Despite Game 1 mistakes, Gattis brings upside
Fredi plans to stick with slugger, who makes fielding, baserunning blunders in opener
ATLANTA -- Evan Gattis' pipe dreams never reached this far. At the height of his amateur career, or the depths of his nomadic life after quitting baseball at age 19, Gattis thought only of reaching the Major Leagues -- never the October goals that might lie beyond.
Had he done so, Gattis would hardly have envisioned a playoff introduction like this: Batting cleanup in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night at Turner Field, the 27-year-old rookie made two critical mistakes in the second inning of a 6-1 loss to the Dodgers.
Tabbed to play left field against Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, Gattis misplayed A.J. Ellis' two-out liner into an RBI hit in the second, then was doubled off first base on a routine fly in the bottom of the inning.
"I was excited, nervous, everything else," Gattis said.
With Juan Uribe on second base and one run already home, Ellis hit a line drive to left, where Gattis -- a natural catcher who did not begin playing the outfield regularly until the second half of last season -- managed to glide under it.
In retrospect, that moment was the high point of Gattis' night; the ball ultimately glanced off his glove and squirted all the way to the wall, allowing Uribe to score and Ellis to cruise into second.
"It's just a play I didn't make," Gattis said, noting that he pursued the ball more aggressively than normal with a runner in scoring position.
Atonement came quickly for Gattis, who singled to lead off the bottom of the second against Kershaw. But moments later, Yasiel Puig caught him wandering off first base on Chris Johnson's popup to right-center, easily doubling Gattis off the bag. Gattis said he thought Puig was lifting his glove in an effort to freeze Gattis on the basepaths, not believing he had a chance at the play.
"A lot of outfielders just kind of throw their glove up there like they're going to catch it when they're not," Gattis said. "I didn't think he was, so I took a hard step toward second. It was just a mistake."
Such goofs were hardly what Gattis envisioned for his first playoff experience, famously cracking the Majors this season following a four-year sabbatical from baseball, which included time operating ski lifts and searching for spiritual advisors.
Understanding Gattis' offensive potential, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez gambled by starting the rookie in left field, where he is a defensive liability. And although Gattis' misplays did not decide the game -- the Braves did next to nothing offensively against Kershaw -- they could eventually factor into Gonzalez's lineup decisions. Consider: The Dodgers will start right-hander Zack Greinke in Friday's Game 2 (6 p.m. ET on TBS). Gattis is a weaker hitter against right-handed pitchers. B.J. Upton or Jordan Schafer could create a tighter defensive seal in left.
But Gonzalez said he will stick with Gattis in Game 2, understanding the rookie's upside. For all his mistakes in Game 1, Gattis did offer a single, two walks, a hard-hit grounder that Hanley Ramirez snared and a fine running catch of Ramirez's own hard-hit ball in the ninth.
In his first playoff game, Gattis made his share of contributions, even if the miscues are what will stick with him.
"Guys were excited, and rightfully so," Gonzalez said. "It was a big game. I had to check myself a little bit in the dugout, and I can imagine those guys playing in front of a good crowd against a National League West champion. Hopefully, we come out tomorrow and play a little bit better baseball, a little calmed down, and it might give us a good opportunity to win the game."