Pierzynski serving as mentor for Wisler, young arms
Veteran catcher hits two home runs in Tuesday's win over Nats
ATLANTA -- As this season nears its end, it seems odd to realize there was once legitimate reason to wonder if the Braves were wise to sign A.J. Pierzynski. Instead of living up to the reputation of being a polarizing figure within the clubhouse, the veteran catcher has been a likeable and productive member of a club that now can view him as a perfect fit.
Along with hitting a pair of solo home runs that provided the Braves all they needed to claim Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Nationals at Turner Field, Pierzynski furthered Matt Wisler's maturation process as he guided the rejuvenated rookie through seven-plus strong innings.
"A.J. doesn't pamper [Wisler]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He challenges him a lot. After he walked [Bryce] Harper in his second [plate appearance] he said, 'let's get after him.' A.J. has been good for all of our young pitchers."
Though he might not be the nurturing type who sugarcoats his messages to young players, Pierzynski has certainly had a positive effect on Wisler, who limited the Nationals to one run and five hits while pitching into the eighth inning for the second straight start.
Harper flew out to left field with two on and none out in the first inning, and then drew the aforementioned walk in the third inning. Wisler surrendered a leadoff homer to Trea Turner in the sixth inning and followed Pierzynski's direction by concluding a four-pitch strikeout of Harper with a nasty slider.
Wisler has come a long way since he allowed seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Nationals on Sept. 3. At the time, he had a 9.49 ERA over his past seven starts. The young hurler will enter Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cardinals having allowed two earned runs or less in three of the four starts that have followed that tough outing at Nationals Park.
"He went through that rough patch and I sat him down and said, 'remember that cocky guy that first came up here? I want to see that guy. I don't want to see the guy shaking his head,'" Pierzynski said. "A couple times I had to go to the mound to tell him to get the little guy or whoever is talking to him out of his head and just throw the ball and be confident in what you're doing."
Pierzynski enhanced that confidence with the solo home runs he hit off Nationals starter Tanner Roark in the fourth and seventh innings. Those were the first homers hit by the 38-year-old catcher since Aug. 3, but he has been a consistent offensive threat since taking Atlanta's starting job away from Christian Bethancourt less than two weeks into the season.
Instead of being saddled by the enhanced workload, Pierzynski has simply remained a steady influence. He has batted .332 with an .812 OPS over the 211 plate appearances he has compiled dating back to July 6.
"It's been fun," Pierzynski said. "Obviously, you always look back and say, 'if this happened or that happened.' I've got to play more than I had planned coming in, but you're always ready. From day one of Spring Training, I just talked about putting the barrel on the ball and it hasn't changed."