Braves’ Inciarte pulled from game for not hustling

MILWAUKEE – It wasn’t as dramatic as the last time a Braves manager replaced a stellar defensive center fielder for lack of hustle, because Brian Snitker didn’t pull Ender Inciarte off the field in the middle of an inning the way Bobby Cox did with Andruw Jones in 1998.

Nevertheless, Snitker’s point was made and the message received loud and clear by Inciarte, who was replaced after the top of the fifth inning for not running hard out of the batter’s box on a pop-up with that was dropped by Brewers shortstop Tyler Saladino with one out and the Braves trailing 5-0.

Snitker was asked if he pulled Inciarte for lack of hustle. “Uh-huh,” he said as an affirmative.

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Did it also have anything to do with Inciarte being thrown out at second base trying to advance on Ozzie Albies’ third-inning fly ball, a decision that seemed overly aggressive in a then-scoreless game on a fly ball that wasn’t particularly deep and a Brewers center fielder (Lorenzo Cain) with an accurate arm.

Snitker said no, that it was “Mainly because he didn’t run and it cost us a run (in the fifth inning). You’ve got to run there, you’ve got to be on second base there. We have a base hit, we score another run in a tough ballgame.”

The Braves scored a run on Saladino’s error – Dansby Swanson had doubled to start the inning and advanced on a ground-out before the dropped pop-up – to cut the lead to 5-1. But they could’ve scored another run when Albies followed Inciarte with a single. That is, if Inciarte had run hard upon contact on his pop-up, in which case he almost certainly woud’ve made it to second base. Instead, he tossed his bat before a less-than-urgent run from the batter’s box, thus only making it to first base.

He went to third on Albies’ single and the inning ended with Freddie Freeman grounding into a double play.

When he came off the field, Snitker told him what he was doing and why.

“He did what he had to do,” Inciarte said. “He’s got to set an example and start somewhere, and if I’ve got to be the guy pulled out of the game to show what we’ve got to do, I’m OK with it.”

It was not the first time that Inciarte, a two-time Gold Glove winner, ran at less than full speed to first base on a routine grounder or pop-up.

“I’ve talked to him about it before,” Snitker said. “Then when you don’t run, you hurt the team, then you’ve got to come out of the game. We’re playing for first place, we’ve got to get after it. Can’t let those kind of opportunities get away.”

Inciarte said he understood Snitker’s decision. But he also said there was a reason he didn’t run all-out on the play. He said he was trying to protect his legs.

“I’m trying to be smart about it,” he said. “My legs haven’t been very good lately and I’m just trying to be smart about it. Thought it was a pop-up where they were just going to catch the ball, and I ended up looking bad. Maybe if he makes a play I don’t look as bad, but I was trying to be smart about it and take the extra base when I think I can get it and just save my legs whenever I have the chance. It didn’t look right; he did what he had to do and I’m OK with it.”

Inciarte is tied for the major league lead with 23 stolen bases and also leads the majors in times caught stealing with eight. So he does plenty of running when he feels the time is right.

But Snitker and him clearly have a difference of opinion about when he should or shouldn’t run at full speed. After Sunday, perhaps they’ll be a bit more on the same page in that regard.