JUPITER, Fla. -- Jeff Francoeur has been in this position before, but as he fights for a spot on Atlanta's roster, his previous two experiences as a non-roster invitee might not benefit him as much as the painful memories of what transpired when he put too much pressure on himself
JUPITER, Fla. -- Jeff Francoeur has been in this position before, but as he fights for a spot on Atlanta's roster, his previous two experiences as a non-roster invitee might not benefit him as much as the painful memories of what transpired when he put too much pressure on himself during the final portion of his first tenure with the Braves.
"He's past that," manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Francoeur homered in Thursday's 5-2 win over the Marlins. "Here's a guy who was sent down to the Minor Leagues two years ago, and he spent almost the whole year there. He's past that pressure stuff. He knows what he's capable of doing."
If the Braves opt to alter some plans to create a roster spot for Francoeur, they'll be looking for him to do just what he did during Thursday's fourth inning, when he sent left-hander Justin Nicolino's fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer. It marked the first time he homered in a Braves uniform since he took the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain deep at Turner Field on June 24, 2009.
"During the first two weeks of Spring Training, you're always trying to find your swing," Francoeur said. "That's the fun part, just figuring out your swing and getting back in the groove. The last two weeks is when you really start honing in and doing things. It felt good to get one today."
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After spending most of the 2014 season at the Minor League level with the Padres, Francoeur resuscitated his career last year with 13 homers and a .718 OPS as a backup outfielder with the Phillies. The 32-year-old veteran went 11-for-30 as a pinch-hitter and fared better against right-handers (.769 OPS) than he did left-handers (.645 OPS).
Along with benefiting from the hitting tips provided by former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, Francoeur proved to be much more relaxed last year than he had been during his final stages of his stints with the Royals (2011-13) and the Braves (2005-09).
"I think anybody who knows me knows that at the end of the last time [I was with the Braves], I was just grinding myself," Francoeur said. "It was the same thing with my last year in [Kansas City], where I just kept trying and trying and trying. One of the things I was most proud of last year was if I had a bad at-bat or a bad game, I was able to just put it away and come back the next day ready to go."
Francoeur has gone 5-for-17 with a homer and a double through his first six Grapefruit League games. In order for him to gain a spot on Atlanta's roster, the Braves may have to make a trade or possibly re-evaluate whether they want to keep Emilio Bonifacio, who was signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the thought that he could serve as a right-handed option in center field.
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The Braves entered Spring Training with the plan to enter the season with veteran left-handed hitter Michael Bourn and the switch-hitting Bonifacio as their backup outfielders. Hector Olivera, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis will serve as the starting outfielders.
While Bourn could occasionally spell Olivera in left field, his value is diminished by the fact that Inciarte already provides the Braves a capable left-handed option to utilize in center field on an everyday basis.
If the Braves want to add some power potential and a right-handed option to their bench, they could be influenced to make some changes to create a roster spot for Francoeur. But as things currently stand, there is no guarantee that there will be room to carry the likeable outfielder, who was once a fan favorite in Atlanta.
"I think having the experience of being a non-roster invite the past two years helps," Francoeur said. "Two years ago, I had a great spring and didn't make the team. Last year, I didn't have a good spring and made the team. I think a lot of times it's the need of the team and how you fit."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.