Fredi excited for flexibility with Braves' lineup options
Skipper expects batting order to fluctuate based on matchups, roster makeup
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has not determined exactly how he will align the players in his starting lineup this season. But, he has a small stack of paper that provides proof of the many alterations he has made as his club's roster has been overhauled this winter.
"I've tinkered," Gonzalez said. "It's funny because I date the lineups. I started when we first got [Alberto] Callaspo [in early December]. Boy, has that changed. At the time, we still had [Justin] Upton and we still had [Evan] Gattis. Then you go back to the one I did shortly after the Winter Meetings and Justin is not there. It changes constantly. But there is some flexibility there and some different dynamics you can play with. I think it's going to be fun."
While the Braves will no longer have Upton, Gattis and Jason Heyward to aid their offense, Gonzalez will possess a roster that provides him more versatility than he had the past few seasons. The 51-year-old manager has said that right fielder Nick Markakis, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and first baseman Freddie Freeman might prove to be the only players in the lineup on a daily basis to begin the season.
Gonzalez is looking forward to consistently alter his lineup based on matchups. He will likely platoon Jonny Gomes with Zoilo Almonte or another outfield candidate in left. There is also a chance Gonzalez will opt to sit third baseman Chris Johnson against top right-handed pitchers. B.J. Upton's long-term status in center field will be influenced by what he shows during the early portion of the season.
Top prospect Jose Peraza will come to Spring Training with a chance to further alter Gonzalez's plans. Though the assumption is that Peraza needs at least a little more Minor League seasoning, he could possibly alter the plans for the leadoff spot and second base with an outstanding camp.
"It's a club that coming into the ballpark every day, you're going to have fun putting a lineup together," Gonzalez said. "I remember for many years Bobby [Cox] telling me nobody is ever going to ask you 'Who is hitting fourth?' Everyone is going to ask you who is pitching tonight. This last winter, everyone was asking me who was going to hit fourth. So I called him up and said, 'Skipper, everybody is asking me who is going to hit fourth.'"
Gonzalez has indicated that Johnson or Gomes will likely fill the fourth spot of his lineup against left-handers. His greatest challenge will be to compose a suitable lineup against right-handed starters.
As things stand, Gonzalez is toying with the idea of moving Freeman from third to the cleanup spot against right-handers. But the options might widen, as the Braves contend there is still a chance they could acquire another player to strengthen the lineup against righties.