Braves’ Riley ‘trying to ride the wave’ in ‘a game of failure’

Austin Riley circles the bases after his sixth-inning home run Saturday.

Credit: Carmen Mandato

Credit: Carmen Mandato

Austin Riley circles the bases after his sixth-inning home run Saturday.

Austin Riley didn’t get overly impressed when he collected eight hits, including two home runs, in his first four major-league games last week. He knows baseball too well for that.

“I’m just going to try to ride the wave for as long as it lasts,” the Braves rookie said before Sunday’s game. “But it’s a game of failure. It’s going to come.”

A few hours later, he had his first rough day in the big leagues – an 0-for-4 game with three strikeouts as the Braves ended a homestand with a loss to Milwaukee. Still, entering Monday night’s start of a four-game series in San Francisco, Riley was hitting .421 (8 for 19) with a 1.211 OPS through five major-league games. Including his last 18 games with Triple-A Gwinnett before being summoned to Atlanta, he has 15 homers in 23 games. And he missed another home run by about an inch Thursday, settling for a double off the SunTrust Park wall on that one.

Asked if he’d ever gone on a hitting tear like this before, Riley said: “I don’t think even in high school.”

He got his perspective on baseball, a game in which even the .300-hitting stars fail to get hits in 70 percent of their at-bats, from his father (and trusted hitting instructor) Mike Riley.

“The biggest thing he told me is, no matter how high you are or how low you are, you’ve got to keep a level plane as far as body language (and) the way you go about the game,” Riley, 22, said. “It can humble you really quick. Just got to be thankful when things are going good and continue to work when things (are) going bad.”

A week ago Tuesday night, Riley got the call that he was being promoted to Atlanta. The opening came when outfielder Ender Inciarte was placed on the 10-day injured list with a lower back strain. But it had become fairly apparent Riley, principally a third baseman, would be in Atlanta soon, one way or the other, when the Braves began having him play left field for Gwinnett the week before last.

“That’s when I started getting some hints,” Riley said.

“(Braves director of player development) Dom Chiti had told me at the start of the season, ‘We’re not going to put you out there if you’re not hitting. Not going to put a lot of things on you at first. Just focus on hitting,’” Riley said. “Those first couple of weeks of the season, I wasn’t (hitting).”

That changed dramatically in recent weeks, and he became the first player in the Braves’ Atlanta history with at least eight hits in his first four major-league games. Sunday’s three strikeouts gave him six in 19 at-bats with Atlanta.

Riley had played just five games in his life in the outfield before reaching the majors -- four at Gwinnett and one in spring training this year. He said he has felt “actually pretty comfortable” in left field “other than that one ball” that went for a double Saturday after he didn’t play it well.

He played his first four big-league games in left field before starting at third base Sunday, giving Josh Donaldson a rest.

“As long as I am in the lineup, I don’t care where,” Riley said.