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Swanson cashes in on dream scenario

Walk-off single in ninth helps Braves finish 5-1 on homestand
@mlbbowman
April 7, 2019

ATLANTA -- Bases loaded, nobody out in the ninth inning of a tie game. Those are the moments Dansby Swanson has lived for dating back to those high school basketball days when he always wanted to have the last shot. “I always loved to have the ball in that situation,

ATLANTA -- Bases loaded, nobody out in the ninth inning of a tie game. Those are the moments Dansby Swanson has lived for dating back to those high school basketball days when he always wanted to have the last shot.

“I always loved to have the ball in that situation, and it’s no different here,” Swanson said after hitting a bases-loaded walk-off single that gave the Braves a 4-3 win over the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

Since being swept to begin the season in Philadelphia, the Braves have gone 5-1 and seen their starting rotation produce a 1.29 ERA in that span. Freddie Freeman is hitting over .400, Josh Donaldson has looked like a Gold Glover at third base and Wes Parsons has provided some stability within a still-concerning bullpen.

But the most encouraging development in the season’s first nine games has been the vast offensive improvement by Swanson, who is starting to show why the D-backs took him with the first pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. The 25-year-old shortstop has hit .346 and produced a 1.202 OPS thus far. He tallied his team-high third homer when he tagged Caleb Smith’s low-and-away fastball over the left-center-field wall to give the Braves a 3-2 lead in Sunday’s fourth inning.

“He’s laying off the sliders from right-handers away,” Freeman said. “When he gets pitches away, he’s able to drive them to the right side. But I was most impressed with that changeup he hit for a home run today. That’s an easy rollover for a lot of people. For him to stay into his legs and drive the ball to left-center -- if he continues to do that, he’s going to be an All-Star.”

Per Statcast, right-handed hitters batted .226 and produced a .291 slugging percentage against changeups that left-handed pitchers threw down and away during the 2018 season. But Swanson proved up to the challenge of handling the pitch, drilling Smith’s delivery a projected 419 feet. It was the fourth-longest homer of his career and the longest of the homers he has tallied through 26 at-bats this season.

“I’ve always believed in what I’ve been able to do, and even more so now,” said Swanson, who is benefiting from the health of a surgically repaired left wrist that bothered him most of last season.

After Freeman hit his first homer of the season, a two-run shot in the first, Swanson responded to Miami’s two-run second with his go-ahead homer in the fourth. The Braves held the lead until Curtis Granderson hit a game-tying ninth-inning homer off Arodys Vizcaino, who was credited with a blown save and the win, courtesy of Swanson’s third career walk-off hit.

Freeman began the bottom of the ninth with an infield single off Marlins closer Adam Conley and advanced to third base via catcher’s interference and a wild pitch. After Nick Markakis drew a walk to load the bases, the Marlins shifted their five-man infield to the left side for Swanson, who promptly lofted an inside fastball to left field to end the game.

“I always feel good in that situation with Dansby,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s got a knack for rising to the occasion. I just always feel you’re going to get a really good at-bat from him right there.”

Swanson’s hot start conjures memories of last year, when he hit .357 and produced a .961 OPS over the 14 games he played before his wrist became an issue. He ended up hitting .238 with a .699 OPS. But as he looks ahead to the remainder of this season, he believes last year’s frustrating experience will only further fuel his desire to be the guy the Braves can count on in any situation.

“It’s been a challenge at times, but to go through so much stuff and get to this point now is fun,” Swanson said. “But at the end of the day, this game is hard. So, you just keep getting after it and preparing. That will lead to good things.”

Key recovery

When Sean Newcomb allowed three hits and issued two walks during Miami’s two-run second, there was reason to wonder if his latest battle with inconsistent command might lead him to be removed from the rotation, which could be bolstered by Mike Foltynewicz’s return next week.

But as Newcomb retired the final 14 batters he faced during his seven-inning effort, he likely secured a rotation spot, and more importantly he provided himself with a reminder of how good he can be when aggressively attacking the strike zone with his fastball.

Play of the day
Donaldson produced his first extra-base hit of the season with a sixth-inning double. But his top contribution came via the quick snag he made of Starlin Castro’s 105.6 mph hot shot in the eighth before throwing to second base to begin an inning-ending double play. Castro’s grounder was induced by Parsons, who has allowed a run in just one of six appearances and has been one of the few bright spots within a suspect bullpen.

“Some of the plays he makes are phenomenal,” Snitker said. “His arm is right there with as good as I’ve seen as far as accuracy and strength.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.