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Evaluating Braves' promising Opening Week

Freeman, Foltynewicz, Swanson looking to build on strong starts
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- The Braves spent most of their first homestand without both of their top two catchers and its entirety without both Johan Camargo and Ronald Acuna. Still, courtesy of Wednesday afternoon's win over Max Scherzer and the Nationals, they traveled to Denver on Thursday feeling good about what transpired as they opened this season with a 4-2 record.

As Preston Tucker flourished and Ryan Flaherty proved to be more than serviceable, the Braves gained a better sense of the quality depth they may have once they possibly add both Camargo and Acuna to their roster within a nine-game road trip that begins Friday.

ATLANTA -- The Braves spent most of their first homestand without both of their top two catchers and its entirety without both Johan Camargo and Ronald Acuna. Still, courtesy of Wednesday afternoon's win over Max Scherzer and the Nationals, they traveled to Denver on Thursday feeling good about what transpired as they opened this season with a 4-2 record.

As Preston Tucker flourished and Ryan Flaherty proved to be more than serviceable, the Braves gained a better sense of the quality depth they may have once they possibly add both Camargo and Acuna to their roster within a nine-game road trip that begins Friday.

While it might not be wise to place much stock in small sample sizes, the events of Opening Week created trends that are worth monitoring over the next few months. Here are a few that Freddie Freeman, Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran and Dansby Swanson created during the earliest days of this season.

Freeman
Provided the opportunity to be challenged by Scherzer a few times during Wednesday's victory over Washington, Freeman responded by tallying a couple doubles against the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Attempting to mimic the strong NL Most Valuable Player campaign he started before fracturing his left wrist last year, Freeman has slashed .421/.621/.895 thus far. His high on-base percentage has been aided by the fact he has walked in 10 of his first 29 plate appearances. This incredible walk rate is a product of the reality that teams have been much more willing to pitch to Nick Markakis, who has been a mainstay in the cleanup spot with catchers Tyler Flowers (strained left oblique) and Kurt Suzuki (bruised right hand) sidelined.

Per Statcast™ data, just 43 of the 133 (32.3 percent) pitches Freeman has seen have been within the strike zone. That mark ranks last among all Major Leaguers who have seen at least 100 pitches.

When given a chance, Freeman has done damage. He has hit .583 (7-for-12) and produced a 1.333 slugging percentage against pitches in the zone. Robinson Cano (.692) is the only player with a higher batting average against such pitches. Bryce Harper leads the league with the 1.455 slugging percentage he's constructed against these pitches.

Video: WSH@ATL: Freeman lines a single for his fourth RBI

Markakis, who has batted .320 with a .934 OPS thus far, followed a Freeman walk by drilling a two-out walk-off homer on Opening Day. Tucker has hit .429 with two homers and a 1.264 OPS. Their production has at least given opposing pitchers something to think about when attempting to carefully attack Freeman.

When Acuna arrives -- possibly as early as next weekend -- the Braves' lineup will be lengthened. Time will tell if the incredibly talented prospect will eventually be placed next to Freeman within the lineup.

Foltynewicz
Foltynewicz did not throw a single changeup in his season debut on March 30, when he limited the Phillies to two earned runs over five innings. But he displayed the depth of his arsenal when he threw his changeup a career-high 21.1 percent (20 of 95) as he limited the Nationals to one run over 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday.

Foltynewicz's average pitch velocities during this latest outing were: 95.2 mph (4-seamer), 96.0 mph (2-seamer), 84.1 mph (slider) and 87.7 mph (changeup). He has all the tools necessary to become a legit top-flight starter, and now he has the windup that might allow him to realize his potential.

With the subdued and more compact motion he has displayed this year, Foltynewicz should produce more consistent command and more consistently encounter nights when he can confidently lean on at least three pitches within his powerful arsenal.

Video: WSH@ATL: Foltynewicz K's eight, gets two-run double

Teheran
Speaking of velocity, many Braves fans have expressed concern about Teheran, who within his first two starts has produced two of the three lowest average fastball velocities from any of his games dating back to the start of 2016.

Teheran's fastball velocity averaged 89.1 mph on Opening Day and 89.2 mph during Tuesday night's 2 1/3-inning clunker against the Nationals. The 88.9-mph average fastball velocity he produced against the Mets on May 1, 2017 stands as his lowest going back to '16.

Yes, Teheran has thrown his two-seamer a little more frequently, but his two fastballs have a similar average velocity. His four-seamer averaged 89.4 mph on Opening Day and 89.5 mph on Tuesday. Those are his second and fourth-lowest average pitch velocities since the end of the 2015 season.

His average four-seam velocity was 91.9 mph in 2016 and 91.4 mph in '17.

But before getting too worried about a pair of starts, it should be pointed out that Teheran's average four-seam velocity was within the 89.4-89.9-mph range in three of the first five starts he made during his 2016 All-Star season.

Swanson
This season has certainly started more auspiciously for Swanson, who has hit .318 (7-for-22) with two doubles and five strikeouts. But the most encouraging development within this small sample size is the fact he has gone 4-for-9 against pitches on the outer third of the plate. He hit .221 (31-for-140) against these pitches in 2017.

Three of those four such hits recorded this year have come against pitches located within the top of the outer third. He was 3-for-23 against similar pitches last year.

Video: WSH@ATL: Swanson plates Tucker with a single to right

One of those upper-outer-third hits was a single off Nationals right-hander A.J. Cole's slider on Tuesday. Swanson is 1-for-6 against sliders this year and he has missed four of the eight at which he has swung. Last year he hit .170 (16-for-94) against sliders and missed 40 percent (80 of 199) of those at which he swung.

As with everything written above about Freeman, Teheran and Foltynewicz, this is just a small sample size of data. But these trends are worth watching over the course of a season that has started in encouraging fashion.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Mike Foltynewicz, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Julio Teheran