If his line-drive home run that landed in the parking lot Saturday was an indication, Dustin Peterson has regained his power.
The Braves corner-outfield prospect had two hits and four RBIs, including a two-run homer that sailed over the left-field fence and adjacent visitor’s bullpen, a shot that gave the Braves a 3-0 lead en route to a 15-1 Grapefruit League rout against a Pirates split squad at LECOM Park.
He added a two-run single in a seven-run ninth inning as the Braves rolled to their sixth win in seven games and first double-digit scoring total this spring.
It was a year and a week ago that Peterson, 23, had surgery for a broken hamate bone in his left hand, an injury that spoiled his season after he had thrust himself into serious consideration for an opening-day roster spot with a strong showing early in spring training.
When he got back, he had to re-establish himself and hadn’t regained the strength to do it.
He returned from the disabled list in the summer and played 87 games for Triple-A Gwinnett, but never regained his stroke or the power he had shown in camp. Peterson hit only .248 with 19 extra-base hits, including one home run, and a .636 OPS.
This after a 2016 season in which he hit .282 with 50 extra-base hits, including 12 homers, and a .774 OPS in 132 games for Double-A Mississippi. He followed that by hitting .324 with seven extra-base hits and an .823 OPS in 71 plate appearances in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, then started strong at 2017 spring training.
“I was having a good spring,” he said. “That injury kind of set me back a little bit. Now I’m healthy and I’m strong and I’m here. That’s what it’s about.”
He went 2-for-4 on Saturday, and his first home run of the spring came on a 3-2 hanging slider from right-handed starter Trevor Williams.
Peterson got the start in a lineup filled with mostly prospects and young players, only the third time in 16 Braves Grapefruit League that he got multiple plate appearances in a game and the second time he got more than two.
“It was good to get him some at-bats,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He looks good. He’s been swinging the bat in practice and all that kind of stuff really good, even in the games. That’s good. Good for us.”
The broken hand and lackluster showing upon his return led the Braves to leave him off the 40-man roster and unprotected this offseason, and Peterson wasn’t poached by another team in the Rule 5 Draft. So now he’s in camp as a non-roster invitee trying to show a new front office that he can be a factor, trying to prove himself again and catch decision-makers’ attention in a new front-office regime amid the inventory of prized prospects rising in the organization.
“I want to show them who I was before,” Peterson said. “I had the hand surgery last year, and it’s pretty tough to come back, but I worked all offseason to get myself strong, to prepare myself for spring and stay strong. So it felt good to get a start and get some at-bats today.”
Snitker said Peterson would probably have made the team last spring if he hadn’t gotten hurt. He was glad to see him take advantage of an opportunity Saturday, as were his teammates.
“Petey, he was on a roll last year until that injury,” said Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, who worked four scoreless innings Saturday. “Now you see he’s back. He’s hungry. Just like all these guys, making plays today and hustling all over the field, running down the lines and putting the ball in play. It’s a young, hungry bunch that came over today and they showed us, it was awesome to see that hustle.”
Peterson is 5-for-17 with three extra-base hits this spring. He’ll need more days like this if he’s to earn a roster spot at some point, but he showed Saturday that the power is there after an offseason in which he increased his workout regimen and said he reported to spring training bigger, stronger and faster than he’s ever been.
Playing right field Saturday with phenom Ronald Acuna in center and veteran Danny Santana in left, Peterson made an alert defensive play in the third inning when he caught Jody Mercer’s fly ball and threw to first to double up a runner who had misread it.
The Braves are undecided on who’ll open the season in left field if Acuna is kept in the minors for a brief period. That’s a move they’re expected to make for service-time purposes to assure an extra season of contractual control so that Acuna would become a free agent in seven years instead of six.
The leading candidates for left-field duty until Acuna arrives are last year’s fourth outfielder Lane Adams and newcomer Preston Tucker from the Astros, both on the 40-man roster.
But if anything happens and the Braves have an outfield need during the season, Peterson is trying to show this spring that he can again be an attractive option, which is what he was poised to become before the broken hand just over a year ago.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com