When he first heard that his friend and former teammate Freddie Freeman might switch from first base to third base so the Braves can keep Matt Adams in the lineup, retired former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones had to find out if it was true.
“I got a text (from Jones) last night that said, ‘Seriously?’” Freeman said Wednesday, a day after news first got out about the possibility. “We kind of texted this morning a little bit. I told him I had early work at 2:30 (p.m.) if he wanted to come out. I’ll be doing that every day so I’m sure he will be out here soon.”
Yes, the move to third base is serious. And it says plenty about Freeman.
While the Braves say the decision isn’t final and they’ll change plans if Freeman’s not comfortable with the move, their franchise player says he fully intends to return from the disabled list as a third baseman when he’s activated next month, either just before or after the All-Star break barring any setbacks in his recovery from a fractured wrist.
Freeman, who is on pace to return well ahead of the original 10-week expected recovery period, and the Braves said the position change was Freeman’s idea after seeing how well Adams did in his first couple of weeks filling in at first base.
“A couple of weeks ago I mentioned it to say I’d be willing to move over to third base to accommodate Matt,” said Freeman, who fractured his wrist May 17. “He’s obviously been pretty spectacular for us.”
The possibility became a lot more likely on Tuesday, when Freeman asked to meet with Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella to reiterate that not only was he willing to move to third base, but that he wanted to do it and was eager to get started in the process since he had been cleared to begin throwing Monday and could be cleared to start hitting Friday.
“I had a couple meetings with Hart and Coppy and then we had a meeting with (Braves manager Brian Snitker) too,” Freeman said. “I said I’m completely on board with it, I want to do it, we’ve got to keep Matt’s bat in the lineup and I’ll do anything to win. This is what it came to. I’ve got a couple weeks until I’m back out there so hopefully I can get (acclimated) with third base pretty good.”
Freeman got his cast off last week and was cleared to begin throwing and catching Monday. He began taking ground balls in the indoor batting cage on a rainy Tuesday with infield coach Ron Washington at his side, and Wednesday they moved to the field and Freeman took ground balls at third base in an early afternoon sessions before most other players arrived.
Freeman will accompany the Braves on their West Coast trip next week so he can keep working daily with Washington.
“It says a lot about him, that your best player wants to do anything he can to help make this club better,” Snitker said. “I think it’s pretty cool. And he’s way into this, too. I mean, that’s the thing, he was talking about doing it. He even mentioned it before it became serious. When Matt came and (with) what he was doing, he sees what that can do to our club, what it does to our lineup if he does that.
Adams has never played any other position in pro ball except a brief trial in left field this spring with the Cardinals, who pulled the plug on it after determining he wouldn’t be able to play the position at an acceptable level. They used him as a pinch-hitter before trading him to the Braves after Freeman’s injury.
Freeman played third base in high school and for five games in rookie ball a decade ago in 2007.
“You watch him playing first base and it’s not like he’s this goon over there who’s not athletic,” said Snitker, who is already thinking about enticing lineup possibilities when Freeman returns. “His feet work, his arm’s a weapon, his hands are good, he’s an agile kid. I told him, you’re not any bigger body-type than Chipper or Kris Bryant, guys like that who are big men and are athletic and can move around. Not to say he’s going to play it like Chipper, but there’s no reason, with his hands, arm and athleticism, that he can’t go over there and do a really good job.”
Snitker added, “We’re just thinking right now we’ll do it to get through the year, then I expect we’ll evaluate at the end and see how it goes. And we told Freddie, if at any point in time in this process, if you’re not comfortable, it’s not going to work or whatever, that we can adjust and adapt from there. But knowing him, that’s not going to happen.”
Freeman laughed when someone asked if he’d had too much to drink when he first suggested his moving to third base.
“Obviously it’s been a few years since I’ve played third, but hopefully I can take to it quickly and hopefully refresh my memory from doing it 10 years ago,” he said after fielding grounders Wednesday. “Today was a good first start. I did it a little bit yesterday in the cage where you guys couldn’t see. I feel good. I’m confident. I’m going in with a positive attitude. We’ve got to keep the best lineup out there and hopefully I can fit right in out there at third base.”
At the time of his injury, Freeman led the National League in homers (14) and ranked second in on-base percentage (.461), slugging percentage (.748) and extra-base hits (26), fifth in walks (26) and sixth in batting average (.343). The only Atlanta Braves player with more homers in the team’s first 36 games was the legendary Hank Aaron.
Since Adams joined the lineup four days later, he hit .294 with 11 homers, 29 RBIs and a .993 OPS in 30 games including a two-run homer in Wednesday’s 5-3 win against the Giants. Braves first basemen have hit 25 homers, the most from any single position for any team in the majors.
Freeman was asked if seeing Adams do so well filling in for him made it any easier being sidelined for the past five weeks.
“A little bit,” he said. “Not playing probably is the hardest thing for me. It’s getting antsy especially when I’ve been getting cleared (to start doing) things. Everybody knows me, I just want to go back into it. Friday (CT scan) can’t come soon enough for me. But what Matt has done has been pretty much, there really are no words to describe.
“We were lucky to get him and what he’s done here is he’s thrived. I will do anything to help this team win and me moving to third, if that’s what it is, I will do it. Hopefully we can all come together and have a pretty decent lineup.”
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