ATLANTA -- Two games into his career, Austin Riley provided an unexpected and encouraging answer when he was asked why the only first-pitch swing he has taken so far came against a curveball Adam Wainwright threw during the third inning of the Braves’ 10-2 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night at SunTrust Park.
“I was sitting on that,” Riley said. “He went cutter and then fastball in my first at-bat. The second time through the lineup, he had thrown a bunch [of curveballs] for strikes. So, I was just taking my chances and he threw it there.”
This is the kind of cerebral answer we came to expect from Chipper Jones as he neared the end of his Hall of Fame career. It wasn’t necessarily expected from a 22-year-old prospect who had been tearing up the Triple-A circuit just 48 hours earlier. But the early impressions have indicated this highly regarded prospect’s value extends beyond his Paul Bunyan power.
“He’s the real deal,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “Just the way he goes about his business, the tools and the makeup, the guys that have that are the ones you get excited about. He’s here, and he’s going to be really good for a long time.”
Riley homered during Wednesday night’s Major League debut and then added to the hype with a three-hit performance that helped the Braves close this three-game series with their fifth win in their past six games. The young slugger has gone 4-for-7 with a pair of extra-base hits, the latest of which was an inch away from being his second home run.
“I think I came about as close I could to hitting a home run without doing it,” Riley said in reference to the opposite-field double that hit off the top off the right-center field brick wall in the second inning.
“I think that just shows you the kind of power that kid has,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s going to be able to hit it out over the whole ballpark. He’s strong, and that ball jumps off his bat.”
Over the past few weeks, the baseball world started paying closer attention to Riley, who homered 10 times in his final 50 at-bats for Triple-A Gwinnett. There’s never been reason to question the raw power. But there might now be reason to believe he’ll be much more than just a free swinger who goes to the plate hunting fastballs.
After looking at a first-pitch cutter and crushing the fastball that followed in the second inning, Riley strolled to the plate expecting to see Wainwright start him off with the curveball. When the accomplished Cardinals veteran did, the Braves’ newcomer laced it to center field for a RBI single.
“He’s a good young player,” Wainwright said. “You can tell he has a good swing. He’s got a lot of power, a good approach up there. You can tell he has a chance.”
When Riley struck out in his first career plate appearance Wednesday against Michael Wacha, he looked at two curveballs and then whiffed at a 2-2 change. Two innings later, he looked at yet another curveball out of the zone before drilling an elevated fastball deep into the left-center field seats.
Riley has swung at just two of the 15 out-of-zone pitches he has seen thus far. The first occurrence was when he chased a fastball before striking out against Wacha. The second resulted in him recording the near-homer against Wainwright’s outside fastball.
“Coming into this I told myself, it’s the same game,” Riley said. “You’ve got to have the same approach and go up there with a plan and not just be free swinging. I think I stuck to that pretty well.”