Atlanta’s Chris Johnson had the highest NL batting average for part of the season, but now the third baseman is trailing the Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer with just a handful of games remaining. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — With four games left after Wednesday, Chris Johnson has some work to do if he’s going to win the National League batting title. Johnson trailed the Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer by eight points entering Wednesday.
“The other guy is raking,” said Johnson, who was hitting .327 to Cuddyer’s .335. “I’ve got to do something big to get back in there.”
But Johnson hasn’t been lying awake at night doing math either.
“That’s the thing, if it happens, it happens,” Johnson said. “If it doesn’t, I’m fine. We’re going to the playoffs; that’s all I care about.”
And if he ends up a few points behind?
“It’s still really cool,” said Johnson, in his first season with the Braves and first in an everyday role. “If I don’t win it this year, next year I’m going to try to win it.”
Another thing that makes it cool, Johnson said, is the hitter he’s chasing. Johnson doesn’t know Cuddyer personally, but has teammates who think highly of him, such as Brian McCann, who has played in All-Star games with him, and B.J. and Justin Upton, who grew up in the same part of Virginia as Cuddyer.
“From what I hear, there’s not many better guys to lose to, if I do lose to him,” Johnson said. “He’s a great guy. He’s had a great career. He’s never been involved in any kind of steroid issues and stuff like that. If you’re going to lose, you want to lose to those people.”
Plus, Johnson said with a smile “he’s old.”
“Hopefully I’ll get to where he is later in my career and win one, too,” said Johnson, 28, who is six years younger than Cuddyer.
Ironically, Johnson said Cuddyer is a hitter he studies on video all the time, trying to pattern his game after Cuddyer’s.
“He’s right-handed, he seems to hit the ball the other way kind of like I do, so I watch a lot of his swings,” Johnson said. “I WOOD RE-ENERGIZED: Alex Wood offered no qualms about how much more comfortable he is starting than relieving when the Braves moved him into their rotation in July. But now that the Braves want him in the bullpen for the stretch run and playoffs, he seems just excited about that, too.
“The nice thing is I feel like they feel like they can plug me in anywhere in the bullpen,” Wood said. “I can come in at any time. That’s exciting for me.”
The other option was to use Wood as a fourth starter, but the Braves want another left-hander in the bullpen, given the recent struggles of lefties Scott Downs and Luis Avilan. Wood knows he might be able to impact more games in a short best-of-five playoff series this way.
“You’re going to get more use out of somebody in the bullpen that can come in in any kind of role, really,” Wood said. “Righties, lefties, long, short, one hitter, five hitters.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the move was about bolstering the bullpen and not necessarily about watching Wood’s innings count. The second-round pick out of the University of Georgia is in his first full year of professional baseball. But Wood acknowledged Tuesday the idea of pitching in relief now “re-energized him.”
“I know I’ve got enough in the tank to go out there for an inning or two,” said Wood, who has logged 137 2/3 innings this season between Double-A and the majors.
“Starting-wise, I’d be lying if I said I felt like I haven’t fatigued a little bit. That’s just part of it. I’m 22. This is the longest stretch I’ve ever played. It’s tough to admit that to yourself, but I feel like I definitely was a part of it. When Fredi said from all aspects it benefited everyone, I think he was probably right in saying that.”
ROTATION WATCH: The Braves haven’t announced plans for the playoff starting rotation, but they gave an idea of which way they might go when Gonzalez announced Tuesday he would flip-flip Mike Minor and Julio Teheran during this weekend’s series against the Phillies.
Rookie David Hale will get a spot start Thursday against the Phillies, making his second major league start. Kris Medlen will start Friday, followed by the left-handed Minor on Saturday and Teheran on Sunday. That would allow both Medlen and Minor an extra day’s rest leading into the division series, when Medlen could pitch Game 1, and Minor Game 2. And Teheran could pitch Game 3 on six days’ rest.
“We could change it,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got those three days (next week) off, so it’s not official that those are the three that we’re going to. We just want to give some guys some extra days here or there. If we do choose, it could fit that way also.”