LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ryan Schimpf can be accurately described as an all-or-nothing hitter. He's proven to be more of the latter as he has spent the first few weeks of Spring Training with the Rays and now the Braves.Schimpf struck out in each of his three plate appearances
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ryan Schimpf can be accurately described as an all-or-nothing hitter. He's proven to be more of the latter as he has spent the first few weeks of Spring Training with the Rays and now the Braves.
Schimpf struck out in each of his three plate appearances as he debuted for the Braves during Thursday afternoon's 6-4 loss to the Astros at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. The 29-year-old infielder, who was acquired from the Rays on Monday, has now struck out 11 times while going hitless in each of his first 17 at-bats of the Grapefruit League season.
"I don't think you want to be all-or-nothing," Schimpf said. "Last year, I was just too inconsistent. I did some things that didn't help me out. So for me, it was just too inconsistent. I had a hole in my swing that made me in and out of the zone."
Schimpf produced the National League's third-highest homer total (14) through the end of May last year and was sent to the Triple-A level with his batting average at .158 less than two weeks into June. The Padres kept him in the Minors for the remainder of the season and then dealt him to the Rays, who took just a short look before dealing him to the Braves for cash considerations.
Because Schimpf has Minor League options remaining and thus can transition between the Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta rosters throughout the season, the Braves are essentially taking a no-risk chance on a player who has either homered (34 times) or struck out (175 times) in 47.4 percent of his 441 career at-bats.
Schimpf will compete for a spot on Atlanta's bench and provide organizational depth at third base for the upcoming season. He spent the offseason making some small mechanical adjustments aimed toward optimizing the length of time his bat remains in the zone as he is swinging.
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"Really, for me, it's about trying to figure out how to get in the zone and not trying to create lift or hit the ball on the ground," Schimpf said. "It's just that middle ground of trying to be in the zone as long as possible."
Braves manager Brian Snitker and his son Troy, the Astros' Double-A hitting coach, met at the plate to exchange lineup cards before Thursday's game. Houston manager A.J. Hinch arranged for Troy to make the trip and spend the day with his parents.
"Talking to A.J., he had a lot of good things to say [about Troy]," Snitker said. "He's a really good baseball guy. He's grown up with it. He's a good blend with new-age and old-school stuff. He worked hard and knows the game. We were somewhere this winter talking hitting, and I was like, 'Dude, you're on a completely different planet than me.'"
Chris Stewart returned to action as he served as the Braves' catcher for the final four innings of Thursday's loss. Playing for the first time since straining his right groin on Feb. 27, the veteran catcher went hitless in two at-bats.
The Braves gave Stewart a non-guaranteed Major League deal at the start of camp to provide insurance at the catching position and possibly serve as organizational depth if he were to agree to spend time at Triple-A.
Snitker chose to carry three catchers at the start of last season, partly to give Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki more opportunities to serve as pinch-hitters. Snitker says he's at least open to doing the same this year when early off-days open up a chance for roster flexibility.
But unless Stewart is willing to spend time in the Minors this year, he doesn't seem to be a top Opening Day roster option because the Braves would have to pay the entirety of his $575,000 salary for what might amount to just a couple weeks on the big league roster.
<p.> Roster battle</p.>
<p.>Having missed all of the 2017 season, Scott Kazmir has always been considered a dark-horse candidate for a spot in Atlanta's rotation. But as the veteran lefty has kept himself in the mix, he has allowed two runs, surrendered six hits and issued four walks through his first three starts (six innings). </p.>
"He's making the starts and doing the innings," Snitker said. "His changeup is really good. It's one of those things where we'll just keep playing it out. As long as he feels good, we'll just keep the thing moving."
After allowing the Astros two runs and four hits over three innings on Thursday, Kazmir said he feels he still has more in the tank. His fastball sat around 88-89 mph and touched 91 mph on the stadium radar, which has been high with a few readings this year. More importantly, he doesn't feel hindered by the hip ailment that led to him being sidelined all of last season with the Dodgers.
"Early in Spring Training, I really don't throw hard at all, especially, the first couple times out there," Kazmir said. "Knowing that is my history, it definitely gives me a little bit of confidence. Seeing how the guys approach their at-bats and how my fastball plays right now, I'm pretty pleased. It seems to be getting on them, despite the lack of velocity. It's encouraging."
The Braves will play under the lights for the first time this year when they host the Yankees on Friday at 6:05 p.m. ET on Gameday Audio. Potential Opening Day starter Julio Teheran will make his third start. Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and most of the Braves' regulars are expected to be in the lineup to face Sonny Gray.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.