Entering Tuesday’s late game against the Rockies, Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella was hitting .364 with just two strikeouts in 33 at-bats since being called up to the majors on May 28. (Reuters)
DENVER — When Tommy La Stella was sent down to the minors late in spring training, Braves hitting coaching Greg Walker made sure to be in manager Fredi Gonzalez’s office when team officials talked to the second-base prospect.
La Stella had impressed in big-league camp, but Walker wanted him to know specifically what he needed to work on at Triple-A — the “load” part of his swing, the hand and bat movement that the hitting coach believed was counterproductive against the kind of pitching La Stella would face in the majors.
“I wanted to be there, because I just wanted to have the conversation with him to tell him, hey, we love your swing; don’t change anything about your swing,” Walker said. “You just need to simplify your load. Just go down and work on what feels right to you. Because he had just recently gone to that big load. It was too inefficient.
“I explained to him that while the load’s important, you don’t gain power by getting more (load).”
La Stella understood, went to Gwinnett and continued to work on it.
When he was called to the majors on May 28, he got two hits that night in his major league debut against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and La Stella hasn’t looked back. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Rockies, he was hitting .364 in his first 10 games.
“He went down there and the first day he got called up, he came back and said, ‘I got it straightened out. I got it cleaned up,’ ” Walker said. “And he has. Good for him.”
He had a two-out RBI single Sunday at Arizona when the Braves were trying to come from behind in the eighth inning, and La Stella was 10-for-21 with two RBIs, a .500 OBP and a stolen base during a six-game hitting streak before Monday night’s series opener at Colorado, where he went 0-for-3 in a 3-1 Atlanta victory.
La Stella has done at the big-league level what the left-handed hitter did in the minor leagues — use the whole field, hit balls up the middle and to the opposite field. All of his 12 hits before Tuesday were singles, many of them to left field.
“That’s his game,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “Obviously I think he’s got some pop; he shows it in (batting practice). But he’s not trying to do too much, he’s content with getting a base hit. And he takes his walks. That’s huge. I feel like that’s the way we all try to get it done, it’s just not that easy. He’s making it look pretty easy right now.”