Braves hope newcomer Inciarte can boost team's runs total
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) If the Atlanta Braves are going to get out of the bottom of the National League scoring stats, they might have to start at the top of the batting order.
It's a big part of the reason they acquired Ender Inciarte from Arizona in December.
''If you look at our lineup, we really don't have that many options,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday after the team's first full-squad workout of spring training, ''but I think Inciarte gives us a really good option.''
That fits fine with Inciarte.
''I love it,'' he said. ''I like to play the small game. I like to run a lot and be able to bunt, be able to do different good things at the plate.''
The 25-year-old center fielder hit .303 in his second major league season, leading off in 101 of the 116 games he started. He didn't have much of an offseason after being informed of the five-player trade that sent pitcher Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks.
''I don't like to stop hitting,'' he said. ''I swing every single day when I'm in Venezuela, then in January I go to Tampa and do some workout preparation, physical stuff, to take care of my speed and reaction and come here 200 percent ready to go.''
Inciarte joins a team that scored only 573 runs in 2015, the fewest in the major leagues. His job, the way he sees it, will be to get on base.
''Hopefully this year my on-base percentage can be better,'' he said. ''It's not like last year (.338) was bad, but I feel like as a leadoff guy and a guy that wants to be on base, it's got to be better and that's what I'm going to work on in spring training games.''
Switch-hitting shortstop Erick Aybar, another winter trade acquisition, is another leadoff candidate. But Gonzalez intends to give Inciarte the first shot, at least against right-handed pitching.
''He puts the ball in play, he's got some speed, he hit .300,'' Gonzalez said. ''Just from playing against him, he seems like one of those guys who's always in the middle of something or starting something.''
Gonzalez was encouraged by the early swings of 32-year-old Nick Markakis and 35-year-old Nick Swisher. Markakis is returning from back surgery and Swisher had knee surgery.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is encouraged early in spring training.
''I'm sure there are people around who don't believe we're any good,'' the 39-year-old Pierzynski said, ''but at the end of the day all you can do is control yourself and your team. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It's not we came in this year and said, `Hey, we're the World Series favorites.' But we honestly believe we can compete every game and have a chance.''
NOTES: Gonzalez introduced Braves Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Bobby Cox to the team before the workout. ''We begged (Aaron) and begged him to come out,'' the manager said. ''To have him in the locker room is really a special treat for us.'' . . . Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, a friend of new Braves infielder Gordon Beckham, attended the workout. . . . The Braves will open their exhibition season Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles.