Braves second baseman Tyler Pastornicky has now started in nine straight games in place of struggling Dan Uggla. (Reuters)
ST. LOUIS — After the Braves gave Tyler Pastornicky the opening day shortstop job in 2012 without prior big-league experience, it didn’t take long before he began pressing, trying to show he was worthy of the job and then trying to hang onto it.
Now that he’s getting his first opportunity to play again on a regular basis, getting a good look at second base, 24-year-old Pastornicky is applying lessons learned from experience two years ago. He’s not trying to prove he belongs.
“I learned from doing that,” he said before making his seventh start at second base and third in a row Friday night at St. Louis. “Any time I get a chance to play now I enjoy it, I have fun with it. You learn a lot from your experiences and stuff, and I learned a lot from that one. So I’m just going out there loose, going out there and having fun playing.
“That’s kind of normal (to press as a rookie), I guess. But I have a completely different feeling now.”
After hitting .268 with seven extra-base hits, 11 RBIs, a .308 on-base percentage and two errors in his first 29 games in 2012, Pastornicky spiraled with a .208 average and five errors over his next 16 games, producing one extra-base hit, one RBI and a .269 OBP in that span.
And that was it.
The Braves pulled the plug on the Pastornicky shortstop experiment and called up Andrelton Simmons. The rest is history. Simmons is the new Platinum Glove standard for major league shortstops and signed a five-year, $58 million contract this spring after less than two full seasons in the majors.
And Pastornicky? His next opportunity at regular playing time was going to be in August, when he got promoted from Triple-A to replace Dan Uggla when the slumping second baseman had LASIK surgery for blurred vision. But the day after Pastornicky was promoted, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he collided with Jason Heyward as they converged on a pop fly in shallow right field.
Seemingly star-crossed as a Brave, Pastornicky had season-ending knee surgery.
Nine months later, he’s getting another chance to play.
“He puts the ball in play,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Got a couple of hits the other day, and I think the day before, Tuesday, he got a tough pitch and he kind of put it in play and blooped it on over the second baseman’s head to get on. So we’ll see.”
Gonzalez is using him in place of Uggla, the still-struggling veteran who was out of the lineup Saturday for the ninth consecutive game. Gonzalez said this week that he intended to play Pastornicky for the time being against right-handers and left-handers, rather than in a platoon with Uggla facing lefties.
When the Braves faced lefty Madison Bumgarner Wednesday in San Francisco, Pastornicky played and had two hits. He also had a hit Tuesday, and last Saturday he laid down a difficult and crucial squeeze bunt against the Cubs.
The Braves will face another lefty, Jaime Garcia, in today’s series finale against the Cardinals. Without coming right out and saying it, Gonzalez indicated that Pastornicky would be in the lineup.
“I think when you go out and say, I want to give somebody an opportunity to play, I think you’ve got to give them an opportunity to play,” Gonzalez said. Asked if that was the situation with Pastornicky, the manager said, “Yeah. I can’t sit here and say it’s going to be X amount of games, or a platoon situation or any of that type of stuff. So we’ll see.”