Braves to be cautious with Freeman early in spring training

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Freddie Freeman is still recovering from a wrist injury that caused him to miss more than one-fourth of the 2015 season, so the Braves plan to limit the first baseman’s workload at the beginning of spring training in an effort to assure he’s completely healthy for the regular season.

“I mean, he’s our best player, he’s our best hitter, he’s a huge part of our team,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “And we just want to make sure we get it right.”

Freeman, who had two stints on the disabled list last season and multiple injections in his right wrist and hand, only began swinging a bat Dec. 31 and has been limited to hitting balls off a tee or balls flipped to him in the batting cage, plus a lot of “dry swings” (no contact).

Coppolella explained to reporters during Monday morning’s workout for Braves pitchers and catchers that Freeman hasn’t had any setbacks – “we’ve heard all positive stuff” – but would be eased into things as a precautionary measure when full-squad workouts begin Thursday.

The GM said he wanted reporters to know so there wouldn’t be alarm if/when Freeman is held out of some batting practice.

Freeman was en route to spring training and scheduled to report Tuesday, a day before official reporting day for position players other than catchers. More than half of the Braves’ position players have arrived and worked out informally Monday while pitchers and catchers went through their third full practice.

“As we run through camp we’re going to have him eased in,” Coppolella said. “He might not be in the first hitting group the first day, but we’re on track. He’s made great progress, and it should be a great year. We just want to have him kind of ease in and just wanted to kind of address that with all of you, to where if you see Freddie here and you don’t see him in the hitting group the first day, you’ll know why and it’s not like, ‘Freddie, is everything OK?’ It’s fine, we just want to take our time.

“We have seven weeks of spring training, there isn’t any reason for us to have him hit 45 rounds the first day. Let’s go safe and steady wins the race. And that’s it with him.”

Asked whether there was any question as to whether Freeman would be ready for the regular-season opener April 4, Coppolella indicated that wasn’t a possibility that’s been discussed. He expects Freeman to be ready not only for the season opener but possibly even the spring-training Grapefruit League opener March 1.

“He is on track right now for all of it,” Coppolella said. “Look, things can always change, but all we’re doing right now is just trying to slow-play it…. “I wouldn’t rule out (the Grapefruit League opener). We’re just going to go slow the first couple of days and see how that goes.”

After playing all 162 games and nearly every inning of a second consecutive All-Star season in 2014, Freeman got off to a strong start in 2015 before hurting his wrist in June and struggling the rest of the season. He missed 44 games.

A series of injections and cutting-edge treatment couldn’t get him over the hump, and not until another mid-December injection as he finally pain-free. After batting .303 with 117 extra-base hits, 187 RBIs and a .390 OBP in 1,158 at-bats during 2013-2014, Freeman hit .276 with 45 extra-base hits, 66 RBIs and a .370 OBP in 416 at-bats in 2015.

“There’s certain guys, like A.J. (Pierzynski) may, who come out and jump right back in and he’s hitting every round and ready to go,” Coppolella said. “Freddie is just going to be a little more cautious…. There isn’t anything where he’s going to, like, be out for the first three weeks or anything. Right now everything’s positive. So we’re just trying to be safe and trying to be positive so we can get as much as we possibly can out of him during the 162-game season.”

When asked whether the plan was the team’s idea or Freeman’s, Coppolella said, “I would say it’s a partnership. Freddie wants to play as much as anybody. He’s somebody you literally have to force out of the lineup because of who he is. I think he’s heard a lot of good things about this camp, he’s pumped up for the 2016 season. I think he wants to be here and get things going. For that reason we’re kind of trying to work with him to where we can get the best plan to get the most games for him.”

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