WASHINGTON – He spent seven weeks on the disabled list for a fractured wrist, then played parts of just two minor-league rehab games before pronouncing himself ready to rejoin the Braves, whereupon Freddie Freeman was immediately inserted back in the lineup.
While some wondered aloud whether Freeman was coming back too quickly, his performance has spoken loudest: He hit a home run Friday against Nationals ace Max Scherzer and added a two-run single for his third consecutive two-hit game to make him 7-for-17 (.412) with three extra-base hits and five RBIs in his four games since returning from the DL.
Freeman has picked up right where he left off before the injury, when he was hitting Freeman, who hit .341 and led the NL with 14 home runs and a 1.209 OPS before he was hit by a fastball that shattered a small bone in his wrist.
“I feel good,” Freeman said after Friday night’s game, when his two-run single in the eighth inning gave the Braves a 4-1 lead (which Jim Johnson blew in the ninth inning of a 5-4, 10-inning loss). “Like I said, I wouldn’t have told them to activate me if I didn’t feel good. My wrist feels healthy, I feel good up at the plate, seeing everything. Just thankful to get a pitch to hit and get it over the fence.”
It says plenty about his enormous talent that Freeman could already have his timing down enough to have seven hits in his first 17 at-bats, including three consecutive two-hit games and a homer against a pitcher like Scherzer, after spending seven weeks on the DL and playing just two rehab games. But Freeman said it also was a reflection of an adjustment he made to his fundamental hitting philosophy at about this time a year ago.
“My approach is completely different starting in June of last year, and I feel like that just makes my timing that much better,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is hit a line drive at the shortstop, and that makes me stay in on pitches, that makes me see the ball longer, and obviously my timing gets back a lot quicker. We found that out in spring training; I got locked in pretty quick. And here we are again, playing nine innings of rehab ball after seven weeks (on disabled list) and I’m feeling good at the plate.”
A reporter asked if Freeman was like Chipper Jones late in the legendary Braves third baseman’s career when Jones would return from DL stints without even bothering with a rehab assignment, then immediately get hits.
Freeman laughed and said, “No, not yet. That’s too early. He’s a class of his own. Just hopefully I can continue this and we can win this series the next two days.”
He had the four-game Nationals series circled on his calendar since going on the DL, even though the series was nearly three weeks sooner than the original 10-week estimate for Freeman’s recovery. He made it back even sooner than he hoped, returning for a two-game series against the Astros that began Tuesday, a day shy of seven weeks from his injury.
Freeman wanted to get back for what he figured would be an important series against the National League East-leading Nationals, the final four games before the All-Star break. And the Braves certainly had reason to want him back regardless of the opponent, but perhaps especially given that it was the Nationals.
He entered Saturday with a .332 career average and .933 OPS in 107 games against the Nationals including a .368 average (110-for-299) in his past 82 games with 43 extra-base hits (13 home runs) and a 1.040 OPS.
Freeman had a .330 average, .409 on-base percentage and .495 slugging percentage in 55 career games at Nationals Park before Saturday, though his, albeit with a modest five homers in 232 plate appearances. By comparison, he’s hit seven homers in 87 plate appearances (21 games) at AT&T Park in San Francisco, one of the toughest hitter’s parks in baseball, and six homers in 78 PAs (19 games) at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Freeman entered Saturday with an eight-game hitting streak at Nationals Park, going 13-for-33 (.394) with four doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs despite the Braves’ 2-6 record in those games.