Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis (24) hits a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies this week at Turner Field. (Photo: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
With Brian McCann likely out until the beginning of May, fill-in catcher Evan Gattis will have some time to convince the Braves that he belongs in the majors. So far, he’s proving to be more than just a feel-good story.
Gattis, who had played in just 49 games above Class A, became the seventh Atlanta player to hit a home run in his first game, connecting during his second at-bat against Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old also showed that he could handle himself behind the plate despite limited experience, and he will share playing time with veteran Gerald Laird until McCann returns from shoulder surgery.
After that, the Braves will have to make a decision. But they may decide to keep the right-handed hitter as a versatile bench piece. He can play left field and first base as well as catch.
Gattis earned a spot on the Opening Day roster by hitting .368 with five doubles, six homers and 16 RBI in 57 at-bats during spring training. Then came the dramatic debut.
“I couldn’t have planned it,” said Gattis, who hit his home run while his father was being interviewed on TV. “It just seems more real now. I’m more comfortable. After catching a game, it’s still baseball. You’re in this atmosphere and it’s been great.
“I was a little emotional after the game. I got the lineup and my home run ball back. It’s just too cool.”
Gattis spent four years away from baseball after high school, spending time in drug rehab and traveling the country in search of direction in his life.
Eventually, he decided to give baseball another try and the Braves drafted him out of a small Texas college in 2010. He has had an amazing ride since.
“Did you guys think anything else was going to happen?” manager Fredi Gonzalez about Gattis’ storybook debut. “It didn’t surprise me one bit. He did a nice job catching, too.”
THE GAME: Lee handcuffs Braves
Cliff Lee limited the Braves to two hits and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base as the Phillies salvaged the finale of the season-opening three-game series with a 2-0 victory on a cold and wet Thursday night.
“He was darn good in a tough night to pitch in,” Gonzalez said. “He sure made it look pretty easy.”
The Braves had slugged six homers and scored 16 runs in winning the first two games. But Lee completely handcuffed them, striking out eight and walking none in eight innings.
The Phillies snapped a streak of 23 victories by the Braves in regular-season games started by Kris Medlen.
Medlen was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 outings after moving into the rotation last year and the Braves hadn’t lost a regular-season game that he had started since 2010. He missed most of the 2011 season because of Tommy John elbow surgery.
Medlen allowed six hits, walked four and struck out three in his five innings, needing 92 pitches.
“His delivery got better as the game went on,” Gonzalez said. “He competed his butt off and kept us in the game.”
The Braves’ Mike Minor and the Chicago Cubs’ Scott Feldman, two pitchers with something to prove, will oppose each other Friday in the opener of a three-game series.
Minor will attempt to build off last year’s breakout second half and continue his success against Chicago, while Feldman will be making his first start for the Cubs after signing in the offseason.
Minor, who has won all four of his starts against the Cubs, struggled the first three months last year, going 4-6 with a 6.14 ERA in 15 starts. But the former first-round draft choice turned it around to go 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA in his final 15 outings. He was 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in September to finish 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA.
Minor was up and down this spring, going 2-1 with a 6.26 ERA in six starts.
The Cubs hope Feldman can resemble the pitcher who went 17-8 in 2009 for Texas. The right-hander was 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA for the Rangers last season and finished his eight years in Texas with a 39-44 record and 4.81 ERA.
Feldman won his only start against the Braves, allowing two runs in seven innings in 2008. This will be his first appearance at Turner Field.
Feldman had a poor spring, going 0-3 with an 11.25 ERA in six appearances.
STREAK: Lost one.
--RHP Julio Teheran will start Saturday’s middle game of the series against the Chicago Cubs as manager Fredi Gonzalez gives Opening Game starter Tim Hudson an extra day of rest before pitching Sunday. “He’s pitched so well, you don’t want to skip him,” Gonzalez said of the rookie. Teheran, 22, was 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA in six spring starts, striking out 35 and allowing just seven hits in 26 innings.
--CF B.J. Upton, who signed a five-year deal worth $75.2 million, had struck out six straight times before bouncing out in his second at-bat against Cliff Lee in Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Phillies. But he struck out in his final plate appearance and is 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts as a Brave. He fanned in his last at-bat in the opener on Monday, all four times on Wednesday and his first and last times at the plate in the series finale.
--RF Jason Heyward received his Rawlings Gold Glove in a pregame ceremony and made a diving catch in the sixth inning Thursday to rob the Phillies’ Ben Revere of extra bases. It is the 23-year-old’s first Gold Glove. Heyward was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, though, and was 2-for-11 with a home run in the opening series.
--C Brian McCann, coming back from surgery on his right shoulder, returned to Florida on Thursday and will get in his swings as a designated hitter in extended spring training games. He won’t be allowed to run the bases and catch in a game until at least April 16 -- six months out after the surgery. McCann will need a minor-league rehab assignment after being cleared and isn’t expected to join the Braves until late April or early May. He took batting practice and caught bullpen sessions while in Atlanta for the first two games of the opening series with Philadelphia.
--SS Paul Janish is expected to be cleared around April 8 to go on a minor-league rehab assignment. He had surgery on his left shoulder last October and, like C Brian McCann, had to wait six months to be cleared for contact. But Janish doesn’t have to worry about regaining strength in his throwing arm. After he finishes a minor-league rehab, he may have trouble getting back on the Atlanta active roster. He has a minor-league option remaining and INF Ramiro Pena does not.
--LHP Jonny Venters (left elbow sprain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27. He will be shut down for four weeks and isn’t expected to pitch again until late May or early June. He had to leave a spring game against the Tigers on March 26, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection from Dr. James Andrews on April 2 after an MRI was inconclusive.
--C Brian McCann (right shoulder surgery in October 2012) had a frayed labrum repaired and a cyst removed. He went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He returned to Florida on April 4 and will get in his swings as a designated hitter in extended spring training games. McCann will need a minor-league rehab assignment after being cleared and isn’t expected to join the Braves until late April or early May. He took batting practice and caught bullpen sessions while in Atlanta for the first two games of the opening series with Philadelphia.
--RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He hopes to be ready to return to the rotation by late June. He has had no setbacks, and he likely will begin a minor league rehab in late May.
--SS Paul Janish (left shoulder surgery in October 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He will begin a minor league rehab around April 8. He didn’t get into any spring game action only because he wasn’t allowed to dive.
RHP Tim Hudson
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Kris Medlen
LHP Mike Minor
RHP Julio Teheran
RHP Craig Kimbrel (closer)
LHP Eric O’Flaherty
RHP Jordan Walden
LHP Luis Avilan
RHP Cory Gearrin
RHP Cristhian Martinez
RHP Anthony Vavaro
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
SS Andrelton Simmons
3B Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco
INF Ramiro Pena
LF Justin Upton
CF B.J. Upton
RF Jason Heyward
OF Reed Johnson
OF Jordan Schafer