d'Arnaud ices Rox with 2-run HR, slam, 6 RBIs

June 3rd, 2022

DENVER -- As Braves fans debate how to get William Contreras more at-bats, they should not forget that Travis d’Arnaud remains one of the game’s best catchers and one of the key reasons why the club has had so much success since he arrived before the start of the 2020 season.

d’Arnaud enjoyed one of the finest games of his career as he helped the Braves cruise to a 13-6 win over the Rockies on Thursday night at Coors Field. The veteran catcher hit a pair of homers, including his second grand slam, and tallied a career-best six RBIs while enjoying his third three-hit game of the season.

“That was phenomenal,” starting pitcher Ian Anderson said. “He worked his butt off behind the plate and obviously hit the two big home runs. He’s been joking around because he’s hit three before. He always says anyone can hit two, so we were giving him some grief.”

d’Arnaud fell short of the three-homer game he tallied on July 15, 2019, but he gave the Braves exactly what they needed as they began this four-game series in authoritative fashion. Austin Riley and Michael Harris II also tallied three hits. But the offensive star of the night was the guy who became the first Braves catcher since Javy Lopez in 2003 to drive in six runs in a game.

Atlanta has shown some life since beginning this road trip with a pair of losses in Arizona. After Contreras tallied three hits, including two doubles, in Wednesday’s win over the D-backs, there was again reason to ask how the Braves might get the backup catcher more playing time.

But while d’Arnaud might benefit from the chance to occasionally get some extra rest, there’s no doubt he remains the team’s primary catcher.

“Fortunately, I have a young catching [partner] with Willie, who inspires me and makes me want to keep working harder,” d’Arnaud said. “Watching him work harder gets me fired up and makes me want to work harder as well.”

d’Arnaud fueled a three-run second inning with a two-out single and he then drilled a two-out, two-run homer in the third. The 33-year-old backstop damaged Rockies starter Austin Gomber again in the fifth inning, when he homered with the bases loaded. d’Arnaud was with the Rays when he hit his only other career grand slam against White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease on July 21, 2019.

Accounting for only when they are playing the position, Braves catchers have hit .257 with a .809 OPS and an MLB-best 12 homers. Some of this includes the struggles Manny Piña had before undergoing season-ending left wrist surgery.

With Contreras, who is hitting .302 with a 1.094 OPS, and d’Arnaud, the Braves have a catching duo that gives manager Brian Snitker the comfort of knowing he can rely on either guy whenever necessary.

“I think [d’Arnaud] is a really good guy for Willie to learn under and be partnered up with,” Snitker said. “He just brings that calming influence to everybody.”

d’Arnaud is hitting .262 with six homers and a .747 OPS this year. He has thrown out seven of 26 attempted basestealers and the 6.1 defensive fWAR he carried into Thursday ranked first among National League catchers. These numbers provide a glimpse of the value the Braves knew they lost for half of last year.

Atlanta wouldn’t have turned its season around without the four significant trades the club made for outfielders (Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario) before last year’s Trade Deadline. But the run to a World Series title was also significantly aided when d’Arnaud returned from a three-month absence caused by a torn thumb ligament.

“He is definitely one of the go-to guys,” Anderson said. “We talked during Spring Training about who was going to replace [Freddie Freeman’s] void. I think [d’Arnaud] was one of the guys I was pointing to back then. He’s done that so far this year and I expect him to continue and take on an even bigger role.”