When Freddie Freeman got through spring training and to opening day with a healthy wrist, it was the best news of all for the Braves coming back from Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Then he kept the positive vibe going on opening day, hitting a game-tying solo homer off Washington’s Max Scherzer in Freeman’s first-inning at-bat to give a sellout something to get excited about right away at Turner Field.
Freeman was also hit by a pitch to load the bases in the eighth inning and set up the go-ahead run that scored when Adonis Garcia followed with a walk, giving the Braves a 3-2 lead. But they blew it after defensive miscues in the ninth and 10th innings of a 4-3 loss.
“Julio (Teheran) pitched great, bullpen pitched great, we just didn’t catch the ball at the end,” said Freeman, who said he was OK after being hit in the left elbow by a pitch from Felipe Rivero, which fortunately didn’t strike directly on bone.
After totaling four homers among his eight hits in spring training, Freeman homered his first time up in the regular season. He took Scherzer out to straightaway center field with two out in the first inning in his first-ever plate appearance against the big right-hander.
While the Braves’ best hitter gladly abided by the team’s cautious approach with his playing time this spring, when he played in only 18 of 32 games, Freeman made it clear before Monday’s game that he wouldn’t quietly accept manager Fredi Gonzalez’s plan to get him out of the lineup for regular rest during the season.
“He can ask all he wants. I’m not coming out,” Freeman said. He smiled and added, “He’s going to have to force me out of the lineup, because my goal every year is to play 162. So that’s what I’m going to try and do this year, and if he asks to take me out, I’ll be in his office trying to beg him not to.”
Gonzalez rolled his eyes when told what Freeman had said about wanting to play every game, as Freeman did in 2014 when he started every game and led the majors with a franchise record for innings played.
“God almighty, I’ve got to go talk to him,” Gonzalez said. “I thought we already talked about that…. The days of 162 (games), every inning, every at-bat, I think we need to taper down a little bit, because we want him to play the whole season. We don’t want one of our best players sitting out for 2 ½ months.”
Freeman wasn’t able to play through the wrist injury last season and didn’t respond initially to multiple injections and rest. He missed 44 games and had two stints on the disabled list, and the Braves’ offense, not very good to begin with, sputtered in his absence.
Before full-squad workouts began, the Braves said Freeman might not take part in full activities or be in the lineup for the first week of Grapefruit League games. But he took live batting practice the first time Braves pitchers threw it, then doubled in the first inning of the Braves’ first game and homered in his second game.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Freeman, a two-time former All-Star who led the Braves with 18 homers last season despite missing more than a quarter of the season. No other Brave had more than 10 homers in 2015.
“All I care about was getting through (spring training) healthy,” Freeman said. “I got a lot of at-bats, about 50 plate appearances or so, and I feel like I’m right on schedule and everything feels good, 100 percent. That’s all I can ask for out of spring training.”
“That’s the main key that we were looking for at spring training. I think the medical plan we had in spring training really worked out for me, following it to the T, and definitely got me to where I need to be right now.”
Just don’t expect him to comply with it quietly, now that the games count.
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