Ender Inciarte has been a man of 200 hits, prolonged success batting leadoff and multiple gold gloves.
But he never had been a platoon player, at least until general manager Alex Anthopoulos spoke with him Monday night.
The Braves acquired outfielder Adam Duvall before the trade deadline, bolstering their lineup’s power prowess while adding another excellent defender. Duvall addressed their right-handed offensive needs, and in turn displaced Inciarte against southpaws.
“I just talked to (Anthopoulos), and the first thing I said is, ‘I just want to go to the playoffs. Whatever it takes. I just want to be part of this team going to the playoffs,’” Inciarte told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday.
What’s transpired certainly wasn’t expected before the season. Inciarte was among the Braves’ more consistent players the past two seasons, the latter of which he was the franchise’s lone All-Star representative.
He hit .304 with a .350 on-base percentage in 2017, proving himself a building block for a team sorting through its foundation. His numbers included a .291 mark against lefties, with a .347 on-base mark that was only three points lower than his results against righties (though in a smaller sample size – 511 at-bats against righties versus 151 against left-handers).
Such success hasn’t been replicated: Inciarte has hit .207 in 111 at-bats versus lefties this season. He has posted only a .282 on-base percentage against them, with three extra-base hits and seven RBIs.
In the eyes of some, the Braves have succeeded despite Inciarte. This season has been rich with surprising developments, but that realization might be the most eye-opening.
“I’m not going to lie, I’ve always done well against lefties and righties, but that’s not a decision I can control,” Inciarte said. “So I’m just going to do my best to help this team win, control what I can control, and if I get those opportunities, then I’ll try to prove I can be the player that I’ve been in the past.”
Inciarte lost his leadoff position after the All-Star break, and thus far the move has been productive. Ronald Acuna has hit .357 with eight extra-base hits in the spot.
The former leadoff man moved into the lower portions of the order. He’s found immediate success, hitting .359 (14-for-39) in 11 games since the All-Star break. He’s rounding into second-half form, when he’s a career .318 hitter.
When the Braves added Duvall and announced he would start in left field against lefties, with Acuna shifting to center. Inciarte would be on the bench.
So far, he’s aptly responded.
“Talked to Ender tonight, he was great,” Anthopoulos said the night of the trade. “His response was, ‘I just want to get to the playoffs.’ He’s awesome. I can’t say enough about him as a team guy. We take him for granted how good a defender he is, but it’s just a move to make our team better.”
The Braves implemented their reworked lineup for the first time Thursday night against Mets lefty Jason Vargas. Duvall went 0-for-3 with a walk. Inciarte entered the game in the eighth as a defensive substitute.
“I told Adam, ‘This isn’t any reflection on you,’” manager Brian Snitker said about inserting Inciarte late. “We’ve got a guy with a lot of gold sitting in there.”
Inciarte started Friday against right-hander Jacob deGrom, whom he referred to as the best pitcher in baseball. The Braves were looking for their fifth win in a row after dropping four consecutive.
And if his post-All-Star results are a sign of what’s to come, the Braves might benefit from another added – and familiar - threat to their lineup.
“It shows the character this team has,” Inciarte said of the Braves’ ability to rebound. “We’ve been playing good baseball, and we’ve got the right team. It’s still a tough division. You see the Nationals are playing well and the Phillies are winning, too. We’ve got to continue playing the best we can, keep climbing and hopefully take over first place soon.”
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