The Braves needed a jolt. William Contreras provided it

Atlanta's William Contreras reacts with teammates after his game-winning single in the ninth inning against the Phillies on Tuesday night at Truist Park. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta's William Contreras reacts with teammates after his game-winning single in the ninth inning against the Phillies on Tuesday night at Truist Park. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Credit: AP

Brian Snitker was 60 when he became a big-league manager. He’s among the world’s most patient people, which isn’t to say his patience is limitless. On Monday, Snitker deployed a catcher in left field and had him bat second in the Braves’ order. On Tuesday, William Contreras was still batting second, this time as a DH.

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Of Brian McCann’s 6,850 career plate appearances, three came as the No. 2 hitter. Those three PAs came in three different seasons. McCann started none of those three games. Seven times an All-Star catcher, he went 0-for-3 as a No. 2 batter, striking out twice.

Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher ever, made three of his 8,654 plate appearances in the No. 2 spot. He likewise was 0-for-3. Those three at-bats came after mid-game substitutions. All three came in the final two years of his career, when he was mostly a third baseman.

On Monday, attempting to explain his batting-order changes, Snitker told reporters: “I probably had too much coffee this morning.” Monday’s game saw the Braves trail 7-0 before losing 7-3. Contreras went 2-for-4 with a double. It was his first MLB start as anything but a catcher or DH. (He started twice in Gwinnett’s outfield this season, once in right, the other in left. The world awaits the day when “Contreras, CF” appears on a lineup card.)

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On Tuesday, Contreras singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, making the Braves a 6-5 winner on a night when Kenley Jansen lost a ninth-inning lead. The Braves’ winning rally prevented a third consecutive loss, which is something that hasn’t happened this season. Something else that hasn’t happened – a three-game win streak.

The 2022 Braves didn’t take their World Series rings and hit the ground running. They’ve been neither remarkable nor wretched. They’ve been above .500 at the close of one business day – April 8. They rank 18th among MLB clubs in runs scored, 17th in OPS. They’re 20th in ERA, 21st in WHIP.

Among Braves’ position players, Contreras – who appeared in only one postseason game last fall and who’s here because backup catcher Manny Pina is lost to injury – ranks fourth in Baseball-Reference WAR, trailing Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuña and Matt Olson. Contreras ranks ahead of Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Riley, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall. Contreras has played in 12 of the Braves’ 43 games.

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This marks the Braves’ third meandering start over the past four seasons, the exception being COVID-shortened 2020. We assume they’ll get going. We also assume they’ll be among baseball’s best teams when they do. They haven’t risen above average yet. They’re tied with Philly for MLB’s 17th-best record. They’re eight games out of first place. They’re 3.5 games back of the National League’s third wild card, which would be the Giants, who just lost seven of nine.

Desperation is said to be the mother of invention. The Braves aren’t yet desperate, but they were, shall we say, starving for a spark. Such a moment might impel some managers to pick a lineup out of a hat. Snitker picked a reserve catcher and made him a left fielder and the team’s second-place hitter. This probably isn’t a long-term solution, assuming it’s a solution at all. Still, we’ve seen seasons turn on the smallest of things.

On Aug. 21, 1991, the Braves trailed the Dodgers by 2.5 games – no wild cards then – and trailed the Reds 9-5 after six innings in Cincinnati. Making a rare start, backup catcher Francisco Cabrera hit a seventh-inning home run off Ted Power and hoisted a ninth-inning blast off the then-unhittable Rob Dibble to send the game to bonus cantos. David Justice doubled in the 13th off Randy Myers to drive home the winner. Within a week, the Braves nosed ahead of L.A.

Yes, this is May – not August, not September. Only hindsight will tell us whether Snitker’s move to change his team’s dynamics had much, if any, effect. But this is why a manager earns his pay. If something’s not quite right, he can try something else. If that doesn’t work, he can try another something.

These Braves haven’t been what we – or they – expected. Nobody’s writing them off, but we’d all begun to wonder. If Contreras in the outfield doesn’t pan out, could we see Contreras on the mound? He has a nice arm, you know.