Saltalamacchia solid in debut
Catcher makes first big-league start on 22nd birthday
ATLANTA -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia could live another hundred years and never again be granted a birthday gift as nice as the one the Braves presented him on Wednesday.
Needing to react to the injuries suffered by Brian McCann and Brayan Pena during Tuesday night's loss to the Phillies at Turner Field, the Braves had the great fortune of turning to Saltalamacchia, who is considered by many to be one of the game's top catching prospects.
After realizing that both Pena and McCann would be unavailable for Wednesday night's series finale against the Phillies, the Braves purchased Saltalamacchia's contract from Double-A Mississippi.
Then a few moments later, they penciled him in to serve as the starting catcher for what proved to be a 4-3 Braves victory.
"Right now, I'm just overwhelmed with it," said Saltalamacchia, who turned 22 on Wednesday. "I'm just trying to take all of that in and see what happens. Anything that happens, I'm happy with."
During his first big-league at-bat, Saltalamacchia drilled a Freddy Garcia pitch to the warning track in center field. Just moments earlier, he had ended the top of the second inning by retiring Jayson Werth as he attempted to steal second base.
"He looked great behind the plate," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He got on base twice and we all know that he can hit. He almost had a homer in his first at-bat. I thought he did a super job back there."
With some help from Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, Saltalamacchia seemed comfortable calling pitches. He reached base with a walk in the fourth inning and then became the latest Braves catcher bruised by the Phillies, when he was hit in the left arm with a pitch in the decisive sixth inning.
"It was a lot of fun," Saltalamacchia said.
With Pena on the disabled list with concussion-related symptoms, Saltalamacchia's stay with the Braves will likely last at least 15 days. During that span, he'll likely primarily serve as the backup to McCann, whose bruised left ring finger could sideline him at least until Saturday.
"Salty is a young kid," Cox said. "You want him playing and you don't want him sitting the bench all year up here either."
Saltalamacchia, who according to the Elias Sports Bureau has the longest last name of any player to ever play in the Majors, is a powerful switch-hitter who has seemingly regained his stroke at Mississippi this year. He was hitting .309 with six homers and a .617 slugging percentage.
"Every year as you get older, you're going to mature as a player," said Saltalamacchia, who struggled while hitting just .230 with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 313 at-bats with Mississippi last year.
After hitting .314 with 19 homers at Class A Myrtle Beach during the 2005 season, Saltalamacchia was considered to be one of the game's top overall prospects. He believes the added pressure that he put on himself may have factored into last year's struggles.
"There's always that added pressure," said Saltalamacchia, who was the Braves' top selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. "I guess that's what separates the good players from the bad. You've just got to let that go and play your game. I think I've done that so far."
As Saltalamacchia struggled last year, McCann was enjoying an All-Star season and seemingly entrenching himself as the Braves' catcher of the future.
But still, the Braves want Saltalamacchia to continue developing as a catcher. It allows him to be available to provide assistance whenever McCann is unable to play, and at the same time, it enhances the value that he would have on the trade market.
Plus, Saltalamacchia's dream is to establish himself as a catcher at the Major League level. To do so, he'll have to continue to improve his ability to handle a pitching staff.
"I want to be a catcher," Saltalamacchia said. "That's my goal. But if it doesn't work out that way, I'm not going to worry about it. Just to be here, I'm excited."
Saltalamacchia learned that he was coming to Atlanta late Tuesday night. He arrived in Atlanta early Wednesday afternoon and immediately began renewing acquaintances with Cox and the other Braves players.
But it wasn't until it was determined Pena definitely couldn't play, that Saltalamacchia even learned that he was definitely being added to the Braves' roster. That decision came around 3 p.m. ET, or about 12 hours after he'd finally attempted to go to sleep in his Montgomery, Ala., hotel room.
"I didn't sleep one bit," Saltalamacchia said. "I went to bed about 3 a.m. CT, got about two hours of sleep, woke up and been awake since then. But I don't think it's going to be a problem."
As for those looking to give Saltalamacchia a better future birthday present, they will certainly have a problem.
"I told my parents that they aren't going to be able to match [this]," Saltalamacchia said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.