Braves’ Olivera showing some encouraging signs

SARASOTA, Fla. – After being a singles-hitting machine in the first three weeks of Grapefruit League games, the Braves liked seeing left fielder Hector Olivera collect three extra-base hits in his past three games before Tuesday, including a pair of doubles and four RBIs Monday against the Astros.

“And he’s driven in runs,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He leads the team in RBIs. I know in the stat-geek world RBI is not a big number, but it sure is. Because you can have all the on-base percentage you want, if you don’t have somebody driving anybody in, you’re not going to score runs.”

Olivera’s two-run homer Friday against the Tigers, his would-be first homer of spring training, didn’t count because the game was rained out after four innings. Still, it was an encouraging sign to the Braves.

They’ve been waiting for Olivera to get comfortable and produce more power with his smoother, simpler swing after working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in the offseason and spring training. The second-year major leaguer occasionally reverted to bad habits in early spring-training games, but he’s been able to maintain a more consistent swing lately.

Olivera was 4-for-7 with a homer, two doubles and a walk in his past three games before Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles. For the spring, he ranked second in the Grapefruit League in batting average at .411 (23-for-56), with six doubles and a team-high 12 RBIs (not counting the two-run homer).

He’s wielded a hot bat all spring while continuing to make strides in left field, where Olivera was switched in the fall after playing third base in his first season in American professional baseball. He came up through the Cuban baseball ranks as a second baseman.

“I’ve been pleased,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been pleased with his progress at the plate, and really, really pleased with him in left field. I feel comfortable with him in left field. I think still, the last thing we’re going to see from him, whether it’s a month from now or six or eight weeks from now, is the power. The home-run type power. Because he’s got gap power and puts the ball in play.”