Veteran Pierzynski 'running' on all cylinders
Catcher a homer shy of cycle in win over Mets
ATLANTA -- A.J. Pierzynski did not sign with the Braves with the expectation that he would serve as their primary catcher for most of this season. But with once-heralded prospect and Opening Day catcher Christian Bethancourt back in the minors, Pierzynski appears to be having a lot of fun making the most of this unexpected opportunity he was given in April.
"It's fun to play," Pierzynski said after Saturday night's 6-4 win over the Mets. "I still like playing. It's still enjoyable to compete and see what you can do. All of these guys now are young and so full energy, so when you get a little older you have to figure out when to conserve it and when to use it."
Pierzynski seemed to use his allotted amount of energy as he highlighted a three-hit performance with the surprising second-inning triple. The 38-year-old seasoned veteran also doubled and scored the decisive run on the shallow sacrifice fly Pedro Ciriaco hit in the two-run sixth inning.
"He felt fast today," said Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who had four hits in Saturday's win. "He didn't want to stop running. He was stretching doubles into triples and taking the extra base, going home on a shallow fly ball. He was doing it all."
Though he has earned two All-Star selections, won a Silver Slugger Award and a World Series title, Pierzynski has seemingly been energized by the unique opportunity he was given to spend this season with the same Braves club that he grew up watching as a kid in the Orlando, Fla. area. During Spring Training, he was thrilled to introduce his son, Austin, to his childhood hero -- Dale Murphy.
"It's amazing how this guy has caught 15 years in the big leagues and how durable he has been," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Since gaining the primary catching duties less than two weeks into this season, Pierzynski has proven he still has something left in the tank. Along with providing guidance to a young pitching staff, he has batted .272 with a .736 OPS in 45 games. Pierzynski certainly hasn't just gone through the motions as he nears the end of his career. Instead, he has routinely exerted the maximum effort that was displayed when he sprinted toward third base after sending Noah Syndergaard's fastball into the right-field corner during the second inning.
"Everyone had fun with it because all of these guys question whether I could ever get a triple in my life," said Pierzynski, who now has at least one triple in each of the past five seasons. "So, for them to see it meant a lot."
Along with producing a leadoff single in the two-run fourth that chased Syndergaard, Pierzynski sparked the decisive sixth inning by bouncing an opposite-field double past the third-base bag. Three batters later, the fearless runner tagged on Ciriaco's shallow fly and scored after his knee dislodged the ball from Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who hyperextended his elbow while stretching to make the tag.
"That's the first time I've seen him run that much," Simmons said. "He's sliding into third and tagging on a shallow ball. It was exciting to see."