3 Up, 3 Down: Laird lifts Braves in 8th

May 24, 2014 

ATLANTA – While Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton combined for four hits in Friday’s 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies, the heroics were left to some of the more unsung hitters in this Atlanta Braves lineup.

B.J. Upton went 2-for-3 and got on base every time he came to the plate. Gerald Laird, who is still filling in for starting catcher Evan Gattis, registered two hits and drove in two runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eight inning. Laird’s 1-1 single to right field scored Ramiro Pena, who had reached on a leadoff double.

Gavin Floyd pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed just two earned runs, while striking out seven. He didn’t factor into the win, but still sports a 2.49 ERA in four starts since returning from Tommy John surgery in May of 2013.

Chris Johnson Benched

Third baseman Chris Johnson played the first inning, and half of the second. But after striking out on an 88 mph slider to lead off the bottom of the second, Johnson disappeared from the game. He was replaced by Pena, who went 1-for-3 and came up big in the eighth inning.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed to the media horde that Johnson’s removal from the game was not injury related, and then informed everyone that Johnson would speak at his locker after his brief meeting with the press.

“I came in the tunnel, and blew up a little bit,” Johnson said as to why he was removed from the game after his second-inning strikeout. “It’s dangerous to do it, and there were some people down there that weren’t too happy about it. I apologized to the team about that after the game, and to [Ramiro] Pena for having to pick me up.

“I’m sorry to the Atlanta fans, people who came out to watch me play today. That’s just one of my demons. It’s one of those things that I’ve got to try and get through and get better at. I’m going to start that tomorrow.”

Johnson said he wasn’t sure if the team would fine or suspend him. He said whatever the punishment was, he’d take it and not complain.

“Whatever it is, I’ll be glad to do it,” said Johnson about further punishment. “That’s the manager’s decision.”

Friday’s explosion wasn’t the first fit of anger from Johnson since he’s been in a Braves uniform. Johnson and first-base coach Terry Pendleton got into a heated exchange last September after Johnson was thrown out on a grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Johnson returned to the dugout and flipped his helmet, which then ricocheted and hit Pendleton. After Pendleton grabbed Johnson’s jersey and screamed at him, the two were separated. Johnson apologized shortly after.

“This has to be it for me,” said Johnson. “It’ll get to a point, if it happens again, where people aren’t going to believe I’m truly sorry for doing it. It just looks selfish.”

B.J. Upton’s Not Missing

Entering Friday’s action, B.J. Upton was leading the league with 57 strikeouts. But that total hasn’t risen of late.

The last time Upton struck out was on May 19, during his second plate appearance of the game. Since then, he’s gone up to the plate 18 times without whiffing. During his time without a strikeout, Upton is 4-for-14 (.286) with a home run and a double. His batting average, in five days, has gone from .203 to .209.

Nice to Have Laird Around

Backup catcher Gerald Laird went 2-for-4 on Friday, and brought his season batting average up to .208. He also provided the game-winning, RBI single in the eighth inning to boot.

Since Gattis has been ill (he was a late scratch Tuesday night), Laird has started every game behind the plate. He’s 5-for-15 (.333) with two doubles.

“He was supposed to be a guy that just filled in once a week, [maybe] twice a week. But we’ve played him four days in a row now, and he’s come up big,” said Gonzalez after Laird’s two-hit night Friday. “He sticks his nose in there, and is going to make contact. He’s been there, done that in a couple of World Series' situations, so these situations … he likes it.”

Welcome 3 to the Braves Hall of Fame

Atlanta welcomed three new members into the Braves Hall of Fame Friday: catcher Javy Lopez, head athletic trainer Dave Pursley, and shortstop Rabbit Maranville.

Lopez was a three-time All Star during his 12 seasons with the Braves. He hit 214 home runs and drove in 694, while batting .287. His most memorable season was 2003, when he blasted 43 home runs with 109 RBI, while batting .328.

Pursley served as either assistant or head athletic trainer from 1961 to 2002, for both the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. He was selected to work four All-Star Games (1972, 1983, 1991 and 2000), and has been inducted into the Georgia and Indiana Sports Halls of Fame.

Maranville, already a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, played 15 seasons with the Boston Braves. At 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds, Maranville was nicknamed “Rabbit” for his speed and small stature. In 1,795 games with the Braves, Maranville hit a franchise best 103 triples, and is ninth with 194 stolen bases.

Heyward Extends Streak

With a third-inning single to right field, Jason Heyward extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Heyward’s streak began on May 11 at home against the Chicago Cubs. He’s collected 16 hits on his way to a .381 batting average over the span, and has brought his season average up from .206 to .247.

Heyward can match his career-best hitting streak on Saturday if he collects another base knock. From June 13 to June 27 in 2012, Heyward hit safely in 12 games, batting .455 with a 1.388 OPS. During that span he hit six doubles, one triple and four home runs.

The current 11-game hitting streak Heyward is enjoying, has been made up of 15 singles and one home run.

Evan Gattis Almost Ready

Evan Gattis was a late scratch from Tuesday’s lineup with viral symptoms. He’s missed four games now, but Gonzalez said he’d be back expeditiously.

“Gattis is getting better, getting stronger,” said Gonzalez prior to Friday’s game. “He’s available. We almost used him yesterday. He’s going to go through his stuff, and hopefully he’ll be able to catch this weekend some time.

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