After just one game, Adam Duvall looks like smart pick-up for Braves

Atlanta Braves' Adam Duvall hits double two-run double off of Philadelphia Phillies' Jeff Hoffman during the seventh inning of an opening-day baseball game, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Adam Duvall hits double two-run double off of Philadelphia Phillies' Jeff Hoffman during the seventh inning of an opening-day baseball game, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t a trade for much-needed help in the starting rotation. It wasn’t a deal for a potential hidden-gem outfielder.

But the late-spring signing of outfielder and repeat Brave Adam Duvall, completed less than three weeks ago, sure looked like money well spent Friday. In the Braves’ runaway 9-3 win over the Phillies on opening day, Duvall played as big a role as any non-Spencer Strider member of the roster, contributing arguably the biggest hit of the game and then working a walk that helped trigger a seven-run avalanche in the top of the eighth to overwhelm the Phillies and their sellout crowd.

“That felt good being able to come in and contribute right away,” Duvall said. “Hopefully get that first one out of the way and keep going.”

The win at Citizens Bank Park was about 5 ½ months later than Braves fans might have preferred, seeing as how their team scored more runs in the top of the eighth Friday than they did in their two losses here in the National League Division Series last October that eliminated them from the postseason. But, given the way the game was progressing for the Braves Friday before Duvall’s entrance – which is to say a lot like Games 3 and 4 of the NLDS – it was a most welcome turn of events for the visitors on this day. When the Braves faltered in the playoffs last year, Duvall watched on television, cheering for his friends and wishing he could be a part.

“It’s fun to play these games,” Duvall said of postseason contests. “This is what you play for, is to play in these types of games. Even though it’s Day 1, it felt like a big game. So that’s cool.”

The Braves, they of the historically productive 2023 season, were spinning their wheels through six innings at the plate and trailed 2-0 going into the top of the seventh. But, finally, with Phillies ace (and East Paulding High grad) Zack Wheeler out after the sixth, Michael Harris II singled and Orlando Arcia doubled to put runners on second and third with one out against lefty reliever Matt Strahm.

Manager Brian Snitker inserted the righty Duvall for Jarred Kelenic, the starting left-handed left fielder. Duvall turned on a 1-0 slider that touched down just inside the left-field line to drive in Harris and Arcia and tie the game at 2.

“That was the turning point in the game and I felt like it could be,” Duvall said. “I enjoy hitting with runners in scoring position. I always have and so for me, it was time to lock it in and put my best at-bat out there.”

If you’re into win probability, Duvall’s double raised the Braves’ chances from 31% to 54%, according to If three-word summations from All-Star second basemen is more your thing, try this from Ozzie Albies.

“It was huge,” he said.

An inning later, Duvall came to the plate with two on and two out with the Braves having gone ahead 3-2. The game was hardly safe. On the mound was flame-throwing lefty reliever José Alvarado. On a 3-2 count, Duvall worked a walk to keep the inning going.

“(Alvarado) was having some trouble finding the zone, and so I was really trying to get a pitch that I liked and that I could drive and not be too afraid to go deep into the count,” Duvall said.

Ronald Acuña Jr. followed Duvall with a single for another run and the Braves followed with five more for a 9-2 lead. Phillies fans, so widely praised last postseason for providing a thunderous home-field advantage, fled for the exits, booed their own team and sarcastically cheered when their pitcher managed to throw strikes. (One could excuse the early departures, seeing as how, with temperatures in the 50′s, shadows covering much of the stadium and the wind blowing so hard that hot-dog wrappers were flying like projectiles, it felt like glaciers were about to start forming in the outfield.)

Albies was asked if he noticed the fans turning on their team.

“Yes, I did,” he said with a chuckle.

Duvall’s production offered a peek at what he can provide a team that had few holes going into spring training but was in need of outfield depth behind Kelenic, Harris and Acuña.

You can do a lot worse than a 10-year veteran with a career .472 slugging percentage and a Gold Glove to his credit, particularly when he helped your team win the World Series in 2021 and was happily welcomed back to the clubhouse upon his signing.

“He’s been tremendous,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “He’s fit right in the clubhouse like he did before.”

He can play all three outfield positions, would be an adequate sub for Marcell Ozuna at DH and he’ll be in the lineup against lefties in a platoon with Kelenic. And, as he showed Friday, he knows how to pinch hit.

As the game progressed, he retreated to the batting cage when the Braves were on the field to hit and stay warm and then returned to the dugout when the Braves were at the plate.

“A pinch-hitter (Skip Schumaker) when I was first coming up told me about that little process,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve used along (the way) in my career.”

It’s been a whirlwind for Duvall, who a few weeks ago was an unemployed baseball player, working out, running and sneaking in practice time with two college teams (his alma mater Louisville and Lipscomb in Nashville, Tennessee) to simulate spring training. He played last year for the Red Sox but was not brought back.

He was signed by the Braves March 14 after a short negotiation.

As he waited, “I felt like eventually it was going to crack right,” Duvall said. “It was just when and where. I was just trying to be as prepared as I could be, because I knew it was going to happen boom, boom, boom and you’re out (the door).”

Back in the Braves’ fold for a third time, he was critical to the Braves’ success Friday. Chances are, it’ll be far from the last time.