Wiedmer: Bethancourt could be Braves' savior

Wiedmer: Bethancourt could be Braves' savior

September 4th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (25) is greeted by Atlanta Braves first base coach Terry Pendleton (9) as he leaves the field after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 in a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves were probably all feeling more than a little heat beyond the suffocating weather as they arrived at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon to face the Philadelphia Phillies.

Failing to score but one run over 36 innings can do that to a team. Especially one desperately trying to stay in the National League wildcard race despite losing three of its last four heading into Wednesday, which was also the last time the team would see Turner Field until Sept. 15.

But only rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt had his mother and grandmother flying in from Panama to watch him for the first time in a major league uniform. Pleasing momma and grandma? Now that's pressure.

"I just wanted to do something special for them," he said.

If Bethancourt keeps playing as he did in Atlanta's 7-4 win over the Phillies -- collecting three hits, driving home two runs and stealing a base -- the Braves brass should consider doing something really special for Ma and Grandma, such as building them their own luxury cabana right behind Turner Field's home plate.

"To come in and step in in the middle of a pennant race and do the things he did today, shows a lot," said Braves center fielder B.J. Upton, who did more than a little himself by clubbing a two-run homer, which just proves the .206 hitter should have switched from glasses to contact lenses a long time ago.

Added Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez regarding Bethancourt, "There's no question in my mind that defensively this kid is ready to play in the major leagues. Offensively, he's going to hit, and like every young player when they see enough of him, he's going to have to make some adjustments. But he may have been better off with two years at Double A and two years at Triple A than the guys who had to come in and learn to hit at the major league level."

Though he didn't rejoin the Braves until Tuesday, which also just happened to be his 23rd birthday, Bethancourt was also on this year's roster between June 28 and July 21 while starting catcher Evan Gattis was on the DL.

Originally signed when he was 16 years old, Bethancourt batted .240 then with one double and three RBI. But over his final 16 games with Triple A Gwinnett, he batted .375 (24-for-64) with three homers, three doubles and 10 RBI.

"I feel really good at the plate right now," Bethancourt said. "I just have that confidence. I'm just patient."

The Braves have looked anything but good at the plate in recent days, far closer to seriously ill patients than patient. Heading into Wednesday they'd lost six of their last 10, scoring three or fewer runs in all six defeats, being shut out four times and twice totaling but three runs in victories.

From the Gwinnett locker room, Bethancourt took notice.

"When you're at Triple-A, you're still watching the big guys playing," he said. "You know the next day, the next hour, you're probably with the big league team and you have to be aware of what's going on."

What seemed to be going on before Wednesday was another Braves meltdown, not unlike the 2011 collapse, where they blew an eight-game lead in early September by losing 18 of 27 games in the final month, including their final five in a row.

Unlike then, however, this team has struggled for months, going 14-14 in August and 13-13 in July. Yet with Milwaukee losing seven straight heading into Wednesday night's game against the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh having dropped four in a row after Wednesday's loss to surging St. Louis, the Braves will go to Miami for the start of a three-game set against the Marlins no worse than two back of the Brewers in the wildcard race and possibly tied for the final spot.

"To come out and score as many runs as we did today, going into the off-day and heading on this long road trip...it gives us a little momentum," said closer Craig Kimbrel after his 42nd save made him the first player in major league history to record at least 40 saves in each of his first four seasons. "Hopefully we can keep this rolling."

His best day as a major league player in the books, Bethancourt exited the locker room to, "Take my mom and grandmom to the Georgia Aquarium."

It made perfect sense. Because without Bethancourt, to borrow a line from the Godfather, the rest of the Braves might already be sleeping with the fishes.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.