Avilan unable to sustain sensational stretch
Reliever allows run in three of past seven outings after dominating for nearly 3 months
ATLANTA -- As Braves left-handed reliever Luis Avilan proved to be nearly flawless over a three-month stretch, he continued to realize he was in a role that would inevitably humble him.
"My name is Luis Avilan," Avilan said. "My name is not Mariano Rivera or Craig Kimbrel. "
While not allowing an earned run and limiting opponents to a .191 on-base percentage in 35 appearances from May 24-Aug. 14, Avilan experienced a stretch similar to ones produced by Rivera and Kimbrel. But the Atlanta southpaw has been reintroduced to the mortal level while allowing a run in three of his past seven appearances.
"That's going to happen," Avilan said. "I can't be perfect all season long. It's a long season. If this is my time to give up some runs, I'll take it."
There is certainly reason to believe Avilan could be feeling some fatigue as he nears the end of his first full big league season. This is also the first year of his professional career that he has been solely used as a reliever. Consequently, he has been introduced to a daily grind that was unfamiliar during his days as a starting pitcher at the Minor League level.
But Avilan, who entered Friday with a team-high 63 appearances, feels he is physically prepared to remain strong through the end of October.
"I feel really strong," Avilan said. "My [velocity] is still the same. I've been feeling very good. My legs feel strong. I still feel like I can keep pitching for another two months without feeling tired."
Despite his recent hiccups, Avilan still ranks among the top six Major League relievers in ERA (1.44) and opponent's batting average (.168). His success has been a primary reason the Braves have been able to overcome the absences of Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, a pair of veteran left-handed relievers who underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
Avilan has been one of the game's most reliable relievers since he made his Major League debut just after last year's All-Star break. The 1.42 ERA he has compiled dating back to Aug. 1, 2012, ranks first among the 53 relievers who have made at least 80 appearances during that span.
Gattis sits, sent down on El Oso Blanco Night
ATLANTA -- After Evan Gattis made only a brief cameo on a promotional night named in his honor, the Braves optioned their wildly popular rookie to Triple-A Gwinnett following Friday night's 2-1 victory over the Marlins.
"We need to get him some at-bats," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's the only reason we're sending him down. We talked to him earlier today, and he's just not getting at-bats. I think we're going to use these next few days to get him eight, 12 at-bats, maybe even more. Whatever we can get him just to get him back to help us. That's the only reason, and he's on board with that."
Gattis will head to Charlotte for the last weekend of the Minor League season, and he is scheduled to play in Gwinnett's final three games before rejoining the Braves on Tuesday after rosters expand to a maximum of 40 players.
"I'm excited to get some continuous at-bats from one day to the next," Gattis said. "Optimistic and excited."
Gattis earned only eight starts in the month of August, and he made his first appearance in a week on Friday when he entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning with runners on second and third. With first base open, reliever A.J. Ramos issued an intentional walk in order to face Jordan Schafer, prompting a chorus of boos from the Turner Field crowd of 28,253, many of whom sported white T-shirts and foam bear claws bearing Gattis' ubiquitous nickname, "El Oso Blanco."
Weeks ago, when the Braves dubbed Friday night's series opener against the Marlins the first of two "El Oso Blanco Nights" to be held over the final month of the regular season in honor of Gattis, they may not have expected him to continue the torrid offensive pace he set over his first two months in the Majors, a run that sparked his meteoric rise in popularity and earned him National League Rookie of the Month honors for both April and May.
But Gattis, the 27-year-old backup catcher and left fielder with a remarkable origin story and a unique nickname, is mired in a prolonged slump at the plate that has left Gonzalez little choice but to slot hotter bats into his lineup at the expense of the fan favorite's playing time. Since the All-Star break, Gattis is batting .225 with an OPS of .566 and is mired in a season-longest drought of 74 plate appearances without a home run.
"We forget that he's a rookie," Gonzalez said before Friday's game. "The way he started, rookies don't start that way. Usually they start struggling and then they kind of catch up a little bit, maybe get sent down for a week or a month or so and then come back up and do well. But he started like man oh man, he couldn't do anything wrong. And then sometimes you forget because he's a little bit older than most rookies that he's a rookie and he's going to go through some of these things."
Gattis missed nearly a month of playing time with a strained oblique he suffered in mid-June, returning to action the day before the All-Star break when all three of Atlanta's starting outfielders went down with injuries in a span of two games. Like his manager, Gattis understood that rookie-year adversity was inevitable, even during that early-season stretch when he could seemingly do no wrong.
"I think whenever you first come up and nobody knows you, it's like Spring Training, you're No. 68 or whatever, so guys have to kind of find out," Gattis said before Friday's game. "It's a cat-and-mouse game, it goes back and forth, ups and downs, arounds, but it's still baseball, and it's been like this forever."
Gattis had several family members and his high school baseball coach in attendance on Friday, but with Marlins ace Jose Fernandez taking the mound, El Oso Blanco started on the bench. He was then called upon for the pinch-hitting opportunity in the seventh inning that sent the fans into a frenzy before Ramos and the Marlins revealed their intentions.
"It is a positive," Gonzalez said. "He hasn't played in a while, and he's not swinging the bat, and the only way to get him some at-bats is to get him down there."
• Despite being sidelined since July 29 with left Achilles tendinitis, Reed Johnson still ranks second in the Majors with 11 pinch-hit hits. Johnson has been able to take batting practice over the past two weeks. But he still has not reached a point where he can begin sprinting.
• Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt was named to the 2013 Southern League Postseason All-Star team. Bethancourt entered Friday hitting .280 with 12 home runs. The offensive improvement he has shown during the season's second half have strengthened his bid to replace free-agent-to-be Brian McCann as Atlanta's starting catcher as soon as next year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.