Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez benefited twice on Tuesday from Major League Baseball’s new replay system, which Gonzalez has been impressed by so far this season. (Reuters)
SAN FRANCISCO — Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is all about the best interests of baseball. Yes, even when those interests work against his team.
After each of the first two games of the series against the San Francisco Giants, Gonzalez took time to applaud Major League Baseball’s new video-review rules.
That was no surprise Tuesday, when it took just 35 seconds for the umpires to confirm a safe call on Braves right fielder Jason Heyward at the plate. The ruling was critical to Atlanta’s 5-0 win as it ignited a three-run sixth inning in what had been a 1-0 game.
Later in the game, Gonzalez challenged what he perceived to be a missed call at first base on a groundball hit by first baseman Freddie Freeman. Sure enough, replay confirmed the skipper’s suspicions and the call was overturned, allowing the Braves to score their fifth and final run of the game.
If the replay gods were smiling upon Gonzalez on Tuesday, it was with good reason. He bent over backward to praise the system a night earlier when once again the biggest play of the game featured an overturned call.
Only that time, the reversal worked against the Braves, with left fielder Justin Upton being ruled out on an attempted steal of third base with one out in the top of the seventh inning of a 1-1 game. Atlanta went on to lose the game 4-2.
“It’s nice to see the system is working,” Gonzalez said Tuesday night, almost exactly duplicating the words he’d used the night before.
There were no challenges in Wednesday’s series finale.
LEADING OFF WITH HEYWARD: Despite Heyward’s slow start to the season and his struggles against left-handers, Gonzalez plans to keep the right fielder in the leadoff position on a regular basis.
The question arose Wednesday when Heyward had a day off and second baseman Tyler Pastornicky hit leadoff against a lefty (Madison Bumgarner) in the series finale against the Giants. Gonzalez was asked if Pastornicky might be an option against lefties going forward.
“No, I’m seeing Jason starting to come a little bit to life, so I don’t think so,” Gonzalez said.
He said the day off for Heyward was planned and had been discussed with the right fielder four or five days ago, after the Giants announced their pitching plans with Bumgarner starting the series finale.
Bumgarner was the first left-handed starter the Braves faced in eight games, and Gonzalez said that fact, coupled with the day game after a night game led to the decision to give Heyward his second day out of the lineup in 39 games this season. Heyward was 5-for-34 (.147) with 12 strikeouts and a .189 on-base percentage against lefties.
While Heyward was a modest 3-for-17 with a homer in his past five games before Wednesday, he did have five walks and a .364 on-base percentage in that span. For the season, he was hitting .204 with three homers and a .304 OBP in 37 games, all from the leadoff position.
After going 3-for-8 with a homer and two RBIs in the first two games of the season, Heyward had a .196 average with a .296 OBP and .290 slugging percentage in his past 35 games.
STICKING WITH 5: What Gonzalez said Tuesday about using a six-man rotation this week? Nevermind.
Gonzalez announced Wednesday that, after talking with pitching coach Roger McDowell, they’ve decided to keep left-hander Alex Wood in the bullpen for now and stick with a conventional five-man rotation.
The reasoning was two-fold, Gonzalez said: The Braves, including some pitchers involved, weren’t comfortable with the extra rest that would result from using a six-man rotation; and with setup man Jordan Walden on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, Wood’s power arm is needed there for now.
Instead of having Wood start Saturday at St. Louis — it would’ve been his first start since May 4 — the Braves will shift Aaron Harang’s scheduled start at St. Louis from Sunday’s series finale to Saturday, and bump Gavin Floyd from Monday to Sunday.
Harang and Floyd each will still be pitching on an extra day of rest because of Thursday’s off day in the schedule.
“I wasn’t too keen on (using a six-man rotation),” Gonzalez said, “and the more you talk to Floyd, and the more you talk to Roger and talk about what’s best for everybody. … If you start looking at days off there’s some guys that would be going on (two extra days of rest), and that doesn’t do any good.”
He added that the six-man rotation “is good the first time around, because we’ve got all those games in a row and some of the guys, like Gavin, could use an extra day of rest. But as you go forward it doesn’t feel right. And also, I think it weakens (the bullpen).”