Inciarte, Kemp have helped Braves avoid sans-Freeman malaise

Ender Inciarte (left) and Matt Kemp (right) have been among the National League’s hottest hitters in May, helping to cover some of the considerable offensive slack since the Braves lost star Freddie Freeman to a fractured wrist. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Ender Inciarte (left) and Matt Kemp (right) have been among the National League’s hottest hitters in May, helping to cover some of the considerable offensive slack since the Braves lost star Freddie Freeman to a fractured wrist. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ender Inciarte had another two-hit game late Monday in a 6-3 road win against the Angels, giving the Braves center fielder 38 hits in May, the second-highest total in the National League behind former Georgia Tech and Young Harris College standout Charlie Blackmon (40) of the Rockies.

It was the team-high 19th multi-hit game of the season for Inciarte, but the Gold Glove center fielder was more excited Monday to talk about teammate Matt Kemp than about himself. And that’s typical of Inciarte, whose team-first attitude is one reason he’s as popular in the clubhouse as he is among Braves fans.

Kemp went hit hitless in Monday’s series opener at Angel Stadium, but the veteran left fielder entered Tuesday batting .337 average — tied with Mike Trout for seventh-highest in the majors — with a .376 OBP, a .577 slugging percentage that ranked 11th in the majors, 15 doubles (tied for fifth in the majors), eight homers and 27 RBIs.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” Inciarte said. “I really enjoy watching him play because he’s got a lot of power and he’s also one of the best hitters in the league. When you combine power and good hitting, that’s what happens. He’s not only swinging to hit the ball, he knows what he’s doing — he’s always swinging at strikes, he doesn’t swing (at pitches) out of the zone.

With two games left in May, Inciarte and Kemp, who had 37 hits for the month through Monday, each had a chance of joining just 16 hitters in the franchise’s modern era (since 1900) to have 40 or more hits in May. Last to do it was Martin Prado, who had 40 in May 2012. Franchise record: 47 hits in May by Hank Aaron (1959) and Ralph Garr (1974).

ExploreKemp was sixth in NL All-Star voting among outfielders when the first fan-ballot update was announced Tuesday.

“I think he’s a lot of trouble for the other teams and pitchers, because of what he’s able to do with runners on base, without runners on base — he knows every situation. He’s a great hitter, really fun to watch.”

In 26 May games, Kemp was batting .346 with 12 extra-base hits and a .391 on-base percentage in 26 games, and his 37 hits during the month were third in the NL before Tuesday, one hit behind Inciarte and four ahead of the next-highest total in the league.

“(Kemp) is one of those guys, that bat stays in the zone a long time when he’s hitting,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s just a good hitter. Not only a run producer, he’s a good hitter. He’s just been really consistent.”

Kemp and Inciarte have stepped up their games and helped pick up at least a little of the slack since Braves star Freddie Freeman fractured his left wrist May 17.

Through Monday, Inciarte had multi-hit performances in five of 12 games since Freeman went on the disabled list, batting .373 (19-for-51) with a .407 OBP in the leadoff spot to help the Braves go 6-6 in that stretch. Kemp hit .333 (16-for-48) with two home runs and a .373 OBP in those 12 games since Freeman’s injury.

“That’s the thing you tell all these guys: Don’t try and replace Freddie, just be yourself, and I think everything will work out OK,” Snitker said. “Obviously it goes without saying, when your best player’s down, you miss him. But I think the guys are doing a good job just not trying to do too much.”