Feb 19, 2018 Lake Buena Vista: Braves pitcher Sam Freeman delivers a pitch on Monday, Feb 19, 2018, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Snitker keeps faith that struggling Sam Freeman rediscovers form

The Braves have remained committed to struggling lefty Sam Freeman, and manager Brian Snitker will continue giving him opportunities.

Freeman was an integral part of the bullpen a year ago. He earned a 2.55 ERA while striking out 59 in 60 innings. But he hasn’t been able to rediscover that success in 2018.

The 31-year-old owns a 7.08 ERA in his past 24 appearances. He’s allowed 22 hits and 13 walks in his last 20-1/3 innings. He’s allowed a run in nearly half of those outings (11).

Since their encouraging start, much of the Braves’ drop back to earth has been pinned on a struggling bullpen, with Freeman enduring the bulk of the blame. 

But Snitker has kept faith in the man who was once one of his best relievers. There was some thought Freeman might be a casualty of the Johnny Venters addition Thursday night, but the team instead optioned Evan Phillips to Triple-A.

“The only way he’s going to get through it is to go out there and get through it, battle his way through,” Snitker said, who cited fastball command among Freeman’s struggles. “Maybe (I’ll) try to pick spots that are conducive for him to do well. I think that’s the biggest thing. He needs to be in some situations that maybe aren’t the highest-level situations to get himself back going.”

In his first nine games, Freeman hadn’t allowed a run in 7-1/3 innings, striking out six, walking two and holding opponents to a .136 average in the small sample size.

Then the Chicago disaster happened. In frigid conditions, Freeman walked three without recording an out, helping the Braves blow a 10-2 lead. He hasn’t been the same since.

In his next 38 games, Freeman has a 5.91 ERA, walking 20 in 32 innings. Every member of the bullpen has had a rough stretch, especially regarding bases on balls, but Freeman’s has extended into late July.

Snitker is often applauded for his unrelenting faith in players, and it’s an admirable trait. He’ll stick by Freeman, for better or worse.

But at some point, Freeman will need to hold up his end of the bargain. Perhaps the team sees fewer high-leverage situation as an avenue for him regaining his command.

And the still-contending Braves would benefit greatly from Freeman circa 2017, or any form similar.

"We need that kid to be a big part of what we're doing down there,” Snitker said on Sunday. “He's capable, he's done it before and he'll do it again. We just need to hang with him."

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