A. Simmons: I’d pay to see Gattis hit

WASHINGTON – One of the highest compliments that one major league player can pay another is that he'd pay to watch that guy play. And for hitters, it's a sure sign of respect when other players avoid going to the clubhouse or using the dugout bathroom while you're batting, for fear they might miss something spectacular.

And so, consider what Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons said of Braves teammate Evan Gattis, who entered Sunday with a 20-game hitting streak and leading all major league catchers with 16 home runs.

“Man, he’s somebody I would pay to watch hit,” Simmons said Sunday morning. “I like (Jason) Heyward in the outfield, watching him play defense, and I like watching Gattis hit.”

That means no bathroom breaks or trips to the clubhouse when Gattis is at the plate.

“I’m paying attention,” Simmons said, smiling. “It’s going to be special whenever he connects. He’s fun to see hit, man.”

Gattis went 0-for-3 with a walk Sunday on a day when the Braves mustered just four hits as a team. He finished 32-for-83 (.386) with three doubles, eight homers and 21 RBIs during his 20-game hitting streak, and he’s batting .294 overall with a .348 on-base percentage and .564 slugging percentage.

Before Sunday, Gattis led major league catchers in slugging percentage and had a .922 OPS that ranked second to Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy (.927), with no other major league catcher carrying an OPS as high as .800 in 200 or more plate appearances. Gattis’ 39 RBIs also ranked second among all catchers before Sunday, two behind Arizona’s Miguel Montero.

His hitting streak was the longest by a Brave since Dan Uggla’s Atlanta-era record 33-game hitting streak in 2011. Gattis’ streak was the longest by a catcher who caught every game during a streak since Jason Kendall’s 20-game hitting streak with the Pirates in 2004.

Kendall hit .319 with three homers that season, and averaged just five homers during a 15-year career.

“Kendall was totally a (high) average hitter,” said Braves pitcher Aaron Harang, a 13-year veteran who spent eight seasons with Cincinnati and faced Kendall frequently. “Gatty’s got a good average, but he’s also hitting for power and scoring runs for us. It’s definitely an impressive thing, because even the best (defensive) catchers, they’re not catching every single day. They’re taking days off to recover. He’s in there grinding every time he’s in there.”

“You think about it, he’s back there squatting for the whole game. You’ve got to use your legs a lot when you’re hitting, too. It’s not just overall strength, it’s full-body strength. He’s getting worn down, getting foul tips off the face and arms and everything else, and he’s still got to go out and keep getting hits.”

Simmons said a 20-game hitting streak by anyone was commendable, but particularly so for a catcher and power hitter.

“Oh, yeah, because he’s not trying to get hits – he’s not trying to hit singles,” Simmons said. “He’s trying to do damage. He’s trying to hit the ball hard. Twenty-game hit streak, hitting the ball hard? It’s pretty impressive.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said in the spring that he planned to limit Gattis to about 110 games catching in his first full season as the primary backstop, being mindful both of the knee that Gattis had surgically repaired for the second time in October (an arthroscopic procedure) and his limited catching experience.

Gattis caught just 42 games (38 starts) as a rookie in 2013 in addition to 47 starts in left field and four at first base. He’s only caught and had five pinch-hit at-bats this season, and Gonzalez wants to avoid using him at other positions if possible, to help assure he stays healthy and fresh through the hot summer months.

With Gattis surging and the Braves having an off day in the schedule Monday, the manager penciled him in the lineup for the fifth consecutive game Sunday, the first time Gattis has caught five days in a row this season. (He caught five consecutive games once earlier in the year, but there was a team off day in the span.)

Since Gattis was only fourth among NL catchers in the most recent fan-voting update – behind Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Lucroy – he will likely need to be voted in as a reserve by the players or added by NL All-Star manager Mike Matheny if he’s to make the All-Star team. Gonzalez and Braves teammates say he’s definitely deserving of All-Star consideration.

“He’s been a main run producer for us over the last few weeks,” Harang said. “I mean, yeah, Yadi’s (Molina) been there every year for however many years, he’s a constant Gold Glove winner and stuff. But that’s the thing. People don’t look at that stuff, they look at who the player is and who the name is over the (current) production. That’s why you hope that more Braves fans start logging in more votes for Gatty.

“On the pitching side of it obviously you’ve got Julio (Teheran) and Craig (Kimbrel as worthy Braves All-Star candidates), but that’s up to the coaches and the players. You just hope that the fans can help (Gattis) out and start picking up more votes for him and bump him up, because when you compare him to all the rest of the catchers in the league, his offensive production is better, if not the best, out of all of them. You just hope that he’s going to get a chance to be there.

“Obviously it helps, too, that even if it’s not to be there as a catcher, they’ve got to have a DH (for the All-Star game at Minneapolis). So hopefully he gets look at for even that aspect. It’s the perfect opportunity. But I think he’s worthy all-around to be there.”

Simmons said of Gattis’ All-Star worthiness: “I think so. He’s been impressive at the plate and he’s getting better every day behind the plate. Our offense hasn’t been great, though it’s shown signs of improvement from time to time. But he’s been pretty consistent. That’s a good thing in the middle of the order. He will cool off eventually, but hopefully not. I’m glad he’s swinging the bat like that, and I hope he keeps doing it.”

Notwithstanding Gattis’ below-average 21.1-percent rate throwing out base-stealers (8-of-38) before Sunday, or occasional issues getting on the same page with a couple of Braves pitchers on signs (including Julio Teheran on Saturday), Harang agreed with Simmons about Gattis’ defense and game-calling.

“He works his tail off to help us (pitchers) prepare for games,” Harang said. “Yeah, he hasn’t been doing it for long, but every time he goes out there he’s getting better. For what he’s doing and being somebody who hasn’t played the position very long, he’s getting better every time. And he’s definitely learning more. He’s not afraid to communicate. He’s not afraid to say, hey, if you’ve got something I need to do, let me know and I’ll make an adjustment.

“He wants to get better at the position, too. It’s not just, ‘OK, I’m here.’ He wants to get better. Obviously he had a lot to look up to with B-Mac (Brian McCann), and B-Mac rubbed off on him to want to be better. It definitely attests a lot to what he wants to become and what he’s learned in the past.”