July 1985: Milt Thompson was summoned from the minor leagues and started the second game of a doubleheader and again the next day. He had five hits in those two games. After the latter, Atlanta Braves manager Eddie Haas was asked, in a jocular way, if it would be hard to keep a guy hitting .417 out of the everyday lineup.
Haas, who had no ear for humor or nuance and who wouldn’t manage the Braves much longer, gave this question serious thought before finally saying: “He’s probably not going to hit .417 all year.”
Tommy La Stella isn’t going to hit .500 — or have an on-base percentage of .500 — all year. But the rookie’s 2-for-4 debut was encouraging for three basic reasons: He got hits, he got on base and he didn’t strike out. He batted eighth in a batting order that included a DH last night in Boston. At some point Fredi Gonzalez will need to bump him up. Like maybe tonight.
As noted in today’s AJC column — it’s available on myajc.com — La Stella hits singles, which few guys for any team do anymore and way too few Braves do. They’re not hitting home runs at the rate they did last season, when they led the National League, and they’re not stringing hits of any kind together, which is why no team in baseball has scored fewer runs than these still-in-first-place-but-only-just Braves.
Promoting La Stella was the in-house move the Braves had to make. If he gets on base enough, he could make a difference in a batting order gone dormant. (Didn’t help last night, though. The Braves were shut out.) If not, Frank Wren will have to go shopping, and there’s really not much to trade. The Braves can’t sell many young pitchers — Alex Wood, David Hale or Lucas Sims — because three current starters (Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang and Gavin Floyd) are working on one-year contracts and aren’t locks to be back in 2015.
Owing to their rotation, the Braves had a great April. The inevitable regression nearer the mean by those starters, coupled with the continuing failure to hit and score, has nearly overridden the earlier good work. Not to put too much pressure on a smallish call-up, but La Stella really is a big man on this team. He doesn’t have to hit .500, or even .417, to make an impact. But he does need to hit.
Further reading: Are the Braves a playoff team? (Yes, I think.)