Johnson ejected in first inning at Turner Field
Third baseman argues called strike, throws bat, helmet, tossed by umpire Joyce
ATLANTA -- Braves third baseman Chris Johnson could not have known the dominant outing Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi was settling into when the Braves third baseman took a pair of fastballs on the outer half for called strikes and expressed his displeasure with home-plate umpire Jim Joyce after striking out on the next pitch.
The National League batting leader made an early exit on Saturday night when he was ejected in the first inning of a 1-0 loss to the Marlins for arguing balls and strikes with Joyce. His quick temper ultimately came around to sting the Braves, who could have used his .337 batting average over the final eight innings.
"It was just the whole at-bat. I thought maybe there were some pitches in that at-bat that weren't strikes, in a big situation, I thought," Johnson said. "Obviously we didn't have that situation come up much this game off a really good pitcher."
Johnson struck out with runners on first and second to end the inning after looking at three straight fastballs for strikes from Eovaldi, tossing his bat and spiking his helmet as he left the batter's box with a few heated words for Joyce. After he was ejected, Johnson turned back to move toward Joyce before first-base coach Terry Pendleton was able to coax him back into the dugout while manager Fredi Gonzalez took up the argument.
It appeared that Johnson's vocal disagreement with the strike zone continued from the dugout, even as rain began to fall more steadily to send the game into a delay.
"I didn't feel like I said enough [to be ejected]," Johnson said. "I obviously knew that I threw my helmet down. He let me know that it was an equipment fine, but then he thought there should be a little bit more."
The helmet slam has gotten Johnson in trouble before. He was ejected on May 22 of last year, when he was a member of the Astros, for slamming his helmet while arguing a close call at first base.
"It's hard, the guy who's leading the league in hitting to get thrown out of the game, but you can't control your temper sometimes," Gonzalez said. "It's competitiveness, and he's been probably the No. 1 competitive guy we have on our club. Right there and then, he thought that the strikes that were called were balls."
Johnson's career year at the plate has brought with it a noticeable improvement in his strikeout rate. After striking out in close to 25 percent of his plate appearances in each of his first four years in the big leagues, Johnson has dropped that rate to 21 percent in 2013.
His 80 strikeouts are the fifth most on the Braves, behind Dan Uggla, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman. Saturday night marked just the 11th called third strike Johnson has taken in 380 plate appearances this season, another marked improvement from his career ratio of strikeouts looking. His departure from the game left the rudderless Atlanta offense with even less firepower, as the Braves finished with just three hits, only one of which came off Eovaldi.
"We could've had 12 hits, and I would've been like, 'Man, I want to be up,'" Johnson said. "Every time my spot came up, I was like, 'Man, I'm hitting right here.' Looking back, I should've just taken it and wore it and just chalked it up to one of those things where it didn't work out for me very well."
Paul Janish replaced Johnson at third base, making a pair of sharp defensive plays in the fourth inning to keep starter Alex Wood's excellent outing rolling and bring the crowd to life. But Janish, who entered the game 0-for-5 at the plate this season, came up empty in his three at-bats, capped off by a game-ending strikeout of his own with the tying run on first base in the bottom of the ninth.
"It always works out that way," Johnson said. "Of course. Why wouldn't he come up? But hey, Janish is my guy. I was in here rooting as hard as anybody for him to get a hit or hit a double or hit one out of here. We have a lot of confidence in Janish, too, so I don't want to say that if I were hitting there, I would've done anything special. [Marlins closer Steve] Cishek's pretty good."
Schafer set to return to pre-injury success
ATLANTA -- Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer was adamant that his at-bats had steadily improved during his eight rehab games with Triple-A Gwinnett, even if the numbers left him frustrated in the retelling of his 2-for-32 showing.
"The last [five games], I literally lined out nine times -- I'm not exaggerating," Schafer said on Saturday afternoon after he was activated from the 15-day disabled list. "It was unbelievable. They were all making fun of me, saying everything would be broken in the dugout if the at-bats actually counted, and I was like, 'Yeah, you're probably right.'"
After missing a total of 32 games with a right ankle contusion, Schafer will be expected to return to the level he was playing at in late June before he fouled a ball off his right foot June 26 against the Royals that ultimately led to the trip to the DL.
"He's the same guy, for me, that left before he got hurt," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Fourth outfielder, he's a leadoff hitter, he can steal you a base. Hopefully he has the success he had before the injury."
Though his Gwinnett teammates gave him a hard time for not jumpstarting their offense, Schafer was able to use the game action to knock off the rust from such a long time away from the field.
