WASHINGTON -- Something lost within the ridiculous offensive production the Braves have generated this month is the fact that their talented bench is now drawing great value from one of the most valuable members of last year’s starting lineup.
Johan Camargo might have become somewhat of a forgotten asset this year. But when given the chance to prove he still has the knack to deliver in big spots, the versatile switch-hitter came off the bench to drill the two-run homer that gave Atlanta a 4-3 win over Washington Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.
“When I hit it, I had a feeling I got it pretty good and then I saw it start elevating,” Camargo said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t sure if I got all of it or not. But I knew it was going to go over or at least hit the wall.”
Camargo’s ability to turn on Tanner Rainey’s 97.2-mph fastball and send it into the first row of seats beyond the high right-center-field wall proved significant when the Nationals tallied a run before Braves closer Luke Jackson cleaned up his 10th-inning mess by retiring Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto with the tying run at second base.
“It takes a lot out of you to win a game like this,” a relieved and mentally drained Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Life has certainly been good for Snitker as his team has won 13 of its past 16 games and moved to a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East. The Braves took two of three from the Nationals, who now sit 8 1/2 games back. But this latest win proved stressful as the Atlanta bullpen was forced to pick up for starting pitcher Mike Soroka, who exited after his right forearm was hit by a 93.3-mph fastball from Austin Voth in the third inning.
Soroka’s exit, which likely will not prevent him from taking his next turn, created the chance for the Braves to lean on the depth of their roster. Camargo wouldn’t have had an opportunity to deliver in the 10th had Josh Tomlin not provided four scoreless innings, within which he retired each of the last 12 batters faced.
“He’s the man,” Soroka said. “When you see him coming in, there was no doubt in my mind he would come in there and eat innings. He didn’t just eat innings. He shoved. That was a lot of fun to watch.”
With Donaldson suddenly conjuring memories of his 2015 Most Valuable Player award-winning season, there have been fewer opportunities for Snitker to play Camargo, who produced the team’s third-best Weighted Runs Created value after becoming the Braves’ everyday third baseman in late May 2018.
“The kid has had a great attitude,” Snitker said. “He understands his role. We came into it thinking we were going to get him all these at-bats. We’re not constructed that way to really have that. We’re a traditional team that has a lineup.”
Camargo initially struggled in his backup role, hitting .213 with a .585 OPS over 115 plate appearances through the end of May. But he has gone 9-for-15 with four doubles and a home run coming off the bench this month.
“It was complicated, for lack of a better word,” Camargo said of his adjustment to his new role. “But my teammates have really helped. Matt Joyce and Charlie Culberson have really helped me adjust to the role and continue to improve as the season has progressed.”
Camargo really seemed to get going when he tallied three hits after Donaldson was ejected during the first inning of a 13-7 win over the Pirates on June 10. His confidence was strengthened by the game-tying double he produced in the decisive eighth inning of Saturday’s comeback win. But there’s no doubt his biggest hit of the season thus far was his latest.
“He gives you a lot of versatility,” Snitker said. “I love having him on the bench because it allows you to do other things when he is there. He’s had some really big pinch-hits throughout the year. It’s a tough role for a young guy. He’s embraced it, done a great job and helped the club.”