Braves manager Brian Snitker has felt Freddie Freeman's frustration through their daily conversations and saw the first baseman’s body language become more negative over the past few days. So, Snitker felt quite comfortable keeping the reigning National League MVP out of the lineup for Thursday’s series finale at Nationals Park.
“I look at how guys react and things,” Snitker said. “[Body language] was probably one of the things that I was like, ‘OK, it's time, he needs to have a little mental blow here for a day.’”
Freeman had the opportunity to kick back and relax for a few hours before potentially being needed to serve as a pinch-hitter in this series finale against the Nationals. The brief mental break may prove beneficial to the 30-year-old veteran, who is hitting .202 with seven homers and a .758 OPS through 30 games.
“He’s fine,” Snitker said. “He’s just grinding through like we all are. We've had some off-days, but I think it's good for a guy to sit and watch the game a little bit and wake up on a gameday morning and, you know, have his coffee and relax a little bit.”
Whether he’s stressing about not receiving a contract extension yet or feeling the effects of recently adding two new sons to his family, Freeman hasn’t been his usual jovial self this year -- though he created one of the season’s best laughs with the comments he made after striking out against Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo last week.
But since going 4-for-5 with a homer during that blowout win over Chicago, he has gone 1-for-24 with eight strikeouts and two walks (both intentional). Of the 16 balls he put in play, none were barreled and just six (37.5 percent) qualified as being hard-hit (95-plus mph exit velocity).
When Freeman hit .247 with seven homers and a .920 OPS through the 24 games that preceded this rough stretch, he barreled eight of 71 (11.5 percent) balls in play and had a 51 percent hard-hit rate. Those numbers were closer to what he produced last year, when he had 14.7 percent barrel rate and 54.2 percent hard-hit rate.
“He’s just a player grinding to get it done and he’s struggling a little bit,” Snitker said. “You know what? That’s OK if you need a day off. That’s all right. You’re human. The thing is, Freddie cares, and he sets the bar high for himself, also. He’ll be fine.”
With Travis d’Arnaud expected to be sidelined for a majority of this season while recovering from right thumb surgery, the Braves have brought Tyler Flowers back to the organization with a Minor League contract.
Flowers will draw a $1.5 million salary when he is placed on Atlanta’s active roster and becomes William Contreras’ backup catcher. The 35-year-old veteran will likely assume this role around the time June arrives. He will spend the next week working out with the Braves as a member of their taxi squad. He will then join Triple-A Gwinnett and work up to the point where he can handle catching nine innings.
When Flowers didn’t land a job before this season started, he accepted the Braves’ invitation to help them with some gameplan preparations. The suburban Atlanta native then had to halt his retirement on Saturday, when d’Arnaud sustained the thumb injury.
Flowers served as one of the Braves’ catchers from 2016-20. His return to the organization was necessitated when it became apparent Alex Jackson couldn’t handle the backup catching duties, which are being temporarily handled by 38-year-old Jeff Mathis.
Snitker and his players are looking forward to beginning a three-game series against the Phillies in front of a packed house on Friday night. The series opener will mark the first time Truist Park will be at full capacity since the coronavirus pandemic prevented fans from attending games last year.
The Braves were at 30 percent capacity for their first homestand of this season and at 50 percent capacity for the second homestand.
“It’s going to be really cool to see that and feel the energy of everybody,” Snitker said. “I’m happy for the fans, that everybody is going to be allowed to come.”