WASHINGTON -- The Braves won nine of their first 10 games and scored at least six runs six times during that span. But manager Fredi Gonzalez has continued to toy with the construction of his lineup with the hope his offense will start to show its great potential.
Less than 24 hours after hitting the biggest home run of his career, Ramiro Pena found himself starting at shortstop for Saturday afternoon's game against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. Because Strasburg has been dominant against right-handed hitters throughout his career, Gonzalez opted to play the switch-hitting Pena in favor of Andrelton Simmons.
"We're not hitting on all cylinders right now," Gonzalez said. "So we've got to try to do something to get them going. It's good that you have that kind of bench that you can do that."
The .254 batting average the Braves carried into Saturday was a product of the early struggles endured by Simmons (.206), Dan Uggla (.182), Jason Heyward (.097) and B.J. Upton (.091). The clubs offensive success has been aided by a .446 slugging percentage and 17 homers, nine of which have come off the bats of Evan Gattis and Justin Upton.
Pena made his first contribution to the home run tally with the game-winning two-run shot he hit off Craig Stammen in the 10th inning of Friday night's comeback win over the Nationals. The versatile utility infielder also contributed a key bunt single in the two-run ninth inning.
After spending the past four years as a backup infielder with the Yankees, Pena has already realized how many more opportunities he has to play in the National League. He entered Saturday with five hits in 14 at-bats. During his two previous seasons combined at the big league level, he recorded five hits in just 44 at-bats.
"I think it's way more than I thought it would be," Pena said. "I signed as a utility player. I never thought I'd be getting this many [at-bats] so far. I'm thankful to Fredi. He gives me the confidence and opportunity to play. So I just try to do my job."
Laird: Teheran 'stepped up' in start vs. Nationals
WASHINGTON -- Julio Teheran appeared to be heading for disaster when he allowed the Nationals six hits and four runs through the first two innings of Friday night's game. But by the time the Braves completed their 6-4, 10-inning win, it was apparent that Teheran played a vital role in the victory.
"That's the first thing I said when I got in [the clubhouse]," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "I told [Teheran] that was a big game for you to pitch tonight, and build off."
Time will tell if the start does prove to be a turning point for Teheran, who has made just six starts at the big league level. But he seemed to take a big step in the maturation process as he bounced back from his early struggles to limit the Nationals to two baserunners -- courtesy of two fifth-inning walks -- in the final four innings of his six-inning effort.
"There is no question that Gerald Laird got Julio Teheran through those last four innings," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who entered the season with the plan to have the veteran catcher behind the plate for each of the rookie pitcher's starts.
Teheran needed 44 pitches to complete the first two innings, and just 53 more pitches to complete his final four frames. The turnaround came once Laird went away from the 22-year-old pitcher's still-developing two-seam fastball, which was coming back over the middle of the plate when he was trying to throw it away from right-handed hitters and inside to left-handed hitters.
"We made an adjustment where we stayed on the inside part of the plate to righties and away to lefties," Laird said. "If we went away, we just went with four-seamers and sliders. That way, we had something going the other way, because that sinker had a tendency to come back."
Teheran has also experienced some recent inconsistencies with his changeup, a pitch with which he had success during his early Minor League days. But Laird has seen the young pitcher grow mentally through his first two starts this year.
"It could have got ugly real quick," Laird said of Friday's game. "He gave up two runs both of the first two innings. With young guys, that can be a lopsided game real quick and kill our bullpen. But the kid stepped up."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.