SAN DIEGO — A familiar face and that distinctive, sweet left-handed swing were back on the field for Braves batting practice Wednesday, and Freddie Freeman swung hard and without incident as he lined balls to all fields at Petco Park as teammates, coaches and general manager John Coppolella, feeling a lot better about things.
Their best hitter was back. Or at least getting very close.
“It’s a good feeling,” Freeman said after his first live batting practice since fracturing his left wrist May 17, after hitting balls soft-tossed to him Tuesday. “It’s a big relief for me. I swung a lot more than I did yesterday and it was actually getting better and better as I kept swinging more. I was hitting line drives to left (field) just like I wanted to do. I was able to control the bat, be able to drive with my top hand, so all in all it was a great day.”
He plans to do the same routine Thursday and if all goes as expected, Freeman will fly back across the country on Friday and join the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves to begin a brief rehab assignment Saturday at Charlotte.
And, oh yes, he will be playing third base, a position he last played for five games in rookie ball in 2007. Freeman suggested the position switch from first base in order to allow hot-hitting Matt Adams to stay in the lineup at first base after Freeman returns, and the Braves agreed it made sense, at least as a temporary solution, if their franchise player was on board with it.
Freeman has spent many hours in the past week taking ground balls at third base and making throws across the diamond and says he feels good at the position. Coaches Ron Washington and Terry Pendleton and manager Brian Snitker all said his footwork and movements have improved each day and they all believe he will be able to handle the position.
“It’s just repetitions and footwork,” Snitker said. “I think if he can get to it and catch it, he’ll be fine. His arm will work, I think it’s just a matter of doing it, getting out here and taking some balls live off the bat.”
The tentative plan is for Freeman to play Saturday at Charlotte, have a day off Sunday, then play Monday at Charlotte and Tuesday and Wednesday at Gwinnett against Norfolk before coming off the disabled list for a four-game series against the Nationals that starts Thursday (July 6). That would be just seven weeks and one day after he fractured a bone in his wrist when hit by a fastball, an injury that the Braves estimated at that time would require a 10-week recovery.
Freeman was asked whether he was more confident after ramping up to on-field batting practice Wednesday that he would be ready for the Nationals series, which he has targeted for his return almost since the injury occurred.
“Lot more confident,” he said. “Obviously that was what I wanted to do, and now I think it’s going to happen. It is just batting practice, so we’ll see if I’m catching up to 91-92 (mph pitches), we’ll see how I’m going. But I think all-in-all, I think I will be back.”
First-base coach Eddie Perez was on the mound throwing batting practice Wednesday. A week from now Freeman could be facing the likes of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but he believes that four minor-league rehab games will suffice in preparing him.
“I feel pretty locked in and ready to go after 15, 20 at-bats in spring training,” he said. “So if I play four games (for Gwinnett), get four ABs (per game), I think I’ll be able to tell if I can catch up to (fastballs). It’s more of being able to recognize pitches and be on time for heaters (fastballs) and off-speed, and I think that will come. First game back Saturday is going to be a little different, seeing something coming hard finally.
“I think by Tuesday and Wednesday when we’re in Gwinnett that should be (enough), if I feel like I normally do I can say I’ll be ready to go.”
The Braves are leaving it largely up to Freeman to determine whether he’s ready. They’re trusting him to be honest about how he feels and whether he’s ready.
“If I go 0-for-10 with eight strikeouts and I’m not catching up (to pitches) I won’t say I’m ready to go,” he said. “They said (the decision) is on me. If I feel like I can do it, we’ll give it a go. I’m not going to activate myself just to activate. I’m going to make sure I’m ready to go. Because they scored (29) runs in three games last time (in three-game series win at Washington May 12-14), so I don’t want to come in there and put a damper on it. So if I think I can help I’ll be there Thursday.”
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