ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman has enjoyed four-hit performances more frequently than he has endured striking out four times in a game. Now, he knows what it’s like to feel both the thrill of the former and the frustration of the latter within a 24-hour span.
Freeman halted his early-season skid in impressive fashion as he recorded his 14th career four-hit game and drove in the decisive run as the Braves won a fourth straight home opener with their 7-4 victory over the Rays on Wednesday night at Truist Park.
“I told the guys yesterday I must have taken up right-handed hitter’s bats instead of left-handed hitter’s bats,” Freeman said. “But that’s the beauty of this game. I got to come here today and switch it up a little bit.”
When Freeman struck out four times during Tuesday’s loss at Tampa Bay, it marked the 10th time he’d done so and the first time since 2016. He briefly began second-guessing his decision to expedite his preparations for this season. Remember, he spent the first two weeks of the three-week Summer Camp waiting to test negative twice at least 24 hours apart for COVID-19, the virus that caused him to endure a 104.5 degree fever four weeks ago.
Freeman was finally cleared to begin working out on July 17, which was exactly one week from an Opening Day matchup against the Mets’ two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. He crammed about 30 plate appearances into a five-day stretch that included intrasquad and exhibition games.
It’s not a preparation schedule teams would arrange for the average player. But Freeman is far from average.
“He’s Freddie,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a special guy."
After seeing Freeman go 2-for-10 with one strikeout through the first four games, Snitker decided to use his first baseman as the designated hitter to rest his legs on Tuesday. Four strikeouts later, Snitker and Freeman both have playfully said there will be no more DH experiments.
But Freeman believes his legs were indeed stronger on Wednesday night, when he enjoyed his first four-hit game since April 30, 2019. The four-time All-Star doubled in the first inning and then hit a two-run homer off Rays starter Charlie Morton in the fourth. But his big hit of the night was a go-ahead, two-out RBI single that capped Atlanta’s decisive three-run sixth inning.
“[The opposing pitchers] haven’t been that easy the first week,” Freeman said. “But honestly, I have a ton of confidence in myself. Everybody in that clubhouse does and [everybody does] in this game. I truly believed I was going to be able to get off to a good start. After yesterday, I was really second-guessing myself. But I felt good. I knew my body felt great.”
Freeman’s game-winning hit salvaged what had the makings to be a strong start from Mike Soroka, who allowed three runs (two earned) over 5 1/3 innings. Soroka held the Rays scoreless until he stumbled as he threw a pitch with two on and two outs in the fifth. After corralling the pitch in the dirt, Travis d’Arnaud threw high and wide of third base, allowing Willy Adames to score.
Soroka retired just one of three batters in the sixth, then watched Darren O’Day surrender consecutive two-out singles that keyed the Rays’ three-run sixth. But the Braves battled back in the bottom half of the inning, when Freeman gave Hank Aaron more things to cheer, as the legendary Hall of Famer sat with a few team officials in a suite.
“Mr. Hank Aaron was here,” Freeman said. “You’ve got to show off for Hank. So all around, it was a good night.”