Wiedmer: Braves need more Gattis

Wiedmer: Braves need more Gattis

May 23rd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves' Evan Gattis hits a grand slam in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - It might be time to find a more permanent spot for Evan Gattis in the Atlanta Braves lineup.

Not that the Braves swept the Minnesota Twins out of Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon only because of Gattis's fourth-inning grand slam.

Already up 4-0 at the time, that blast by the back-up catcher merely provided extra cushioning for winning pitcher Paul Maholm in the 8-3 victory, Atlanta's sixth straight.

But coming as it did on the heels of the White Bear's Tuesday night pinch-hit homer -- the one delivered with two outs in the ninth that tied the Twins at 4-all in an eventual 10th inning Braves win -- one has to wonder how much longer the Braves brass can play hide-and-seek with Gattis's gifts.

"It's legend," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of his rookie catcher's 10th homer of the season, the most among all major league rookies, and his first career grand slam.

"And great for him. The guys are all rallying around him and enjoying this."

There was much to enjoy in the NL East leaders' 28th win of the season against 18 losses heading into Friday night's game at the New York Mets.

Not only did Maholm (6-4) leave with an 8-1 lead after 7 1/3 innings, rookie reliever Cory Rasmus -- from just down the road in Columbus, Ga. -- made his first big-league appearance. Though Rasmus gave up two home runs, he also struck out three in 1 2/3 innings.

In fact, the first of Rasmus's strikeouts led to the only awkward moment of the season for the 26-year-old Gattis, who threw the ball to a little girl in the stands rather than keeping it for his teammate.

"She looked like she wanted it," the catcher said sheepishly.

"We've got to teach him a little more court awareness," said a grinning Gonzalez.

Added Rasmus, "It's no big deal to me. I just hope I get a lot more strikeouts that can be thrown into the stands."

Yet the favorite of the fans in the stands is increasingly becoming Gattis, who had never played at a level higher than Double A before this season, and then for only 49 games.

"Yeah, my [cell phone] blew up last night," said Gattis of the calls and texts he received after his third pinch-hit homer of the season in his sixth pinch-hit at-bat.

"This is definitely the best ride of my life. I'm just enjoying playing baseball every day."

But that's just it. He's not playing every day. Gattis's 121 at-bats are sixth most on the team, yet his 10 homers and 27 RBI are second only to Justin Upton's 14 and 28. He's already missed nine games entirely and appeared for a late at-bat in six more. That's basically a third of the Braves' games to this point.

While starting catcher Brian McCann's numbers are certainly outstanding in just 12 games and 39 at-bats -- a .282 average with four homers and 12 RBI -- good things keep happening with Gattis on the field.

In fact, Gonzalez was so wowed by Wednesday's grand slam that he compared it to one once hit by Detroit Tigers superstar Miguel Cabrera, whom Gonzalez managed with the Florida Marlins.

"Only one other time have I seen someone hit a grand slam to the opposite field on a 3-0 count," he said. "That's pretty special."

Though Gattis smiled when told of his skipper's remarks, he also said he was half-surprised his grand slam got over the fence.

"When I first hit it, I was like, 'Oh, yeah, it's gone,'" he recalled. "Then I thought, 'Maybe not.'"

But just as his Tuesday night game-saver cleared the left field wall, this one flew over the wall in right.

Gattis told the media on Wednesday that he's as surprised by this as anyone, that, "If you don't expect anything, you can't be let down."

But near the close of spring training, when it was still uncertain if he'd be placed on the Braves' opening-day roster, Gattis told Gonzalez: "If you want to win games, you'll put me on the team."

And if they want to keep winning games, they'll put him on the field every chance they get.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.