Braves’ Camargo may have worked way into primary 3B duties

Johan Camargo (right) slid and scored from first base on an Ender Inciarte double in the third inning Monday against the Giants. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Johan Camargo (right) slid and scored from first base on an Ender Inciarte double in the third inning Monday against the Giants. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Braves rookie Johan Camargo made his fourth start at third base in the past five games Monday, and let’s just say he continued to impress team officials and teammates alike.

He had three hits including a single, double and RBI triple for his fourth consecutive multi-hit game in a 6-3 loss to the Giants, and Camargo hit a ball that looked like it might be a ninth-inning homer before it sailed foul.

The hitting cycle will have to wait, but Camargo’s opportunity might not. He’s hitting .354 and becoming a lineup regular.

“I’m thinking he’s going to be one of the best guys in baseball if he gets the opportunity to play,” said Braves veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips, who drove in Camargo with the winning run both times on Phillips’ walk-off hits to beat the Marlins Saturday and Sunday.

Before Tuesday’s game, Braves manager Brian Snitker said the rookie might have worked his way into primary third-base duties ahead of Rio Ruiz with Camargo’s recent string of impressive performances including clutch hits and aggressive base running.

“Yeah, that’s kind of the way it works around here,” Snitker said. “I mean, it’s a game of competition. A guy does well, you kind of want to put him back out there. But we’ll see. Time will tell with that.”

Camargo said through an interpreter, “I’m very grateful for this opportunity, there’s no doubt about that. But for me it’s just continue to work. Once I cross that white line on the field it’s just a different animal, my passion takes over and I’m really not trying to think out there.”

He had a chance to compete for an opening-day roster spot at spring training, but a rash of errors at shortstop gave the Braves pause and they decided he could use some more minor-league seasoning. He was called up to the majors for the first time April 11, stayed up for a little over a week and got four pinch-hit at-bats before returning to Triple-A.

Recalled again in mid-May, he played in three games including one start, then went back to Triple-A. But when he was recalled again June 2, Camargo began to see much more playing time. Now, Snitker likes writing his name in the lineup.

“There were times in spring training that he got a little careless,” Snitker said. “We talked to him about that, how that’s not how the game (is played), how you’re going to be expected to make plays when you come up here. And he’s an aggressive kid, he’s going to make mistakes. And they see when they get here, it’s good for them to see the play and the speed of the game here. And they learn from that.

“The mistakes they make are things they learn from. He’s come a long way.”

Camargo, 23, had two hits in each game during the Braves’ three-game winning streak through Monday, including two hits Sunday when he didn’t enter the game until the seventh inning.

Along with his .354 average in 23 games including eight starts (seven at third base, one apiece at second base and shortstop), Camargo has five extra-base hits, nine RBIs and and a .500 slugging percentage.

“He’s been wonderful,” Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “I got to see him a little bit last year, too, down at Mississippi. I got to know him a little bit down there and play next to him down there. He’s a tremendous talent and I think, just like everyone, there’s a little bit of a learning curve when you come up here. And he’s handled that well and you can see the talent that’s there and he’s starting to show it each day.”

Fellow rookie Ruiz got the bulk of the playing time during third baseman Adonis Garcia’s first stint on the disabled list in May for Achilles tendinitis, but since Garcia returned to the DL this month – he had finger surgery for a torn ligament last week — Camargo and Ruiz have both played plenty at third base and Danny Santana also made one start at the position. And lately, it’s Camargo who has moved to the forefront.

“Rio’s going to get opportunities. There’s enough for all of them,” Snitker said. “Because the thing about Camargo is, he’s versatile, he can (fill in) at shortstop, second base, he’s been working out in the outfield, he’s been taking balls at first base. That’s kind of like the player you’re looking for. He fits that bill.”

In the weekend wins against the Marlins, Camargo singled before scoring on each of Phillips’ game-ending hits, and the rookie showed speed and aggressive in going from first to third to set up Phillips’ big hit Sunday. In Monday’s 9-0 win against the Giants, Camargo had an RBI single in a seven-run eighth inning.

“I was very impressed with him in spring training,” Phillips said. “He’s going to have a bright future. I really believe in that guy. He has a hose when he throws. He has a nice swing, switch-hitter, he can play all positions. He’s going to have a bright future.”

Snitker said, “Camargo’s been swinging that bat. It seems like the last couple of days he’s been in the middle of everything we’re doing.”