5/28/2014 1:06 A.M. ET
Increased walk rate boosts Braves' run production
By Mark Bowman and Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- When the Braves returned to Turner Field last week, they were in the midst of a scoring drought that was widely blamed on a lack of plate discipline. But over the past week, they have seen the potential benefits of a more patient approach.
Through the first eight games of a nine-game homestand that concluded against the Red Sox on Tuesday night, the Braves had averaged 4.6 runs and drawn one walk in every 9.2 plate appearances. This walk rate was heavily influenced by the eight free passes Boston's Clay Buchholz issued in just three innings Monday.
But if you take away Monday's game, the Braves still had drawn a walk once every 11 plate appearances through the first seven games of this homestand. While the sample size is small, the trend has at least been similar to what they produced last year, when they ranked second in the National League with one walk every 11.3 plate appearances.
In the 42 games before this homestand, the Braves averaged 3.2 runs per game and one walk every 13.8 plate appearances.
"We're still aggressive in the strike zone, but we're walking," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's good. We're swinging in the strike zone and not giving the pitcher a chance to pitch around us. I think before, we were in a stretch when if a guy threw a rosin bag, we were swinging."
According to FanGraphs.com, the Braves have swung at more pitches outside the strike zone (31 percent) than all but three other National League clubs: the Rockies, Brewers and Giants. The Giants are also the only NL club that has swung at a higher percentage (70 percent) of pitches inside the strike zone than Atlanta (68.7 percent).
The Braves have swung at a 49.2 percent of the pitches they've seen (the NL's third-highest mark and made contact with 76.4 percent of their swings (the NL's lowest percentage). The contact rate has at least improved since standing at 75.1 percent on May 15.
Wrist strain sidelines Gattis; Simmons exits
ATLANTA -- Catcher Evan Gattis was a late scratch from Tuesday's lineup due to a strained right wrist and shortstop Andrelton Simmons exited the Braves' 6-3 loss to the Red Sox with right ankle inflammation. Both players are day to day.
Gattis began to feel discomfort after his third round of batting practice and ended up missing his sixth game in the past nine days. He was sidelined from Tuesday to Friday after he began experiencing viral symptoms May 17 in St. Louis.
X-rays were negative for Gattis, who experienced similar discomfort in 2012 when he strained a tendon while playing for Double-A Mississippi. He missed just a couple of days after receiving a plasma rich platelet injection.
"It just came out of nowhere, so we took the day and we'll see where I'm at tomorrow," Gattis said. "We'll just go from there."
The Braves elected to pull Simmons from Tuesday night's game following the bottom of the seventh. The ankle has bothered Simmons off and on for the past couple of weeks, and he may have tweaked it during the top half of the inning.
"I feel OK, hopefully it goes away quick and the inflammation or swelling goes down," Simmons said. "Hopefully, I'll be ready to go tomorrow. ... It's not a terrible pain, it's just a nagging thing."
Grady Sizemore plated the go-ahead run Tuesday night by hitting a broken-bat comebacker to the mound. The bat distracted reliever Luis Avilan, who failed to field the ball cleanly. The ball hit Avilan's glove, causing it to change direction.
A charging Simmons was forced to cut right quickly as he barehanded the ball and threw to first to get the out.
"He moves around pretty good. He's pretty active out there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Sometimes, he'll aggravate it and it swells up on him, but hopefully we caught it early enough. I didn't want him to have the rest of the game to hurt it, so I took him out of the game to get some treatment, and we'll check him again tomorrow."
Simmons added: "I just felt it today. It just started nagging me during the inning. It didn't want to go away when we got done with the inning. I tried playing on, but it just didn't feel like I was going to help my team."
Advanced stats reveal Johnson's upswing in May
ATLANTA -- After enduring a rough April, Braves third baseman Chris Johnson feels he has regained the form he enjoyed in 2013, when he placed second in the NL batting race with a .321 clip.
Johnson is batting .304 (28-for-92) with 13 multihit games in May, compared to a .231 mark from Opening Day on March 31 through April.
He struggled with his swing path through the strike zone, causing him to sometimes pop balls up when attempting to go to the opposite field.
His fly-ball, ground-ball and line-drive rates through the first month of play were similar to those in 2011, a season that saw him post career-worst marks with a .251 batting average and a .291 on-base percentage.
But May has been a much different story.
According to FanGraphs.com, Johnson's line-drive rate of 28.2 percent and ground-ball rate of 49.3 percent are the highest they have been during May. Also, Johnson's fly-ball rate of 22.5 percent is the lowest it has ever been at this time of year.
His numbers on batted balls this month are also in line with his rates last season: 27 percent line drives, 45.5 percent ground balls and 28.3 percent fly balls.
As a result, Johnson's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this month is .386, slightly lower than his .394 BABIP in 2013.
"When I'm hitting fly balls, it's just not good for me," Johnson said. "I feel like there's a lot of hits with line drives and hard ground balls. I think things start to fall through and go through holes.
"When you hit the ball in the air in the big leagues, most of the time it gets run down and caught. I'm not a huge power guy, so my balls aren't going to fly out of the stadium. I like to stay on the ground hard and line drives and get my hits that way."
Although Johnson has enjoyed a successful month, he has walked only twice and struck out 20 times in May. His .309 OBP is only .016 points higher than his batting average in 94 plate appearances.
He has swung at 48.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in May, much higher than his 39.6 percent rate in April and his 40.7 percent rate last season. He believes that may have contributed to a 1-for-21 skid from May 17-21.
"When I'm swinging at balls out of the zone, I'm struggling," Johnson said. "If I can get balls in the zone and put good swings on them, usually good things happen when that happens, so that's what I've got to focus on."