Braves expect Freddie back in lineup next week
Newcomb settles in after shaky 1st; Soroka to debut Friday; Drago goes deep
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Freddie Freeman returned to CoolToday Park on Wednesday and began lobbying to play in Thursday’s game against the Cardinals. But the Braves will take the sensible route by having him rest his recently inflamed right elbow through the remainder of this week.
“The fact that we’re sitting in February, we don’t need to rush this thing at all,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said before Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. “But if you’d ask him, he’d say he’s ready to play tomorrow.”
After scratching Freeman from Tuesday’s lineup, the Braves contacted Dr. David Altchek, who removed three fragments and a pair of bone spurs from the first baseman’s elbow on Oct. 16. The noted surgeon said the inflammation that developed this week was likely simply a product of the increased workload experienced during Spring Training’s first week.
Freeman tallied a pair of plate appearances in both of the Grapefruit League games he played on Saturday and Sunday. The adrenaline-influenced swings taken in these games combined with the many extra swings and throws he made while working out last week likely created the inflammation that developed Monday.
“It’s to be expected,” Anthopoulos said. “[Altchek] is not concerned. With activity, it will sometimes flare up. We’ll just get him a little time to rest.”
If Freeman returns to the lineup early next week, he will still have three weeks to prepare for Opening Day. So, it makes sense to take advantage of the chance to rest, which was an option Freeman and the Braves could not afford to take as he attempted to manage the elbow discomfort that plagued him during last year’s National League Division Series.
“I think we’re always going to be cautious,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ll have to make sure he communicates with us. I think he knows that too. We’ll continue to consult with the doctors. If the doctors aren’t concerned, we’re not.”
Sean Newcomb's bid to return to a starting role began shakily on Wednesday, as the Orioles tagged him for three hits and two runs in the first inning. But the lefty bounced back by striking out each of the three batters faced in the second inning.
“That first inning of [that first start], it’s about getting the feel for the ball,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I was really glad we could send him back out there for that second inning.”
Félix Hernández, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have been considered the primary competition for Newcomb as the Braves decide how to fill two spots in their rotation. But Atlanta has not given up on Touki Toussaint, who followed Newcomb with two scoreless innings on Wednesday.
“That was a really good first step for him, too,” Snitker said. “Watching his sides, I think he’s cleaned himself up a lot. He’s a young kid who is doing it and maturing. It was really nice to see that from him.”
Likely Opening Day starter Mike Soroka will make his spring debut when the Braves host the Yankees on Friday. Soroka’s first turn was skipped because he tweaked his right adductor muscle while throwing live BP last week. But the 22-year-old right-hander will still have time to make five starts leading up to Atlanta’s Opening Day game on March 26 in Arizona.
Time will tell whether the Braves truly did land a gem when they took Bryce Ball out of Dallas Baptist University in the 24th round of last year’s MLB Draft. But the 6-foot-6 left-handed slugger made another good impression on Wednesday, when he drilled a solo shot off Bruce Zimmermann to begin the third inning.
“It’s fun to watch,” Snitker said. “We know he can hit them a long way. They don’t call him Drago for nothing.”
Looking somewhat like Ivan Drago, the intimidating Russian opponent in "Rocky IV," Ball hit hit 17 homers in just 231 at-bats with Rookie-level Danville and Class A Rome last year. The 21-year-old first baseman’s defense was considered an issue entering last year’s Draft. But the Braves say he’s already benefited from the chance to regularly work with infield guru Ron Washington, who is prepping for his fourth season as Atlanta’s third-base coach.
Hernández will make his second start of the spring when the Braves host the Cardinals on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Hernández's rotation bid began auspiciously on Saturday, when he threw two scoreless innings against the Orioles. The 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner is attempting to extend his career after battling multiple injuries over the past three seasons with the Mariners.