PITTSBURGH -- Embarrassed by the reality that they had not yet reached a double-digit home run total with nearly a quarter of the season complete, the Braves opted to alter their approach as they took batting practice before Monday night's series opener against the Pirates at PNC Park.Instead of simply
PITTSBURGH -- Embarrassed by the reality that they had not yet reached a double-digit home run total with nearly a quarter of the season complete, the Braves opted to alter their approach as they took batting practice before Monday night's series opener against the Pirates at PNC Park.
Instead of simply focusing on situational hitting, they opted to revert to the traditional method of making at least a portion of batting practice resemble a modified version of the Home Run Derby. It might have been coincidental or simply a product of the law of averages finally taking effect, but courtesy of the two-run shots supplied by Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson, the Braves produced their first multi-homer game since Opening Day and reached 11 homers on the year in an 8-5 loss to the Pirates.
"Chipper [Jones] used to always say that if you don't practice home runs, you can't hit them," Francoeur said. "That's not to say we gave up approach or anything, but I think you really saw us try to drive the ball tonight when you had a good opportunity. You've got to be smart about it. You can't be dumb."
The Braves certainly weren't unaware that they entered Monday having hit 20 fewer home runs than any other Major League team and fewer than 13 players. Freddie Freeman had accounted for six of Atlanta's nine home runs and five of the six that had been tallied dating back to April 11.
There certainly wasn't cause for celebration as the loss in the series opener dropped the Braves to 9-28. But Francoeur and Johnson both admitted that they felt some relief by erasing the zero from their respective home run totals. They join Freeman and Mallex Smith as the only members of Atlanta's active roster who have homered this season.
"It bothers your pride," Johnson said. "You're into mid-May and a majority of us are looking up there at a zero. We're just not used to it. It's one thing when it's not a part of your game. But when it's zero, it's a matter of pride."
It took 37 games, but Francoeur's two-run shot off Jonathon Niese enabled the Braves to reach the double-digit home run total for the first time this season. They had not needed more than 13 games to reach that mark during any of the previous six seasons. They needed just five games to do so in 2013.
Francoeur's homer stood as just the second hit by a Braves player with a man on base until Johnson took Cory Luebke's slider over the center-field wall in the eighth inning. Atlanta's only previous multi-homer game this season occurred on Opening Day, when Freeman and Adonis Garcia both took Max Scherzer deep within the first four innings.
Along with being reminded that Freeman is not the only member of the team permitted to enjoy an occasional home run trot, the Braves matched a season high with six extra-base hits.
"It was nice to see us drive the ball like that," Francoeur said. "It's been a long time. As a team, we know we can't rely on just Freddie to drive it all of the time. Some other guys have to do it as well. Tonight, in the middle of the lineup, we were able to do that."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.