After both of the Braves’ veteran catchers improbably sustained injuries one inning apart Saturday night, the team turned at the position to a 23-year-old rookie making his major-league debut Sunday.
The Braves placed Brian McCann on the injured list (formerly called the disabled list) with a right hamstring strain suffered on the base path in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game. Tyler Flowers, who replaced McCann in the game, was hit in the right hand by a pitch in the fifth inning and was described Sunday by manager Brian Snitker as “sore, day-to-day, available in an emergency.”
Enter Alex Jackson, who was promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett and was the starting catcher in the Braves’ homestand finale against the Miami Marlins.
“The first thing that came to mind (upon hearing of McCann’s and Flowers’ injuries) was wondering if they’re going to be all right, because they took me under their wing in spring training and are two outstanding veteran guys,” Jackson said after arriving at SunTrust Park.
“With how everything happened, driving to the park today, there’s a lot of thoughts that go through your mind,” Jackson said. “I was just trying to enjoy myself, relax as much as I can, because since I was a little kid this is most of our dreams. For it to be able to happen is tremendous. Unfortunately, under the circumstances, it’s not what you want. But at the same time I’m looking forward to helping the team.”
Jackson went 0-for-3 in his big-league debut, but he drew considerable praise from Snitker, starting pitcher Sean Newcomb and several other Braves players for his work behind the plate.
It’s not known how long McCann will be sidelined, but being placed on the injured list means at least a 10-day absence. Hamstring injuries often require more time than that.
McCann grabbed his right leg after sliding into third base on a sacrifice bunt attempt Saturday night. He walked slowly off the field.
“When I was running to second ... it was a little tight. And then on the bunt, it just kind of grabbed on me,” McCann said. “When I was going down to slide (into third base), I kind of felt it grab.”
Flowers then was hit on the right hand by a 98-miles-per-hour fastball in his first at-bat of the night. He remained in the game but had difficulty gripping the bat.
X-rays Saturday night revealed no fracture, but Flowers said Sunday morning that he expects more to be taken. Depending on how those turn out, he expressed hope of missing no more than a couple of days.
“The swelling is a little worse, but range of motion and everything actually seems a little bit better. The grip strength seems pretty good,” Flowers said. “... I’m pretty confident it’s intact.”
If Flowers hadn’t been able to finish Saturday’s game behind the plate, the Braves would have used utility player Charlie Culberson at catcher. Culberson said he hasn’t caught in a game since he was 10 years old.
“Just see it and catch it, right?” Culberson said. “If it were to happen, I could do it.
“I’m the guy that if they need me to do whatever, I’ll do it. It is what it is, and it kind of makes it more fun, you know.”
Said Snitker: “Charlie is the emergency everything.”
Jackson, originally selected by the Seattle Mariners with the sixth overall pick of the 2014 draft as an outfielder, was moved to catcher — the position he played in high school — after being acquired by the Braves for pitchers Rob Whalen and Max Povse in November 2016.
Jackson hit .267 with 19 home runs in the minor leagues in 2017, his first season in the Braves’ organization, but only .201 with eight home runs last season at Gwinnett and Mississippi. Near the end of spring training last month, Snitker described him as one of the most improved players in the Braves’ camp, praising his potential as both a hitter and a catcher.
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