind of doing it as a job.”

Lane Adams and Matt Adams, who also had six pinch-hits for St. Louis before he was traded to the Braves, were tied with two others for seventh-most pinch-hits in the majors before Tuesday with 12.

Tyler Flowers and Danny Santana also had a pinch-hit homer apiece for the Braves, and Santana had 10 pinch-hit RBIs before going on the 60-day disabled list with the second occurrence of a quadriceps strain.

Rookie Johan Camargo is 3-for-12 with a double and four RBIs as a pinch-hitter and has played above-average defensive at three infield positions.

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