Making big league debut, La Stella notches two hits
Second-base prospect also makes several nice defensive plays at Fenway Park
BOSTON -- Tommy La Stella's father and sister were in Pawtucket, R.I., to watch him play with the Gwinnett Braves against the Pawtucket Red Sox in International League action Wednesday, but a phone call from manager Brian Snitker changed those plans.
The La Stellas instead headed north to watch Tommy make his Major League debut at Fenway Park against the Red Sox Wednesday night, where he batted eighth and played second base after Atlanta optioned Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A.
La Stella went 2-for-4 in his first action with the Braves, lining singles in his second and third at-bats. La Stella said it was a relief to play in his first big league game and put it behind him, and he added that it wasn't too difficult to keep his emotions in check.
"I felt like I did a decent job of that, but sometimes you look around and see all those people and that place is rocking and pinch yourself," La Stella said.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was impressed with the young infielder's debut.
"He got a couple of hits, putting the ball in play," Gonzalez said after Atlanta's 4-0 loss. "You couldn't ask for anything more out of him."
However, La Stella wishes he could have enjoyed it a little more with a victory --- to him, the most important thing. When he steps back and really takes it all in, though, that could change.
"I wish I would have done a better job enjoying it," La Stella said. "I was pretty focused on the game, but hopefully I get to enjoy it a little bit tonight with my family."
La Stella, the Braves' No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, has more walks (136) than strikeouts (102) in his 1,196 Minor League plate appearances. The 25-year-old is a picture-perfect contact hitter, posting a .322/.407/.474 slash line in his professional career so far.
In 47 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, La Stella has a .293/.384/.359 slash line with 25 walks and just 14 strikeouts.
"We have enough firepower around where we don't need anything crazy," Gonzalez said prior to the game. "We don't need anybody to come in and win the batting title or the home-run title. Get on base and give us an opportunity to lengthen our lineup."
The Braves weren't getting much length in their lineup from Dan Uggla, who started at second base for all of April before his offensive struggles landed him on the bench for most of May. He's played in just nine of 25 games this month, making 24 plate appearances.
On the season, Uggla has a .177/.254/.257 slash line with just two home runs and his plate discipline has been poor --- he has a 7.1 percent walk-rate and 27.8 percent strikeout-rate. The 34-year-old is owed approximately $22 million until the end of next season, a contract the Braves weren't comfortable eating. It appears he'll remain on the roster in a limited backup role, since he doesn't play anywhere but second.
Since Uggla's benching, Ramiro Pena and Pastornicky have filled in at second base, where the Braves have gotten league-worst production in average (.165) and second-worst in OPS (.503) at the position in 2014.
"He's a guy that's going to split the gaps, get on base. He's got great plate discipline," Gonzalez said of La Stella. "It's good to be able to have that in your lineup. It's nice to have that change, and hopefully he gives us something."
In Spring Training, La Stella, an eighth-round pick by Atlanta in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Coastal Carolina, got a good taste of what it's like to be in the big leagues by being around the club so frequently. One of his biggest takeaways, he said, was how veterans who had been in the league for years still work as if they're unproven rookies.
Braves catcher Evan Gattis, who crossed paths in Atlanta's system with La Stella several times, admires the infielder's professionalism.
"He's a great teammate, and he really cares about the game, so hopefully he'll be a good addition," Gattis said.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com.