Ron Seibel

Bats, not pitching, cause for questions for Braves

Atlanta bench coach Terry Pendleton is playing a mentorship role to a team that has plenty of young players on its roster in 2017.
Atlanta bench coach Terry Pendleton is playing a mentorship role to a team that has plenty of young players on its roster in 2017. AP

Spring training is a time to do some tinkering around the edges, to see what works and what doesn’t.

Lose a game or two? That’s fine. Just go back to the drawing board and fiddle with a few things.

Lose eight in a row? Well ... maybe, just maybe, something is malfunctioning.

In the midst of that skid, I spent a few days at the Atlanta Braves’ camp in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Many of the questions asked following losses to Detroit, St. Louis and Miami involved the quality of the starting rotation, which was announced Sunday.

Starters Bartolo Colon, Julio Teheran and R.A. Dickey were the pitchers of record in those three losses. And while all three had flame-out innings, all three recovered from their blow-ups and put in quality mound time.

All three starters lasted past the 75-pitch mark with Dickey making it to 90. In spring training, those are good numbers.

Where the Braves were lacking, however, was with the bats, both for power and for consistency.

Prior to Thursday’s game against Detroit, it had been more than a week since the Braves scored more than five runs in a game. One has to go back to March 13, the final victory before a skid that sat at eight games heading into Thursday, to find a seven-run game for the Braves.

Only twice during the losing streak did the Braves record 10 or more hits in a game. There were only two home runs by the Braves during that stretch, and both were by catchers: a solo shot by Tyler Flowers on Tuesday against Washington in West Palm Beach and a two-run homer by Kurt Suzuki on March 15 against Detroit in Lakeland.

It’s one thing to have promised power come up empty. This Braves team doesn’t have any big-time ball smashers on the roster, so the long ball isn’t going to be a featured aspect of this team.

When a team doesn’t have power, however, it has to go station-to-station. And the Braves haven’t been thriving in that respect lately, either.

Atlanta left 34 runners on base in the four games combined heading into Thursday’s action. That’s a concern, especially when teams are trying to win through base knocks and not the long ball.

The good news is that there’s plenty of patience among Braves coaches and front office personnel to let players develop. There’s plenty of coaching going on at camp, with staff like Ron Washington and Terry Pendleton serving as invaluable resources.

Right now, the bats need to come around. Hitting for consistency, not necessarily for power, will be the thing to watch for as the season begins.

Another thing to watch is the bullpen situation. Manager Brian Snitker seems confident in his starters, and if they can dodge the one-off, blow-up innings that plagued them last week, they will be fine. The bullpen didn’t have any leads to defend while I was in Florida, but those who threw held their own for the most part last weekend with a couple of exceptions.

This isn’t a team that is going to necessarily in the mix of things late this season. There’s enough that’s unanswered about this franchise to go out on too much of a limb. But if the Braves can start to swing the bats with a little more consistency, then some good things might happen.

Ron Seibel: 478-744-4222, @RonSeibel

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