Dansby Swanson moves past wrist injury into pivotal 2019

Dansby Swanson is distancing himself from a wrist injury that persisted through his 2018 season. Back-to-back opposite-field homers were a good way to start.

The Braves shortstop blasted an opposite-field homer Monday, then sent another pitch over right-center in Tuesday’s 7-5 win over the Reds.

The 25-year-old’s spring line was .313/.389/.438 in 32 at-bats entering the afternoon. He wrapped up his warm-up slate with a thunderous exit.

Swanson played in 14 games after missing time early while working his way back from offseason wrist surgery. He’ll be full-go for the regular season, which opens Thursday in Philadelphia.

So begins the most important season of his young career.

“He’s had some really good at-bats,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I like the way he’s turning the bat loose. … It’s been good to see. I’m glad he’s healthy.”

Swanson would never use injuries as an excuse, but it’s easy to gloss over the context of his first two-plus seasons. He started strong with his initial promotion, hitting .302 in 38 games.

From there, Swanson became the Braves’ best marketing tool. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick who donned his hometown team’s uniform. At a time when the Braves needed pizzazz to sell, Swanson had it.

He was thrust into the spotlight before accumulating 40 games on his resume. In hindsight, perhaps the Braves would’ve played it more conservatively.

Swanson’s first full season brought out critics. He missed part of spring training with a strained side muscle, a setback that possibly influenced a disappointing start to his 2017 season. Swanson hit .213 with a .599 OPS in 59 games before the Braves pulled the plug.

They demoted Swanson to Triple-A Gwinnett. It was a brief stay – Swanson aptly returned because of Johan Camargo’s injury – and he hit .268 with a .707 OPS the rest of the way (29 games).

Swanson proved himself valuable in the field and on the base paths last season, but the offense again failed to develop. He hit .238/.304/.395 over 136 games – that’s after a nice start in which he hit .357 over the first two weeks.

He missed the conclusion of the season with a wrist injury, but what wasn’t known was he first hurt his wrist in the infamous frigid-April meltdown in Chicago. Swanson had played through soreness most of the campaign.

Not much can be drawn from exhibition season, but Swanson’s appeared comfortable. He’s hitting the ball hard and showing no lingering effects from the wrist. He’s gone opposite-field often, with his two homers capping off the spring effort.

“The kid is healthy,” Snitker said. “He doesn’t have that bothersome wrist he fought all last year. It’s good to see him going the other way there. I don’t know that he’s hit an opposite-field homer.”

Even through his struggles, teammates and coaches have praised Swanson’s maturity and level-headedness. With all injuries seemingly behind him, the 2019 season will be pivotal for Swanson to show he’s more than a defensive extraordinaire.

“Dansby had a really good spring offensively,” Snitker said. “We’ve talked about it from the get-go. To see him going the other way is really encouraging. Really, really encouraging. So it was a good way to end his spring and vault into the season.”