Fredi Gonzalez feels supported by management

This season has been unlike any other for Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, and not just because in the first 76 games his team used 44 players, 56 defensive lineups, 69 batting orders, 23 pitchers, 19 relievers, some old Legos and a half-bag of unused fasteners from Ikea that weren’t on the instructions.

Gonzalez said Tuesday that this season is different because there has never been a moment when he hasn’t felt completely supported by his superiors. Ever. That wasn’t the case in Miami, where he worked for a borderline psychotic (Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria), and it wasn’t true in his first four managerial seasons in Atlanta.

I thought it was important to bring this up now because a loud segment of the Braves’ fan base continues to blame Gonzalez for this team’s shortcomings, as if 69 batting orders in 76 games shouldn’t tell you something, and there have been a couple of national media rumors in the past several weeks hinting at his uncertain job security.

“In nine years of managing, this is the best situation I’ve worked in,” Gonzales said. “It’s been a really good place to come to work. It’s been great. It’s been the ultimate.”

Now, this might strike you as a guy scrambling to kiss up to his bosses publicly in the hopes that he will be kept for the duration of a rebuilding project. But it’s no secret Gonzalez dealt with obstacles with the Marlins, nor that he and former Braves general manager Frank Wren wasn’t always on the same page, or in the same book, or zip code.

Wren’s management style wasn’t exactly inclusive. Wren couldn’t understand why Gonzalez and his coaching staff failed with the fools’ gold roster he put together.

It would be fair to suggest Wren probably was a little bitter when the Braves fired him but kept Gonzalez. It would be equally fair to wonder if these Gonzalez hot-seat rumors don’t trace back to Wren. (Or that could just be the way my conspiratorial mind works.)

That said, Gonzalez said he feels great about the support he has received from John Hart, the team’s president of baseball operations, and assistant general manager John Coppolella. Those are the two men who’ve orchestrated this roster churn and, in concert with John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, believed Gonzalez deserved to come back this season.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from both Johns, saying, ‘Hang in there. We’ll get you some pieces,’” Gonzalez said.

Asked later to expand on that comment, Gonzalez referenced how up front both Hart and Coppolella have been with him, from the outset of the winter with the trades of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, to the dealing of Craig Kimbrel on the eve of the season, to the expected shuttling of relievers between Atlanta and Gwinnett.

“Everything has been open and honest from the start,” Gonzalez said. “There’s been support right after the games. John (Hart) comes in and we talk things over. He’s been in this position, so he knows what’s going on. It’s been a really great working environment.”

Washington is in town. The midway point of the season is nearing. School is out. But for a Braves-Nationals series, there has been relatively little buildup to these three games. The Braves went into the evening trailing the Nationals by only six games, but few realistically believe they are going to challenge for the National League East Division title.

At 36-40 going into Tuesday, the Braves were right where they were expected to be — maybe even better than where they were expected to be. Casey Stengel would not have this team in contention.

The Braves play hard, even if not always well. They would have a few more wins if not for the nightly pyrotechnics in the bullpen. With the weekend call-ups of Ryan Kelly and Jake Brigham from Gwinnett — sort of the green room for the Braves’ bullpen — the team will have used 25 pitchers this season, including 21 in relief.

How could anybody blame Gonzalez for that?

When asked what the expectations for this team should have been at the start of the season, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said, “All I can speak for is myself, and I came here with the expectation to compete and play hard every day, this team has done that. We’ve been better than some thought we were going to be. We have a bunch of guys who grind out at-bats, grind-out innings, grind out games and don’t give anything away.”

And what of Gonzalez catching flak?

“That’s what you sign up for as a manager,” he said. “But I know Fredi’s does the best job he can with what he’s given. The players make the team. If the players play well and the pitchers pitch well, the manager looks good. It’s a thankless job.”