Pierzynski has been a rookie’s best friend this season

Credit: Jim McIsaac

Credit: Jim McIsaac

When the Braves play at Turner Field, A.J. Pierzynski and his 8-year-old son, Austin, often play catch along the first-base line before batting practice. Sometimes Pierzynski crouches to catch as his son pitches from the stretch.

Austin is only one of the young arms Pierzynski’s caught in a season where rookies have routinely come up to bolster a pitching staff beleaguered by suspension, injury and poor performance. He’s caught nine rookies and seven major-league debuts in 51 games, and Braves making their first big-league start are 3-0.

Five of those rookies remain with the team: Matt Wisler, Brandon Cunniff, Williams Perez, Jake Brigham and Ryan Kelly. The latter two made their debuts Tuesday against the Nationals. Those five have combined to go 7-3 with a 3.36 ERA over 93 2/3 innings.

“They’ve all done what they needed to do to be successful, and it’s encouraging to see young guys come up,” Pierzynski said before the game Wednesday. “It’s fun also to see those guys do what they’re supposed to do and act like they’re supposed to act and go about it the right way.”

Pierzynski went on to give his pitchers more credit, but others are quick to praise him for being the rookies’ guru behind the plate.

Especially one of their dads.

“I give a lot of credit to A.J. Pierzynski and the game that he called,” Wisler’s dad, Bob Wisler, said after his son’s debut against the Mets. “That is just some terrific veteran leadership to allow Matt to throw to his strengths, and just what a great game A.J. called. … And I noticed A.J. between the innings, at least for the first three innings, intercepted Matt on his way to the dugout and said something to him. And Matt commented after the game that that really helped settle him down, or helped keep his rhythm and keep him moving.”

During that game Pierzynski also visited the mound to calm Wisler down after he plunked Kevin Plawecki in the fifth inning. Apparently he asked Wisler if he liked Ohio State, and Wisler said no, that he was a Notre Dame fan.

It worked. Wisler immediately settled down and got the next two Mets out to preserve the shutout.

“You just try to make them feel the most comfortable they can, no matter what the situation,” Pierzynski said on Wednesday. “I know guys want to do well when they’re out there and they’re trying, but sometimes you just have to say some things to get them to think about something else and calm them down. We’ve got good guys on this team who really care, and it makes it easy on me.”

Pierzynski’s words couldn’t save Wisler against the Nationals last week, when the division leaders rocked him for six runs in four innings in a 7-0 loss. Deja vu Wednesday, as Wisler started his second consecutive game opposite Washington’s Doug Fister.

“Everyone has good and bad starts,” Pierzynski said. “You look at the best pitchers in baseball, I mean Felix Hernandez the other day went one-third of an inning and gave up eight or nine runs. It’s not like everyone goes out and deals every time. Even the best guys get hit around every once in a while, and it’s just baseball. This game is very humbling and it’s very hard. (Wisler) learned from it, and he’ll bounce back tonight and hopefully have a better start.”

With Brigham and Kelly’s debut on Tuesday, the Braves have now used 46 players this season — tied with Tampa Bay for most in the majors. Atlanta used 39 players all of last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the franchise record is 50 players, which Atlanta used in 2007.