"The first three or four games, especially at the plate, timing-wise I was really off," Schafer said. "Just missing six weeks or whatever it was, it's a big adjustment, especially since it's a lot different than just hitting BP, getting out there and seeing live pitching. That was probably the biggest thing for me, and then being able to go out there and trust myself to run full speed and not have to worry about everything."
Schafer compared that trust-building aspect of his rehab to the process he went through during his recovery from multiple injuries to his left hand in the early years of his career. Back at Turner Field and available for Saturday night's game, he was ready to finally take part in the Braves' recent hot streak, making an impact with his speed on the basepaths and in the outfield until those line drives start falling.
"I'm ready to be back," Schafer said. "Obviously, it's an exciting place right now to be, and I'm excited to get back on the field."
Laird coming off DL, Cunningham to Triple-A
ATLANTA -- Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird will be activated from the 15-day disabled list before Sunday's series finale against the Marlins, the team announced on Saturday night.
Laird was placed on the disabled list Aug. 3, retroactive to July 26, after undergoing a surgical procedure to remove a kidney stone. In two rehab starts for Triple-A Gwinnett this weekend, he caught 11 innings and went 0-for-6 at the plate.
In order to clear room for Laird on the roster, outfielder Todd Cunningham will be sent down to Gwinnett. Cunningham appeared in six games during his first stint in the big leagues, going 2-for-6 at the plate.
Cooled off after DL stint, Gattis adjusting
ATLANTA -- The Braves' recent success up and down the batting order has taken much of the spotlight off rookie Evan Gattis, who has returned to earth from the tear he was on in April and May before an oblique strain cut short his improbable first half. Gattis has a .543 OPS since returning from the disabled list, and his current streak of 44 at-bats without a home run is the longest he has endured this season.
As the season has progressed, Gattis has understandably dealt with the adjustments made by Major League pitchers seeing him for the second and third time, but he noted the changes in approach have not been as drastic as the numbers may show.
"People still throw strikes," Gattis said. "I think early, I started swinging at stuff up, so that's kind of been the book."
"I'm thinking maybe the injury, he missed a month," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "And the combination of people making adjustments, they got videos, they got advance scouts. But he's doing OK. The other day he got in the game and drove in the two runs we ended up winning the game by."
In that at-bat, Gattis took the first pitch he saw from Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez the other way for a go-ahead two-run single that was all the Braves needed in a 2-1 victory. The slicing opposite-field hit was the polar opposite of the many moon shots that helped build his legend early in the season.
"Even guys that pull the ball, they stay inside it, so I just tried to stay inside the ball, and it was away, so I hit it away, shot up the right side," Gattis said. "It's not like I was up there trying to hit it to right field or anything like that, it's just kind of where it was. Gio being a lefty, he's probably going to go in for effect anyway. He's probably not going to go in for strikes too often, probably more to back you off to get you scared about everything else."
Gattis was in the starting lineup catching and hitting cleanup on Saturday night in place of Brian McCann, who got the day off to rest and deal with some minor knee soreness he experienced on Friday. With his solo home run Friday night, McCann extended his lead over Gattis and the rest of the Braves with just 14.59 at-bats per home run this season.
Fredi reflects on central spark in streak
ATLANTA -- As the attention and expectations build around the Braves' 14-game winning streak entering Saturday, manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried to enjoy the ride as much as possible. With his team on the verge of tying the longest streak in Atlanta history, Gonzalez had the chance to reflect on some of the most well-tread explanations for his team's run of success.
Many have pointed to the team's impressive sweep of the Cardinals, a fellow division leader at the time, as the source of the confidence surge that lifted the Braves' offense, rotation and bullpen to another level. But Gonzalez was quick to include the game that immediately followed that high-profile weekend series with St. Louis as an integral part of that pivotal sequence.
"Three national television games, we win three games, we go out against the Colorado Rockies on Monday and [Brandon] Beachy gives up five runs by that [third] inning -- not a very good outing," Gonzalez said. "Very easily, our team could've said, 'You know what? We're tired, we played the ESPN Sunday night game, we just had a [heck] of a series, we just have to mail it in.' Well, we came back and won that game. To me, that's a defining moment for our club."
With the dramatics of that 9-8 extra-inning win at their backs, the Braves have closed out the subsequent games with an efficiency reminiscent of their 12-1 run to open the 2013 season, building their unbeaten streak to the longest in the Major Leagues this year, with several more historic streaks now within range.
"I think it's the same club," Gonzalez said. "I think it's a club that's got resiliency, that battles all the way to the end."
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.