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Braves’ Inciarte homers again on night of firsts at new park

Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte marked his name in the SunTrust park record books with plenty of firsts in the new ballpark. More important for the Braves, Inciarte is serving as a catalyst at the top of lineup again after a poor start to the season.

Inciarte started the two-run first inning against the Padres with a single, the first at the team’s new ballpark, and also scored the first run. He smacked a two-run homer in the sixth, also a first for the stadium.

“I wasn’t trying to do too much but it’s going to be for sure a special night for me and a lot of people,” Inciarte said after the 5-2 Braves victory. “I was just trying to help win the ballgame but I get to do a lot of things for the first time.”

Inciarte homered twice during the 5-4 victory at Miami on Wednesday. After an off day Thursday, Inciarte continued his atypical power surge with a two-run shot against Padres reliever Craig Stammen.

Inciarte’s three home runs in 42 plate appearances this season match his total over 578 plate appearances in 2016. He’s tied for the team lead in home runs with Freddie Freeman and has one more than Matt Kemp, who’s been on the disabled list for a week.

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“I was just telling Matt, ‘Hey, man, you better get ready quick because I’m up right now,’” Inciarte said. “It’s happened right now (but) it’s not like I’m trying to hit home runs. I’m just trying to put the right swing on the right pitch. I had a slow start I just want to help the team to win.”

Inciarte recorded the first out at SunTrust Park by catching lead-off hitter Manuel Margot’s fly ball. He led of the Braves’ half of the inning with an infield single, went to third base on Freeman’s one-out double and then scored when Nick Markakis followed with another double.

The Braves led 3-2 in the sixth inning when Inciarte turned on Stammen’s 3-1 pitch with two outs. The ball launched at a steep angle and easily cleared the 16-foot high wall in right field.

“I knew it was gone,” Inciarte said. “After I hit, I knew it.”

Inciarte was a facilitator at the top of the lineup during the Braves’ offensive surge in 2016. But in the first seven games this season he was 5-for-34 with one walk and nine strikeouts.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said Inciarte’s resurgence coincided with extra work sessions with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and assistant Jose Castro. Inciarte said he also changed his mental approach after he’d shown frustration several times during the slow start.

“I’m just trying to come with a different mindset,” he said. “Mind is a very strong thing in baseball. Everybody inside (the clubhouse) tries to help. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself. I just come and try to do the best I can every day. That’s the only thing I can control.”

The Braves can’t expect Inciarte to keep producing home runs—he has 16 career homers in 1,628 plate appearances. His value comes from getting on base and his superlative defense in center field.

But Inciarte’s power was key to the Braves (3-6) winning consecutive games for the first time this season.

“We’re not waiting for him to hit homers but he’s carrying the team right now,” Braves right-hander Julio Teheran said. “Hopefully we will get the other guys going and our team will have a great year as soon as we get everything together.”

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