ATLANTA — After two years of waiting, the Atlanta Braves began a new chapter in franchise history by moving into a new home on Friday. While they have added countless shiny things in and around SunTrust Park, the club hopes it has already installed one permanent fixture in the lineup.
Rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson was promoted from Double-A last August and embarks on his first full season in the big leagues. As the team faltered on a long road trip to open the season, Swanson found hits few and far between in the early going. He was not alone.
“It was tough,” said Swanson. “I mean you really think about the pitchers we were facing and some of the travel accommodations. We were getting in late and having to play early games. It was a tough start to the year, but we were in every game”
Indeed, the Braves had their chances. They dropped a pair of one-run games in Pittsburgh, which proved to be the difference in a Pirates’ sweep and denied Atlanta a chance to come home off a .500 road trip. Instead, the team stumbled to a 2-6 start.
“When you look at wins and losses, that doesn’t really sum it up,” Swanson said of the eight-game swing through three cities. “There were plenty of games where we were one play away from winning a game, or we were one swing of the bat away from being back in a game or tying the game up or taking a lead. So, we feel confident with where we’re at and warm weather definitely helps us get into that routine a little bit.”
The team is finally home and ready to discover if its new park will be more hitter-friendly than Turner Field. Swanson, who grew up in nearby Marietta, could certainly use a little home cooking right now.
While he has hit safely in six of the team’s first nine contests, Swanson has yet to enjoy a multi-hit game and finds himself batting just .150 over 40 plate appearances. His ground ball rate has fallen, while his fly ball rate has risen sharply from his 2016 totals. Swanson’s strikeout percentage remains on par with what it was last season (23%), but his walk rate (4.8%) is half what it was in 2016. While all of this could be dismissed as a small sample size, which it most certainly is, these numbers are worth monitoring to assess what could be new trends.
Casting all of those rate-based stats aside, Swanson hasn’t had much luck as defined by his batting average on balls put in play. After posting a healthy .383 BABIP in his 129 at-bats last year, it’s a paltry .172 so far this year. That will begin to rise and normalize as he continues to gain plate appearances and make regular contact. That’s just something else to keep in mind about the course corrections that typically occur during a 162 game season. Sometimes it’s actually better to be lucky than good.
Despite the struggles, Swanson remains steadfast in his everyday routine and the work that comes with it to get him where he needs to be. He maintains a cool, confident demeanor as he goes about his daily activities.
“I actually feel really good and I’m actually in a really good place mentally,” said Swanson said of his approach at the plate. “It’s just baseball right now and I’m just fine-tuning some things. Also, I’m just trying to make sure I’m doing what I do best and that’s to go up there with a confident mindset each time. [Results] haven’t happened yet, but I definitely have faith it’s going to.”
Both Swanson and Ender Inciarte were having some trouble setting the table over the first half dozen games. To make matters worse, the team had to place red-hot clean-up man Matt Kemp on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Inciarte has heated up of late and Kemp is nearing a return. Add those developments to a productive Freddie Freeman and you may see the Atlanta lineup start clicking next week.
As for the new ballpark, Swanson is already enjoying how close it is to the place he grew up and the people he’s known for most of his life. With a more intimate fan experience trumpeted as an integral part of the design of SunTrust Park, Swanson believes it will allow the fans to help fuel the team on a daily basis.
“This place is great,” he said. “Just having the support of the city, you can feel the vibe. That’s the thing that I feel like I’ve said the most, but it’s so true. You just feel the atmosphere and the vibe that’s going on. It’s pretty neat.”
Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can hear his show, “Around The Big Leagues” on Saturday mornings from 9-11 a.m. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.