Seventy-five minutes after the final out Sunday, Braves center fielder Nate McLouth climbed into his Range Rover to begin a 13-hour hour drive home to Michigan. Alone. Straight through.
McLouth, whose sixth-inning homer broke a scoreless tie Sunday, said there’d be several Red Bulls consumed. And time to think about the season -- good and bad.
“It was disappointing that I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be,” said McLouth, who hit .256 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs in 84 games for the Braves after being traded from Pittsburgh on June 3.
Slowed at times by hamstring and back injuries, McLouth wasn’t always the disruptive power/speed combo that the Braves envisioned he’d be in the leadoff position. He showed flashes, including a 19-game stretch from June 18 to July 12, in which he hit .317 with 13 extra-base hits (four homers), 13 RBIs and 15 runs scored.
But after that, he hit .237 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 53 games, spent time on the disabled list and was caught stealing in five of 13 attempts (after being caught in only three of 26 attempts during his breakout 2008 season).
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“There’s no excuses. It’s not because of the injuries or the trade,” said McLouth, 27, who’s under contract for two more seasons, with salaries of $4.5 million in 2010 and $6.5 million in 2011. “For whatever reason, I just couldn’t put it together. I’d get hot for a couple of weeks, then couldn’t get a hit for a couple of weeks.
“But I’m glad I’m over here [with the Braves]. I’m looking forward to working some things out in the offseason and being a bigger part of the team next year.”
He finished the season at .256 with 27 doubles, 20 homers, 70 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and an .788 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). In 2008, he hit .256 with 46 doubles, 26 homers, 94 RBI, 23 steals and an .853 OPS
Prado to play less this winter
Martin Prado played full seasons of winter ball in his native Venezuela in recent years but that commitment will be scaled back now that he’s presumably shed his backup status with the Braves.
“I might skip it or I might play at the end [of the winter season],” he said. “I’ve just got to watch what I do, do what I need to [in the offseason] to progress to another level. When I just got 200 at-bats [228 with the Braves in 2008], I could go home and play winter ball. Now, playing every day, it’s something different.
“It changes everything with my winter. I’m just going to go home and get ready to come back next year and play every day.”
After taking over the second-base job on June 30, Prado hit .318 with 27 doubles, eight homers and 40 RBIs and an . 841 OPS in his last 77 games. For the season, he hit .307 with 38 doubles and 11 homers in 450 at-bats.
Gonzo hopes to return
The Braves have decisions to make with relievers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, who split the closer duties this season and are both eligible for free agency. It’s unclear whether the Braves will try to re-sign either of them, but it is fairly certain that they can’t fit both into the 2010 payroll.
Of the two, Gonzalez had the lower salary this season ($3.45 million to Soriano’s $6.1 million) and might be the more attractive to offer arbitration, since the Braves could likely handle his salary increase if he were to accept arbitration.
“You understand it’s part of the game, part of the business,” Gonzalez said of free agency. “I worked six years to get where I am now, so I’m excited about it.”
He made it clear he hopes to get an offer from the Braves.
“Dude, this is definitely going to be a winning team next year,” he said. “The Braves have been great to me. Great team. And obviously going to be a winning team next year, so it’s definitely up high on my list.”
If the club doesn't bring back either of them, they’ll probably have to pursue another closer. Sidearmer Peter Moylan was outstanding against right-handed hitters but yielded a a .309 average and .437 OBP vs. lefties.