There are some baseball theorists who will argue that the importance of the leadoff hitter is overrated.
Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton is not one of them. And, at the end of the first month of the season, the ups and downs of the Braves' No. 1 hitter Kelly Johnson support him.
The notoriously streaky Johnson batted .333 in Atlanta's first eight games this year and the team got off to a 5-3 start. Then they went 4-7, scoring two or fewer runs seven times. In that stretch, Johnson batted .103 (4-for-39). Pendleton doesn't think that's a coincidence.
"I joke with [Johnson] that you're only as good as your leadoff hitter," he said. "But it's true. People say, 'The leadoff hitter only leads off the game once.' Well, a lot of times that at-bat sets the tone. It's important for the guy up top to get things going."
Manager Fredi Gonzalez must be suffering from vertigo. The Fish started off 11-1. Then they lost seven straight. Now they've won two in a row after a pair of come-from-behind wins against the Mets.
"I didn't think we were going to win again until the All-Star break," Gonzalez joked after Tuesday night's victory broke the streak.
Seriously, though, he thinks it will take a while longer to figure out how good they really are. "Sooner or later it's going to balance and we're going to find out where our needs are going to be," he said.
Having removed Joel Hanrahan from the closer's role, manager Manny Acta will now mix and match with Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez and, when he comes off the DL, Joe Beimel.
Even though it worked Wednesday night against the Phillies, that's a scary thought. Wells and Tavarez were still looking for jobs when spring training opened and ended up signing minor league deals with Washington.
During his pregame interview session before Monday night's game against Florida, manager Jerry Manuel was asked if he thought Citi Field's roomy outfield was getting into the heads of his hitters.
"I don't think so, because the opposition is hitting them out," he replied. "So everybody's got to say, 'Dang, we've got to be able to do that.' We've got pretty good hitters. Strong. If the opposing team was not hitting the ball that far, that might be an issue."
Retorted a New York wiseguy: "Yeah, but they're not facing your pitching."