Notes: Hechavarría's absence; Soroka's tuneup

March 6th, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. --  was scheduled to travel to Bradenton on Wednesday, but he was instead left behind with what Braves manager Brian Snitker said was a “shadow” of something in his left oblique.

Snitker said the move was precautionary, and given that the shortstop was scratched Thursday with the same issue, it seemed the best option would be to lay off for a couple of days.

“It wasn’t pulled or anything, but he felt it,” Snitker said. “He felt something, so we’re not going to run him out there. … We’ll just treat him up and take it day to day.”

Hechavarría twice spent time on the injured list in 2017, with a strain to each side. The Braves have an off-day on Thursday, and he is slated to hit during workouts on Friday. If all goes well, Snitker said he hopes to have Hechavarría back in the lineup on Saturday at home against the Rays.

Hechavarría was re-signed to a one-year, $1 million deal by Atlanta on Jan. 16 after impressing the Braves with a 1.039 OPS over 70 games last season. The veteran is a valuable defender who can provide some much-needed depth at shortstop, as well as play each infield position.

Soroka cruises along
Staff ace  is an obvious favorite to get the start on Opening Day, and he worked with purpose in Wednesday's 9-7 win over the Pirates, fine-tuning his four-seamer and putaway pitches over 2 2/3 innings (49 pitches).

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Snitker said. “He feels good and his stuff was really good today. … The ball’s coming out of his hand really good.”

Soroka scattered three hits -- including a two-run homer in the third -- and walked two, facing the minimum through two innings despite the lefty-heavy lineup (every Pirate he faced except catcher Jacob Stallings was either a lefty or a switch-hitter).

“I’m glad they did that, because a lot of what we’re working on right now is to lefties,” said Soroka, against whom lefties hit .282 in 277 at-bats last season. “We’ll make sure we’ll get that done, so when it happens in the season, we’re ready to go.”

Both walks Soroka issued came on full-count pitches, with each payoff pitch appearing to cut the outside corner, so if Soroka was missing his mark, it wasn’t by much.

“Everything’s gotten crisper every time I’ve gotten on the mound,” he said. “I feel pretty ready right now, so it’s just going to be about ironing some things out … and making sure that we keep the pedal to the metal every single pitch.”

O’Brien strikes again … and again
Non-roster invitee Peter O’Brien might not be a household name in Atlanta, but Braves fans have learned one thing in the past week: O’Brien can swing a stick. Sure, he’s seen more playing time than he normally would have due to Freddie Freeman’s absence, but O’Brien’s bat is also pretty hard to ignore.

“Everybody knows he’s got power,” Snitker said. “There’s a chance every time he goes up there for him to do something pretty big.”

Wednesday marked the second and third times that O’Brien tattooed a hanging pitch. Each of his two homers against the Pirates came on a two-out offering, one from starter Trevor Williams in the second inning and the other against Chris Stratton in the sixth. The power behind those knocks was reminiscent of O’Brien’s other spring homer, which came on Saturday against the Rays.

That pitch left not just the field, but the stadium as well, striking dirt well beyond the left-field wall near a large pond at Charlotte Sports Park.

Freeman gets on the board
Freeman led off the fourth inning with his first hit of the spring, a single up the middle. Atlanta’s first baseman, who battled right elbow inflammation last week, had two at-bats Wednesday and is expected to get three for games on Friday and Saturday as he continues to ramp up for the regular season.

Up next
The Braves have an off-day Thursday before returning home to CoolToday Park on Friday, when they’ll host the Red Sox in a 1:05 p.m. ET matchup. While Freeman is expected to take the next step with three at-bats in the game, Kyle Wright will start for Atlanta.