The Braves got the news they feared: Slugger Freddie Freeman has a fractured left wrist.
The team’s best player and one of baseball’s best hitters is expected to miss at least 10 weeks after sustaining a fractured wrist when struck by a pitch in the fifth inning Wednesday night against Toronto.
X-rays taken immediately after the incident at the ballpark were inconclusive, but an MRI and CT scan Thursday showed the fracture. He does not need surgery, but the rehab process could keep him out for nearly half the season.
“Devastating news for the ballclub,” Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. “It’s a non-displaced fracture. It’s probably a 10-week injury. Knowing Freddie we’ll have to hold him back. He’ll do everything he can to come back. It’s a tough break for the ballclub and it’s certainly a tough break for Freddie, who was putting together an historic year. It’s going to be a big hole for us to fill.”
Freeman was hit on the inside of his wrist by left-handed reliever Aaron Loup, who has hit four batters in his past seven appearances.
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“There was no intent,” Freeman said Thursday, seated between Hart and general manager John Coppolella at a news conference, his left hand and wrist in a cast he’ll wear four weeks. “(Loup) was just trying to do his job and one got away.”
The Braves don’t have any clear-cut replacements for Freeman, and signed veteran first baseman James Loney to a minor league contract Thursday in hopes he’ll be able to help fill in while Freeman is sidelined. Loney will report to Triple-A Gwinnett and be added ot the major league team if and when the Braves decide he’s ready to help them.
Not that anyone expects Loney, who was released by the Tigers’ Triple-A team this month, or any other available free agent to even begin to fill Freeman’s huge shoes.
Before Thursday, Freeman led National League in home runs (14) and ranked second in on-base percentage (.461) and slugging percentage (.748), second in 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.
“We’re just going to try to move forward and put everything back together,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I just hate it for Freddie because he’s had a great year. I talked to him last night. The things he was doing and how he was going about it. He’s just had a monster year. He’s our guy.”
Freeman was asked about the disappointment of having a potential career-best season interrupted so abruptly.
“The more disappointing fact is we started playing good baseball as a team,” he said. “I’m just coming here trying to help this team win so we can make it back to the playoffs because it’s been four years. We’ve won seven of the last nine games. I couldn’t care less about personal statistics.”
He had two stints on the disabled list in 2015 for an injury to his right wrist and bounced back with his best season in 2016. In the past 365 days before Thursday, Freeman led the majors with 42 home runs and led all qualifiers with a 1.058 OPS while batting .318.
“Totally different,” Freeman said, comparing the 2015 injury with his current ailment. “That was ligament. This obviously is bone. There’s eight bones in the wrist and one of my bones is broken in seven places. But the doctor said it’s the best possible bone I could’ve broke. So I’m going to trust him with that.”
It was explained to Freeman that bone he broke is virtually encased in soft tissue that will hasten the healing of the bone without surgery.
Besides Loney, the Braves could try rookie infielder Johan Camargo at first base and might consider working third-base prospect Rio Ruiz at the position on a limited basis. Neither has played any at first base, but Camargo took ground balls at the position before Thursday’s game, working with infield coach Ron Washington and bench coach Terry Pendleton.
Utility player Jace Peterson was in the lineup Thursday at first base, after replacing Freeman in Wednesday’s game — the first time Peterson played first base at any level of pro ball other than a minor league spring-training game this year. Hart said they don’t envision playing Peterson at first base on a regular basis.
Right fielder Nick Markakis and catcher Tyler Flowers also have some experience at first base, but the Braves don’t intend to use either at the position. They don’t want to disrupt the outfield or catching tandem of Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.
Losing Freeman is a huge setback for the Braves, who had won five of six games before Thursday to move into second place in the National League East, but will now play without the slugger their offense was built around. A case could be made that no major leaguer was more irreplaceable to his team than Freeman, and now the Braves must replace him.
“I’m not going out there to do what Freddie Freeman does — that’s impossible,” Peterson said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the league who does what he does. I just want to have good at-bats and play good baseball.”
“When the best hitter in the game goes out, and he’s on our team, it really sucks,” Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz said after pitching six innings for the win Wednesday.
It was the seventh time that Braves hitters had been hit by pitches in the past three games against the Blue Jays, including five times in Monday’s game at Toronto.
While some expected there to be potential retaliation from Braves pitchers Thursday, Freeman said he considered the matter settled Wednesday: Foltynewicz hit the leadoff batter in the inning after Freeman was hit.