Gonzalez will play Gattis more rest of way

MIAMI – After resting Evan Gattis every three or four games all season in an effort to keep the big catcher healthy, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to play him almost every game over the final three weeks of a close wild-card playoff race.

“I’m going to try to ride him,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got some days off (in the schedule) that we can play with, and we need to get that bat in the lineup as much as we can.”

Gonzalez revealed the plan Sunday morning, the day after Gattis hit a 10th-inning home run to lift the Braves to a 4-3 win against the Marlins. It was the 22nd home run for Gattis in 355 at-bats, second-most homers on the team behind Justin Upton’s 26 in 480 at-bats before Sunday.

It was also his eighth homer to put the Braves ahead in the seventh inning or later in his first two seasons, the most in the majors since the beginning of the 2013 season according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

After getting three hits Saturday, Gattis went 0-for-4 Sunday to give him a .270 average with a .325 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage. His rate of one homer every 16.1 at-bats before Sunday would’ved ranked second in the National League behind Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton (14.5) if Gattis weren’t short of the minimum at-bats to qualify.

He had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October, the second procedure the 6-foot-3, 250-pound catcher has had on that knee. Taking into account both the knee, his size, and the demands of catching in the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer, Gonzalez said during spring training that he would catch Gattis in only about 100-110 games this season, with Gerald Laird getting most of the other starts.

The manager has stuck to that plan, though Gattis also missed three weeks in July with a bulging disk in his back. He made his 88th start at catcher Sunday in the Braves’ 143rd game, and Gattis will likely start most of the remaining games as long as he’s up for it.

Gonzalez said he might catch him in all three games of the Washington series that starts Monday, and have Gattis serve as designated hitter for two or all three games in the series against the Rangers at Texas beginning Friday.

Laird and rookie Christian Bethancourt will catch when Gattis doesn’t, but Gonzalez reiterated that he doesn’t have a split in mind as far as how man games Laird and Bethancourt could plan.

“We’ve got, what, three weeks to go?” said Gonzalez, whose offensively challenged Braves in the throes of a close race for one of two wild-card playoff berths. “I’m going to check with (Gattis) every day in the next three days. I’m going to try to ride him…. But I want to keep that bat in the lineup as much as we can going down the stretch. If he comes in and says, hey, my legs are hurt and I’m tired, or whatever, then we’ll play it by ear.

“That’s a plan. It doesn’t necessarily always work that way, because the next thing you know he takes a foul tip off his head or something and he’s out. But that’s the thing I would like to do.”

Gattis struggled some initially to regain his stroke after returning from the disabled list in late July, but had five homers in 60 at-bats over his past 18 games before Sunday.

“When he comes to the plate, (opponents have) got to be scared,” Gonzalez said. “And it’s not like he’s an out (when he doesn’t homer). He’s hitting, what, .270?”