Rested Pierzynski shows he can be more than a mentor
Veteran catcher hits two-run homer to key 2-0 victory over Marlins
MIAMI -- Approximately three hours before A.J. Pierzynski prepared to make his first start for the team he had followed dating back to the days of Dale Murphy, he slept in a chair located near the rear of the visitors' clubhouse inside Marlins Park.
The mid-afternoon slumber seemed beneficial as Pierzynski spent the next few hours showing why he could prove to be much more than just a mentor to Christian Bethancourt. His two-run home run off Tom Koehler proved decisive as the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Marlins with Wednesday night's 2-0 victory.
"For my first hit to be a home run with the Braves was pretty cool," Pierzynski said. "But more important was the way we pitched tonight. Our guys were lights out all the way from Shelby [Miller] to [Jason] Grilli. That was the biggest thing. I was so proud of the way we pitched, not only tonight, but the whole series."
While quieting their many doubters by opening this season with three straight wins over a Marlins club that has high expectations, the Braves surrendered a total of three runs and two of those were tallied against Alex Wood during the fifth inning of Tuesday's contest.
Pierzynski deserves some of the credit for this pitching success as his contributions extended beyond the fact that the Braves completed this series-ending shutout with him being behind the plate for the first time all season. His presence provided a sense of familiarity to Shelby Miller, who completed five scoreless innings in his first start for Atlanta. The two spent some time as batterymates while playing for the Cardinals late last year.
"The two-run homer is what everyone is going to talk about," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "But he did a nice job navigating all of our pitchers through that lineup. That is what he is capable of doing. He's a veteran and he knows how to do it. He did it today."
As Pierzynski looked at his employment options for his 18th season at the Major League level, he jumped at the opportunity to sign a one-year deal with the Braves, the club he followed throughout his childhood days in Orlando, Fla. The chance to serve more as a mentor to Bethancourt, who has never previously been a starter at the Major League level, became more attractive as Pierzynski spent nearly all of September backing up Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina.
"I think that one thing that has changed that you learn when you're on the bench, you can still contribute without playing," Pierzynski said. "I think that was a big deal for me because I always thought I had to play every day to contribute. There are other ways to do it and my main goal is to help Bethancourt and help him be the best that he can."
But along with providing guidance, Pierzynski is also quite capable of producing like he did when he sent Koehler's first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall. The Marlins starting pitcher had allowed just three hits before Freddie Freeman had started the seventh with a single.
"He's got power for sure, he's a big boy," Miller said of Pierzynski. "You expect him to make those kinds of plays in those kinds of situations when we needed some runs. He did a good job and obviously put a good swing on that ball and ultimately got our two runs to win the ballgame."