Braves third baseman Chris Johnson entered Wednesday’s game hitting a disappointing .244 with one home run, three RBIs, one walk and 14 strikeouts. (Reuters)
PHILADELPHIA — He spent the previous two days watching teammates play baseball. So a rainout was just about the last thing that Braves third baseman Chris Johnson wanted Tuesday as he returned to the lineup for a game vs. the Phillies.
As soon as the postponement was announced late Tuesday afternoon, Johnson headed to the indoor batting cage adjacent to the vistor’s clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. Some work to do, some energy to be burned off.
Johnson was out of the lineup Sunday and Monday after having his second four-strikeout game in a three-day span Saturday. Hitting coach Greg Walker said he wanted Johnson to “get the fight back between him and the pitcher” instead of fighting himself.
When Johnson, who started in Wednesday night’s game, was asked Tuesday if he’d been working on things the past couple of days or mostly taken it easy to clear his head, he smiled.
“I don’t know if I ever take it easy,” he said. “I worked on some stuff, yeah. I worked on my bat (swing) path. I worked on keeping it simple. I’ve been a little too aggressive, a little too anxious. And I think Skip (manager Fredi Gonzalez) saw that and wanted to give me a couple of days. And now I’m good, hopefully.”
Johnson finished second in the NL batting race with a .331 average in 2013, when he spent much of the season batting in the bottom half of the order, including 29 starts in the eighth position and 20 in the seventh spot. His .336 average with runners in scoring position also ranked among the league leaders in 2013.
The Braves moved him to the cleanup spot this spring, figuring his high-contact rate would offset the fact that he’s not the prototypical big power hitter for the fourth position. But entering Wednesday’s game, Johnson was hitting .244 with one homer, three RBIs, one walk and 14 strikeouts, and with runners in scoring position he was 1-for-10 with five strikeouts.
Johnson was back in the seventh spot in the lineup Tuesday before the game was rained out. However, he didn’t think hitting fourth and the pressure that can go with that had caused his recent struggles.
“I think I would’ve been doing the same thing even if I was hitting lower,” he said. “I know that because I don’t put much stock in where I’m hitting. I think it’s just me pressing and trying to do too much. I need to get back to my good approach.”
MAKING HISTORY: If you couldn’t recall a pitcher having an outing like Phillies reliever B.J. Rosenberg endured Monday against the Braves, there’s good reason: Nobody has, at least not in the past century.
Rosenberg gave up solo home runs to all three batters he faced — Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons — in the eighth inning of the Braves’ 9-6 win at Citizens Bank Park. Retrosheet did the research and discovered no pitcher in the database that goes back to 1914 gave up home runs to the only three batters he faced in a game.
Retrosheet found that 44 pitchers had given up homers to the only two batters they faced in a game, but none had done the hat trick of sorts, giving up three consecutive homers to the only batters faced.
Before Monday, it had been six years since the Braves last hit three consecutive homers in an inning — Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann did it against Florida on April 17, 2008.
Another statistical rarity from Monday night: The Braves equaled the major league record for home runs (five) in a game in which a team had been held scoreless through the first five innings.
Ten other teams have done it, most recently the 2006 Rangers. The first was the 1931 Yankees, against a Philadelphia team (Athletics). The Yankees got late-innings homers from Lyn Lary, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig and two from Babe Ruth.
And finally, Braves reliever Luis Avilan on Monday became the first major league pitcher credited with a win despite allowing five or more earned runs in one inning or fewer since Jack Knott of the 1934 St. Louis Browns. Avilan gave up four hits and five runs in the eighth inning, turning a 5-1 lead into a 6-5 deficit.
MAKEUP DATE SET: The Braves’ game against the Phillies on Tuesday will be made up as part of a doubleheader during a June 27-29 series between the teams in Philadelphia.
The teams played as schedule on Wednesday and will wrap up the three-game series at 1 p.m. today.
Braves rookie pitcher David Hale, who had been scheduled to start Tuesday, will have his turn skipped and be available to pitch in a relief role for during the rest of the series.
The Phillies simply moved back their planned starting pitchers by a day. Cliff Lee, who had been set to start Tuesday for the Phillies, threw Wednesday, and A.J. Burnett will face Braves left-hander Alex Wood today.
For the Braves, one positive from the rainout was the chance to “recharge the bullpen a little bit,” Gonzalez said.