It’s not like the Braves simply lost a player off their roster. It’s more like they were trying to build their dream home and then the contractor asked, “How important is indoor plumbing to you? Because the universe just ran out of pipes. And clean water.”
When the Braves lost Freddie Freeman, they lost not only their best player, they lost a major organ, maybe a few, maybe hopes of avoiding another 90-plus-loss season, probably the inevitability of another post-All-Star break being draped in something other than funeral-home black.
“We’re trying to move forward and put everything back together,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Those words were last spoken by Humpty Dumpty’s plastic surgeon.
It doesn’t matter what you think of how well this Braves’ rebuild is going, whether it’s understood that everything takes time and this is right on track in terms of player development, or if you believe this project is flawed and was bound to collapse at some point. Because none of that is applicable in this case.
Nothing could have been done to prevent Freeman from getting drilled on the left wrist by a 94-mph fastball, fracturing a bone in seven places Wednesday night.
Nothing could’ve been done by management to prepare for this, because the Braves lost their intended safety net, Sean Rodriguez, the veteran utility man who was signed as a free agent, when his SUV was crushed by a stolen police car in Miami in January. The accident could’ve killed him and his family, but led to him suffering a torn rotator cuff and voiding his season.
(There must be an old Chief Noc-A-Homa voodoo doll being tortured as we speak.)
I’m not even sure this could’ve been prevented by borderline spastic Toronto reliever Aaron Loup, who launched the assault weapon. Loup has hit four batters in only 16 1/3 innings this season. Actually, he has hit four batters in his past seven outings covering 4 2/3 innings.
That trend is just under one hit batter per inning lately. It’s a good thing he doesn’t pitch 150 to 200 innings or Cobb County would look like Kabul.
Freeman will be out at least 10 weeks, give or take a season. But he dismissed the angry fan blather in cyberspace that Loup’s pitch was delivered with intent, even in this home-and-home series that has seen tempers flare, Toronto’s Kevin Pillar suspended two games for shouting a homophobic slur at the Braves’ Jason Motte and eight — eight! — batters hit in the first three games.
“He’s just trying to get me out,” Freeman said of Loup. “The best possible way to get me out is pitch inside. He was just trying to do his job, and (the pitch) got away.”
Freeman was leaning in because Loup is a left-hander whose slider would tail away from a left-handed batter. But, “I wasn’t quick enough to react. He’s throwing 89, 91 and the next thing you know he’s throwing 94, up and in.”
As Freeman sat at the front of a room at SunTrust Field, between Braves executives John Hart and John Coppolella, he wore a green cast on his forearm that stretched from just below the left elbow and wrapped around his hand. Green was his late mother’s favorite color.
He also said after the cast was put on, he gave his 8-month-old son, Charlie, the color stick. “He decided to throw it back at me, and he hit my wrist. Now I’ve got a little protection.”
Seems everybody is throwing things at Freeman. Must be the only way to slow him. He goes on the disabled list leading the Braves in every significant offense category and hitting .341 with 101 total bases (next closest Brave: 69), 14 homers (next closest: 6) and a 1.209 OPS (No. 1 in the majors).
He also left a black hole in the lineup and at first base.
“Not the way I wanted to come into this room,” he said. “I was hoping to use this room for pregame playoff press conferences.”
Yeah. Not happening.
Snitker still looked a bit traumatized Thursday. When asked if there’s any way to quantify how big of a loss Freeman is, he said, “He’s our guy. He was the one who was getting all the big hits, getting all the plays. He was arguably the best player in the game right now, let alone our team. But you have to go on and be the best you can.”
Freeman’s production can’t be replaced. It’s going to be hard enough just to find somebody who can play first base. Jace Peterson played there for the first time as a pro, save a spring-training game, Wednesday night. So by default, he was the go-to guy Thursday.
There are no great options. No veteran first baseman would sign with them after Rodriguez’s injury because of an expectation Freeman might play 160 games. It’s so bad that Peterson, Johan Camargo and the just-recalled Rio Ruiz were on the field four hours before Thursday’s game, being schooled by coaches on the finer aspects of the position.
“We need to start introducing the position to other guys,” Snitker said.
They might be better off bringing back Fred McGriff. Or Chris Chambliss. Or Adam LaRoche. Or Nick Esasky. (Has the room stopped spinning yet?)
Braves batters lead the majors in being hit by pitches (24). I’d say they’re living a dangerous existence, but we’re probably past that point by now.
They don’t have the worst record in the league, but they could be headed in that direction now that their best player is gone. Good luck putting this back together.
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