Coming off an extra innings win Tuesday night, Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he wanted to send out his ‘B’ squad to see if they could complete the series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. It would be safe to say after Atlanta’s 8-3 victory, its ‘B’ squad can compete with most major league lineups.
Gonzalez gave Jordan Schafer, Ramiro Pena and Evan Gattis the start in the series wrap up against the slumping Twins, who are on a seven-game losing steak.
The Braves bench players batted in five of Atlanta’s eight runs, including a grand slam from Gattis, the National League Rookie of the Month.
The 27-year-old rookie had the green light to swing away at a 3-0 pitch and sent a 90 mph fastball over the right field fence to extend the Braves’ lead to 8-0.
“The way [Gattis] swings the bat I wanted to give him some RBI opportunities and a chance to give us four runs,” said Gonzalez. “He did just that,”
Gattis has played only 37 games but already ranks second on the team in home runs (10) and second in RBI (27).
“I was a little surprised he gave me the green light on a 3-0 pitch considering the game was still tight, It shows that [Gonzalez] trusts me,” said Gattis.
Atlanta extended its winning streak to six games and the Braves bench players played a big role, hitting a combined 4-for-9.
“We got a good bench. We gave [Andrelton] Simmons the day off and Pena came in and had a couple of good hits,” said Gonzalez. “We played good today.”
Pena, who substituted for Simmons at short stop, had a solo homer in the third and finished the day 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
“I try to do my best every time I get an opportunity but it took me time to learn how to not play every day,” said Pena, who is hitting .286 with eight RBI. “It was tough for me in the beginning but I feel good right now.”
The issue facing the Braves’ lineup is finding playing time for the highly productive bench. Jordan Schafer has played only 31 games, yet is hitting for a .309 batting average. Schafer, who started in left field to give Justin Upton the day off, also has two triples on the season with six stolen bases and ranks first on the team with a .434 on base percentage.
Everyday players like B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward are all hitting below .200 and have combined for 126 strikeouts on the season.
“Everybody on the bench is playing great,” said Pena. “It’s good for our ball club to have people that can come in and play.”
Gonzalez may make some changes in the next few days to give Gattis and others more at bats.
The Braves welcome a much needed day off Thursday after a stretch of 17 games in 18 days then travel to New York to begin the road series with the New York Mets. Atlanta holds a 27-18 overall record pushing the National League East lead to 4.5 games.