4/26/2014 10:54 P.M. ET
Freeman known for bat, but strong on defense
By Mark Bowman and Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman proved he is more than just a run-producing bat on Friday. He made a diving play to nab an errant Chris Johnson throw and kept his foot on first base to record the final out in the Braves' 5-4 win against the Reds. The out was confirmed by instant replay.
"I felt like I was on [the base], but you never know," Freeman said. "I might have been falling off the bag and it was bang-bang. I felt like I was on, and obviously it showed I was."
Joey Votto would have been safe at first had Freeman not kept his foot on the bag, and the Braves believe Roger Bernadina, who began the play on second, would have been awarded the tying run as he had already rounded third when the play ended.
"I think Bernadina scores there on that play," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the game. "We don't have to deal with it. They got the play right and that is why replay is there for those plays. There's nothing else you can do."
Johnson admitted Saturday he should have set his feet before throwing to Freeman, but he acknowledged that the first baseman regularly amazes him from across the diamond with acrobatic stretches and dives at first base.
"That's why he's one of the best players in the game, just because he's good on both ends of the game," Johnson said. "He's awesome. He saves us a lot over there."
Freeman led National League first basemen with a 9.38 range factor per game in 2012, but his fielding statistics otherwise rank near the league average. He makes his impact instead by turning extraordinary circumstances into ordinary, routine plays.
Entering Saturday, the 6-foot-5 Freeman had caught 3,698 balls on groundouts and recorded only seven catching errors on throws to first. However, the stretches, dives and picks he makes to record those outs do not show up in the box score.
"He does that stretch. A lot of us can't do the splits," Johnson said. "Sometimes you look at him and you're like, 'Man, that's a pretty big dude over there doing that.'"
But Freeman ranks ninth in the Majors with a .357 (30-for-84) batting average enterting Saturday and hits third in Atlanta's potent lineup, so the spotlight will remain on his bat.
"I take a lot of pride in doing it, but I'm OK with not getting any recognition," said Freeman of his defense. "I just go out there and just play hard, and that's just one of those things. It's my job to catch the ball over there, so that's what I just do."
B.J. Upton notches 1,000th career hit
ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward teased B.J. Upton about his impending 1,000th career hit, joking that Upton would achieve the milestone on a bloop hit. Heyward was not far off as Upton reached the mark with an infield single on Saturday night at Turner Field.
Although Upton did not record his 1,000th the way he envisioned, he had no complaints following the Braves' 4-1 victory against the Reds.
"It's very similar to a bloop, but I'll take it," Upton said. "I'll take the 1,000."
Upton received a standing ovation after he hit a slow dribbler that eluded the glove of Cincinnati starter Mike Leake before bouncing off the left side of the mound, changing directions on charging shortstop Zack Cozart.
He also recorded his 999th hit with an infield single, beating out a throw by Reds third baseman Todd Frazier on a grounder down the foul line on Friday night.
"Any time you can stay around long enough to get 1,000 hits in the big leagues, that's pretty cool," Upton said.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez added: "There aren't very many people who have played this game a long time and got 1,000 hits. Good for him. Good for him to do it at home also."
Upton endured a frustrating beginning to his career as a Brave that saw him bat a career-worst .184 (72-for-391) with 151 strikeouts in the first season of a five-year contract worth $75 million.
When discussing his impending milestone before the game, Upton joked, "Unfortunately, it took a while to get there."
However, the tide has seemingly turned for Upton so far this year.
Since beginning the season in a 1-for-17 slump with no walks and 10 strikeouts, Upton is batting .246 (17-for-69) with nine walks and 17 strikeouts. He has hit safely in 13 of his past 17 games with a plate appearance.
Upton's decision to wear glasses inspires confidence he can potentially reach 2,000 at a pace a little more to his liking.
"I've felt pretty good the last week or so, so I don't know if the glasses had anything to do with it," Upton said. "But as far as vision-wise, they're definitely helping."
