Braves catcher Evan Gattis broke into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season with Brian McCann out with a shoulder injury, and the rookie has taken full advantage of his opportunity by belting six homers and driving in 13 runs in his first 17 games.
ATLANTA — The Braves’ Evan Gattis homered in his first major league game and did it while his father was being interviewed on the telecast, so there is no question about the 26-year-old rookie’s flair for the dramatic.
The slugger has cooled off at the plate since his sizzling start, but he is still supplying moments for the movie that could someday tell his improbable story.
Gattis hit his sixth homer of the season in the opener of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader in frigid Colorado and did it to the delight of three old high school pals who were wearing white bear costumes after making the trip from Texas.
Why white bear outfits? Because Gattis was nicknamed El Oso Blanco as his legend grew with homer after homer in Venezuela during the winter.
Then Gattis, once considered a liability behind the plate, closed out the 4-3 victory by throwing out a runner attempting to steal second base.
Gattis had another hit Wednesday, going 1-for-5 with a run scored in the Braves’ 6-5 loss at Colorado.
Gattis gave up baseball for four years after high school, went through rehab and lived out of his truck while working menial jobs before returning to the game and being drafted by the Braves out of a small Texas college.
Given a chance to make the team in spring training while Brian McCann recovered from shoulder surgery, Gattis seized the job as the Braves’ regular catcher and has held it, at least for the moment.
Gattis had just five hits in his past 33 at-bats through Tuesday, but three of them were homers and he had driven in seven runs. The right-handed hitter is batting .246 with 13 RBI in 17 games.
Who knows what will happen when McCann returns in May. But Gattis has already beaten the odds.
WHERE’S THAT AWESOME OUTFIELD?: The Braves went into the season touting their new outfield as possibly the best in baseball. It hasn’t lived up to the billing, though.
Left fielder Justin Upton, acquired in a big trade with Arizona, has certainly done his part, leading the majors with a Braves-record 11 home runs for April and hitting .307 with 16 RBI.
But that hasn’t been the case with center fielder B.J. Upton — Justin’s older brother — or right fielder Jason Heyward.
B.J. Upton, signed to a five-year deal worth $75.25 million, was hitting .160 with three homers and five RBI even after the brothers homered back-to-back in the second game of the Braves’ sweep of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday in frigid Colorado.
Heyward had produced even less before having to go on the 15-day disabled list following an appendectomy on Monday at a Denver hospital. He was batting .121 and had gone 5-for-53 since going 2-for-4 with his only homer in the second game of the season.
Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer will share right field in Heyward’s absence and that may be an upgrade. Johnson was 4-for-4 with three doubles in the 4-3 victory over the Rockies in the opener Tuesday and Schafer went 2-for-4 with a walk as the Braves won the second game, 10-2.
Meanwhile, the pressure will build on B.J. Upton if he doesn’t get going soon. He is 3-for-21 with 10 strikeouts in his past five games.
After batting first recently, the older Upton took over the second spot in the doubleheader with Heyward out. Those have been trouble spots in the Braves’ order despite the team’s 15-5 start.
The Braves lead the majors with 35 homers after pounding out three in each game of the doubleheader sweep. But it has been homer or nothing far too often, with the Braves scoring a total of three runs in their losses.
An example of the reliance of the Braves on the long ball is shown in the fact that 10 of Justin Upton’s 11 homers have come with no one on base. Runners have to get on to set the table, and the Braves’ 1-2 hitters haven’t been doing it regularly despite the team’s impressive record.