He’s still the Braves’ best hitter, but Freddie Freeman hasn’t been nearly the formidable force since returning from a seven-week stint on the disabled list that he was before fracturing his left wrist May 17.
And it’s not about timing or being able to get back into a hitting rhythm or groove. It’s more simple than that.
Freeman’s wrist aches, and he’s not as strong as he was before he was hit by a fastball and had his career-best, MVP-caliber start to the season derailed.
“It is obviously not 100 percent, but it’s good enough in my eyes,” the big first baseman said Tuesday, revealing for the first time that he’s struggled physically with the wrist since returning from the DL a few weeks sooner than initially expected. “It’s probably about 80-85 percent. Once I started to swinging again it hasn’t gotten any better.”
And it almost certainly won’t until he has time to rest it for an extended period this winter, much like the right-wrist injury that caused him to miss 44 games in 2015 and wasn’t right again until after an extended rest period after that season.
“I talked to Dr. (Gary) Lourie the other day, and he says it’s going to be a whole offseason (before it’s back to normal),” Freeman said. “I have lost a lot of strength. I’ve hit some balls that I thought were home runs, and they’re not going.”
He smiled before adding, “But I’m a good enough slap hitter right now, keep slapping it around, get some hits and try to get some runs and help this team win any way I can.”
Freeman is far more than a slap hitter, of course, regardless of the sore wrist. It’s just that he was arguably the National League’s best hitter before the injury, and he’s been merely a good hitter since he returned.
When he was hit by a fastball from Toronto left-hander Aaron Loup on May 17 in the 37th game of the season, Freeman led the NL in home runs (14), ranked second in on-base percentage (.461) and slugging percentage (.748) and sixth in batting average (.341). The only Braves player in the Atlanta era with more homers at that point of a season was the legendary Hank Aaron.
In those first 37 games Freeman had 26 extra-base hits, 27 walks, 31 strikeouts and a 1.209 OPS. In 42 games since returning from the DL before Tuesday he hit .309 with 20 extra-base hits (eight homers), 16 walks, 34 strikeouts, a .377 OBP and .527 slugging percentage (.904 OPS).
Freeman had a .388 average during a 10-game hitting streak before Tuesday, but had just one home run and four RBIs in 50 at-bats over his past 12 games, the homer coming in the Braves’ four-homer game Thursday at Colorado, when leadoff man Ender Inciarte hit two.
“I can’t hit a ball out. They’re not going out like they used to,” Freeman said. “I’ve hit some balls to left field that are getting caught, like the one (Gerardo) Parra caught in left field down the line (Thursday at Colorado). I feel like pre-fractured wrist that would have been a home run. Two days ago on a 3-0 count, the hit to left field – I thought that was gone, and it didn’t even make it to the wall.”
The Braves were 40-41 before Freeman returned from the DL and had a 15-27 record since he came off the DL entering Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners. He’s started every game since he returned, initially playing mostly third base so that Matt Adams could stay in the lineup at first base, but playing exclusively at first base since Freeman moved back to his normal position on a full-time basis Aug. 1.
“You know, it’s good enough to play every day, but it’s not good enough to be myself pre-broken wrist,” Freeman said. “So I think it’s going to be a whole offseason just like they say. You might feel good, but you’re strength isn’t going to be there until you have a whole offseason, so I think that’s why they say it’s going to take a little longer. But it’s good enough to play every single day.
“It doesn’t affect my swing on a daily occurrence, but it’s there. It reminds me sometimes. Lot of anti-inflammatories. But ... I’m doing OK.”
The Braves split a four-game series at Washington in Freeman’s second series after returning from the DL, then swept a three-game series against Arizona to get to 45-45 and put themselves on the periphery of the wild-card race.
But their season spiraled after that, and the Braves entered Tuesday with a 10-23 record since reaching the .500 mark on July 16.
“Whenever you lose it’s not fun,” Freeman said. “Once we got to .500, things just kind of went south there. We didn’t pitch, and then when we pitched we didn’t hit. We couldn’t get the big hits and things have kind of snowballed. I think we’re 13 games under (.500) now or something like that. So it’s not where you want to be, especially after the way we were playing in the middle of the year.
“I think we’re 11 ½, 12 ½ games back in the wild card, so we’ve got some work to do. So hopefully we can just start playing better.”
Still, he didn’t hesitate when asked before batting practice Tuesday what the goal was for the Braves the rest of the season.
“Playoffs,” he said. “Until you’re eliminated that should be your goal. It’s not about next year, it’s not about two years from now, it’s about this year. Everybody in this clubhouse, we’ve still got six weeks left, and if they’re not trying to play and push for a playoff spot then they’re in the wrong place.”
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