He plans to change from his standard glasses to a more baseball-friendly wraparound pair in the coming days. He also plans to get some prescription sunglasses.
Upton will stick with glasses moving forward because he does not want to wear contacts.
"On both sides of the ball, just seeing things a little bit clearer," Upton said. "My depth perception's a little bit better, so it was something I noticed last night after wearing them, and I decided to wear them today."
Minor primed to rejoin Braves' rotation
ATLANTA -- Despite giving up four home runs on a windy Friday night in Pensacola, Fla., Braves left-hander Mike Minor was pleased with his final rehab start for Double-A Mississippi, which he described as "better than probably all of the other ones." He will throw a bullpen session in a couple of days before the Braves decide where to plug him into the starting rotation.
"I felt good," Minor said. "I didn't really care about the outcome."
Minor gave up five runs on 10 hits and struck out two in seven innings, throwing 81 pitches before he exited. He upped his total to 95 pitches in a bullpen session after he exited the game.
"I feel like I was good last week, but I feel better now, I guess," Minor said.
Even with Minor primed to rejoin the rotation, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is not in a rush to put Minor out on the mound. Given Monday's off-day, Gonzalez does not want to disrupt the other starters by giving them any more than six days of rest.
Gonzalez has no intention of making a decision in advance of who Minor will replace when he eventually returns. Gonzalez wants to wait rather than have the cloud of an assignment to Triple-A Gwinnett hanging over a pitcher's head.
"When that time comes, whoever that person is, you talk to them," Gonzalez said.
The wind was blowing out to left field on the night, and Minor felt that aided all but one of the long balls he surrendered. Minor described it as tough place to pitch, and Gonzalez said he heard "the wind was really, really howling."
"Three of them were popups, three out of four, one guy got me," Minor said of the home runs he gave up. "Everything was pull approach, so I felt like everything I threw in they were right on it. They were looking for it."
Mejia released so he can play in Japan
ATLANTA -- Despite producing good power numbers over the past few seasons in the Braves' Minor League system, Ernesto Mejia has not been widely viewed a Major League-caliber player. But Mejia will have a chance to make some money and improve his stock as he spends the rest of this year playing for Japan's Seibu Lions.
The Braves released Mejia from their 40-man roster on Saturday to allow him the chance to sign with Seibu. Specifics of Mejia's contract and the financial return the Braves will receive were not revealed.
"[Mejia] has played great and he has done everything we have asked him to do at Triple-A, but there just wasn't a spot [at the Major League level]," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We thought we had a deal this winter with another Japanese club and that fell through. This one surfaced in the past couple weeks. It works out well where he can go over, get a chance to support his family, make some money and establish himself over there."
Mejia's path to Atlanta was blocked by the presence of Freddie Freeman, who signed a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract in January.
But even if Freeman is sidelined for an extended stretch this season, the Braves would likely fill their first-base void with Joey Terdoslavich or Chris Johnson. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound Mejia's limited mobility and lack of defensive versatility have created doubt about his ability to play in the Majors. There has been some thought he could potentially serve as a designated hitter. But American League clubs have not shown interest in trading for him over the past couple years.
Mejia, 28, batted .354 (28-for-79) with seven home runs and a 1.104 OPS in 20 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this year. The first baseman's early season power surge had positioned him to best the career-high 28 home runs he hit last year, during the second of the three seasons he spent with Gwinnett.
After hitting .296 with 24 home runs and an .849 OPS in 133 games with Gwinnett in 2012, Mejia was added to Atlanta's 40-man roster. Though he had been granted this honor, he still did not get his first call to the big leagues when rosters expanded last September.
When asked during Spring Training about the fact he had not been added to Atlanta's roster for last season's final month, Mejia said he was surprised. But the mild-mannered Venezuelan was never critical of the Braves organization which had signed him to his first professional contract in 2002.
"I expect him to do well and put up pretty big numbers [in Japan]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But at the very least, he gets a chance for other clubs to look at him and see him. I'm happy for him. We couldn't ask more from him. It was just a bad situation."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.