ATLANTA -- Andrelton Simmons has passed all of the necessary tests at the Minor League level and will now begin what the Braves hope is a long reign as their starting shortstop.
After Wednesday night's 10-7 win over the Cardinals, the Braves announced that they will purchase Simmons' contract from Double-A Mississippi and option Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A Gwinnett. The move is one that should significantly enhance the club's defense at the position.
"He has special talents there," Braves general manager Frank Wren said when asked about Simmons' defensive ability.
Simmons will join the Braves in Washington for the start of a three-game series against the Nationals on Friday. Backup Jack Wilson will be around to help the young shortstop as he is introduced to the Major League level.
Regarded by many scouts as the best defensive shortstop at the Minor League level, Simmons surprised many by winning the Carolina League batting title while playing for Class A Lynchburg last year. As he hit .292 with three home runs and a .794 OPS in 43 games with Double-A Mississippi this year, Simmons continued to minimize some of the doubts about his offensive capabilities.
"He's played extremely well at Double-A," Wren said. "He's done everything and more than we would expect. He's swinging the bat well. He's got more walks than strikeouts. His discipline is improving. The reports have been glowing.
"Once the reports came in so glowingly that he was handling that level so well, we started giving it some thought as to when would be the right time. We continued to call this week and everybody that [assistant general manager Bruce Manno] talked to in player development said, 'He's ready.' He's ready to help us."
As they both experienced their first big league Spring Training this year, Simmons dazzled with his glove and Pastornicky provided reason for some members of the organization to doubt he was capable of being a Major League shortstop.
Still, the club seemed to make the right decision to begin the year with Pastornicky as the starting shortstop and provide Simmons a chance to get a couple more months of development at the Minor League level. The 22-year-old shortstop from Curacao had totaled 839 plate appearances at the professional level before this year.
"He was putting a lot of pressure on himself and scuffling in Spring Training," Wren said. "He needed to go down and settle in. He did an excellent job at doing that. He went down and performed even better than he did last year at A ball, which was tremendous."
Pastornicky entered this season amid the pressure that surrounded his Major League debut and preparation to be Atlanta's starting shortstop. He batted .248 with a .605 OPS while primarily handling the challenge of batting eighth in a National League lineup. But the decision to send him to the Minors was based on his defense.
"We saw a lot of improvement in Spring Training," Wren said. "We saw a lot of areas where we felt like he stepped up. It just felt like right now we needed a little more. There are some areas we feel like he can improve. We feel like he has a chance to be a real good Major League player. But right now, we feel like he needs more work."
Some scouts have opined that Pastornicky's long-term future at the Major League level will be as a utility player or second baseman. His offensive capabilities should provide the 22-year-old rookie a chance to have an extended career at the big league level.
"It's disappointing," Pastornicky said. "I haven't played my best defensively. It's been kind of a grind. Even in Spring Training, I wasn't where I wanted to be defensively. It's kind of tough. Once you get that knock on you that you're a bad defensive player, it doesn't really matter what you do out there. You're always going to have that against you."
Sporting new glasses, Freeman stars in return
ATLANTA -- Excited to try the new prescription sports glasses that had just arrived, Freddie Freeman arrived at Turner Field early Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to the batting cage to take swings while wearing dress shorts and a collared shirt.
After experiencing no problem with the glasses, a jubilant Freeman made his way toward Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez's office to deliver the encouraging update. Things got even better when the young first baseman had no trouble taking swings outside and was placed back in Wednesday's lineup to make his first start since Friday.
It did not take Freeman long to make his presence known as he homered in his first at-bat against Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse. The first-inning solo shot to dead center was his eighth home run of the season.
"I was surprised about how I haven't played in a few days and I was able to have a swing like that," Freeman said. "I wasn't really worried about the glasses I knew they worked."
He added a bloop RBI double in the third and finished the night 3-for-5 with three RBIs in a 10-7 victory.
Freeman has battled blurred vision since winning the National League Player of the Week Award for the second time in three weeks earlier this month. He began having a problem with dry eyes while playing in Colorado and found little relief while utilizing different prescription eye drops and a plethora of different contact lenses over the past three weeks.
The inability to create tears led to two scratched corneas and constant frustration as he was unable to find a solution to the problem. Making matters worse is that he was hitting .298 with six homers and a .864 OPS when the Braves left Colorado. In the 16 games that followed, he hit .150 with one home run and a .521 OPS.
Finally, Freeman ordered prescription sports glasses from both Oakley and Under Armour late last week, just before the start of a holiday weekend. Oakley completed construction of their glasses on Tuesday and shipped them overnight to Turner Field. His sponsor, Under Armour, will provide two more sets of glasses in Washington on Friday.
"I'm sure Under Armour is going to feel comfortable, too," Freeman said. "If they feel the same, I kind of have to wear Under Armour. But if the Under Armours do not wrap around, I've got to go with these and I'm sure they'll understand."
With contact lenses providing constant irritation, Freeman plans to wear the glasses both at and away from the field for the remainder of the year.
"I've been getting some good feedback from my teammates and I look good," Freeman said. "I don't know if they're just trying to blow my head up. But I don't care what they look like. I can see and that is all that matters."
Boscan to stay until Ross is ready to catch
ATLANTA -- Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves plan to keep three catchers until backup David Ross returns to full health, likely before their three-game series in Miami beginning Tuesday.
Ross strained his right groin on a check swing Friday. The injury, combined with catcher Brian McCann's bout with the flu last week, forced the Braves to call up J.C. Boscan from Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday to be the team's third catcher. Atlanta then sent reliever Kris Medlen to Triple-A on Tuesday with the purpose of stretching him out to become a starter, replacing him on the roster with outfielder Jose Costanza.
The moves mean the Braves are now short in the bullpen. But thanks to off-days Thursday and Monday, Gonzalez said he is comfortable using starter Randall Delgado out of the bullpen this weekend against the Nationals in Washington.
"He can help us in the bullpen if we get short," Gonzalez said. "Delgado can help us in that weekend series in D.C."
Ross said his groin is feeling better, but he hasn't run at full speed. Once that happens, he said, he would be able to play.
"I caught [Tuesday] in the bullpen," Ross said. "I could catch if I had to. Running is the thing."
Once Ross is ready, Gonzalez said the Braves would call up a reliever. Right-hander Cory Gearrin would likely be the leading candidate. Entering Wednesday, he has 35 strikeouts and has allowed just three runs in 29 2/3 innings in Gwinnett and twice spent time with the Braves last year.
Fredi encouraged by Venters' progress
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has lined up his late-inning relievers as Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel for more than a year.
But with Venters struggling of late, Gonzalez changed the order in the Braves' 5-4 victory against the Cardinals on Tuesday. He used Venters in the seventh inning and O'Flaherty in the eighth before Kimbrel closed out his 14th save.
Venters gave up one run on three hits in his inning. It was the third time in his last four appearances that he gave up at least one run. But after giving up three home runs in eight innings since May 11, two of the hits Venters allowed Tuesday were ground balls up the middle. Gonzalez said the ground balls were encouraging.
"I told Jonny when he came out 'We're getting ground balls which we weren't getting before,'" Gonzalez said. "Now we just need to put an infielder in front of them."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Teddy Cahill is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.