Freeman's rehab focused on switch to 3B

Braves star, sidelined since May 18, could return in less than a week

July 2nd, 2017
Freddie Freeman was with the Braves for batting practice Wednesday in San Diego. (AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Freddie Freeman is all about defense as he prepares to make a return to the Atlanta Braves.

His injury rehab assignment began Saturday night for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, with his concentration on a position change to third base.

"Seeing if I can make all these plays," he said of the switch. "Doing it in the middle of the season can be a little uneasy feeling in your stomach.

"I think the hardest thing for me is going to be all the different arm angles. I think that's going to be my biggest challenge … [along with] charging balls and balls in the hole."

Freeman, who has been on the disabled list since May 18 because of a left wrist fracture, went 0-for-1 (strikeout and six-pitch walk vs. ) in the International League game against the Charlotte Knights. He was due up to start the fifth when umpires halted play because of rain in what became a suspended game.

"I was pretty happy with what happened today," Freeman said. "Once I got that first [plate appearance] out of the way, it was just like a normal game."

Freeman's work as a third baseman is among his new adventures as the Braves hope this will accommodate keeping Matt Adams in the lineup at first base. Adams has been a big success story while filling in for Freeman, who's a two-time National League All-Star as a first baseman.

So the conversation has almost exclusively involved how Freeman will adapt to moving to the other side of the infield. He could be less than a week away from returning to Atlanta.

"If I was playing first base, it would be all about hitting," Freeman said.

Freeman sounded almost curious as he discussed the new view on defense.

"I'm sure they're going to try bunting," he said before the game. "We've been working on the bare-handed [plays]. I'm just trying to make all the routine plays."

His only fielding chance Saturday came on 's grounder that ended the second inning. Freeman acknowledged cheers after his throw, raising his glove and then, as he approached the dugout, tipping his cap with a wide grin.

"I'll take that one for the first day," he said of the routine grounder. "They started cheering, so I gave a little glove wave and then a hat tip. I was having some fun. They were happy I actually fielded the ball and so was I."

Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill gave Freeman's approach a thumbs up.

"That was a perfect ground ball to start you career," Berryhill said, though noting Freeman had been in that position years ago. "He has been working hard. He's more than capable of doing that. Talking to him, he's all in [with playing third base]."

Freeman said he'd take Sunday off and play a full game Monday in Charlotte. He could be in the Gwinnett lineup Tuesday and Wednesday at home to face the Norfolk Tides.

Berryhill said Freeman looked rusty in his first at-bat and chased a couple of pitches he normally wouldn't.

"I don't think I swung at a strike," Freeman said.

"Just a few ABs to get him rolling again," Berryhill said.

Freeman wore a cast for about a month. He has been told it will take another two or three weeks to feel normal.

"I'm not completely 100 percent, but good enough," he said. "I can deal with the discomfort right now. It's not affecting my swing. It gets better by swinging and doing more activity."

Freeman, 27, was batting .341 with 14 home runs and 25 RBIs in 37 games for Atlanta before the injury. During the recovery, he said he had hit only three times prior to Saturday night.

Freeman also made injury rehabilitation appearances for Gwinnett in 2013 and '15. His Triple-A debut came with the team in '10.