Braves have to keep McLouth in the two hole…for now
Those of you wanting Jason Heyward to bat higher in the lineup probably weren’t surprised to see the Braves score two runs or fewer in four of their first seven games.
His presence in the sixth spot led Martin Prado to hit .233 and Dan Uggla just .222 during the 3-4 road trip that concluded Thursday night. If Heyward had hit in the second, third or fourth spots, Mike Minor wouldn’t have experienced his control problems or proven that he isn’t quite ready for the Majors.
What had the makings to be a good first week evolved into a an early-season stretch the Braves would like to soon forget. But the root of the Braves’ offensive struggles certainly weren’t a product of the fact that Heyward batted either fifth or sixth in those seven games.
Before going any further, I don’t think anybody will be surprised if Heyward starts hitting a little higher in the lineup soon. But right now, I have to ask, who is going to bat sixth, if you take him out of that spot right now?
Most of the exasperation has to do with Nate McLouth’s presence in the second spot of the lineup. And it certainly hasn’t helped that McLouth has hit just .217 (5-for-23) during the season’s first week.
Of course if he sneaks two singles through the infield and legs out a bunt single while going 3-for-3 tonight, there will be some waking up tomorrow talking about how encouraging it is to see McLouth hitting over .300.
Obviously it’s far too early to make evaluations on McLouth or any of the other Braves. Thus I don’t think Fredi Gonzalez has any other choice than to leave the veteran centerfielder in the two hole with the hope that he will take advantage of the array of fastballs he’ll get sitting in front of Chipper Jones.
When this season began, the Braves put McLouth in the second spot because they felt he could provide value with his speed and occasional power. At the same time, they were hopeful that he would be able to consistently move Prado over.
With Prado only getting on base in just a quarter of his plate appearances so far, McLouth hasn’t had many opportunities to move him with a bunt or a grounder to the right side.
The always-reliable Prado will soon start hitting like he always has. Whether McLouth then proves his value in the second spot remains to be seen.
But for now, I think the Braves have to give McLouth every chance to prove productive near the top of the lineup. If you move him, are you going to feel comfortable with him, Alex Gonzalez and Freeman sitting in some order in the sixth, seventh and eighth spots?
Remember when Garret Anderson, Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson were all struggling early in the 2009 season? Some Braves were saying they essentially had six innings (when the top five hitters in their lineup were batting) to score every night.
The Braves gave you plenty of reason to be frustrated during the season’s first week. But at the same time, I think many of you should have been encouraged when Gonzalez said he will not be afraid to alter his lineup when necessary.
“My philosophy with the lineup is that I pick it for the first 10-12 games and then I think the players pick it,” Gonzalez said while explaining that performance will determine the makeup of his lineup.
In other words, Gonzalez will make changes once his players have been given enough time to prove themselves. Unfortunately, this might mean some of you will have to spend at least a few more days having your patience tested.
BRAVES LINEUP for Friday’s home opener vs. Phils