Braves' Freeman says ailing right wrist is finally pain-free
ATLANTA (AP) Freddie Freeman's slow-healing right wrist finally is pain-free, allowing the Braves first baseman to take swings on back-to-back days this week for the first time this offseason.
Freeman said at the Braves' FanFest on Saturday the wrist never fully recovered last season after he spent five weeks on the disabled list in June and July. He said a turning point came when he had an injection in the wrist on Dec. 20.
''It was a tough offseason, the first couple months to try to get healthy, but I am 100 percent healthy now,'' Freeman said.
He said taking swings two straights days was a big step.
''Everything felt good, so I am on the right path to being 100 percent ready to go, full bore, for the first day of spring training,'' Freeman said.
''It took seven months for all the pain to go away,'' he added. ''I'm really happy it did.''
The Braves called the injury a contusion. Freeman also spent two weeks on the DL with a right oblique injury, only adding to his frustrations.
Freeman being healthy is crucial for the rebuilding Braves, who have too few established bats in the middle of their lineup. He says he hit off the tee and hit underhand tosses without pain this week.
''He's kind of graduating to batting practice, but he's got a big smile on his face,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ''He feels great.''
Freeman is Atlanta's only remaining starting position player from its last NL East champion team in 2013. He hit a career-best .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs on that team that won 96 games.
The Braves fell to fourth in the East in 2015, four games above last-place Philadelphia.
The Braves' commitment to youth continued with more dramatic moves this offseason. The team traded Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons and right-hander Shelby Miller. This came after Atlanta unloaded Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Melvin Upton before the 2015 season.
The underpowered Atlanta offense finished last in the majors in homers as the Braves won only 67 games, their low since 1990.
General manager John Coppolella has said Freeman, 26, won't be traded. Despite the injuries, Freeman hit .276 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs last season. He was limited to 118 games, his low since making his debut with Atlanta in 2010.
Gonzalez is counting on improved production from Hector Olivera, the Cuban who is moving from third base to left field for his first full season. Gonzalez said center fielder Ender Inciarte, obtained from Arizona as part of the package for Miller, can help the offense as a true leadoff hitter.
Gonzalez said Inciarte, shortstop Erick Aybar and Freeman could be his first three hitters. ''Not that I've been making lineups, right?'' Gonzalez said with a grin.
The plan is to rebuild around pitching, but it's not known how fast such prospects as Tyrell Jenkins, Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair will be ready to join Julio Teheran and 2015 rookie Matt Wisler in the rotation. Veteran right-hander Bud Norris signed a one-year deal as a free agent to help provide a bridge to the group of young starters that also includes Lucas Sims, Chris Ellis and John Gant.
''We have five or six starting pitchers who are really close,'' Coppolella said.
In a surprise, Coppolella said the Braves ''were in on'' the bidding for free-agent outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. He said the team has ''a lot of room'' in its budget to add a player.
''We just haven't found good values,'' Coppolella said.
Freeman, entering the third year of an 8-year, $135 million deal, said he is ''really excited'' about the team's direction.
''When I came up with the Braves we were winning and either in the playoffs or a game away every year,'' he said. ''Then in 2014 we started going in the wrong direction. That's going to make coming back up even sweeter.''