Gattis now known as Braves' Monster Masher
Rookie catcher collecting clutch homers, including slam against Twins
ATLANTA -- It's a story that only now most baseball folks are discussing, which makes sense. It's not quite Fernandomania. And nobody ever would confuse what Evan Gattis has done as a 26-year-old rookie sensation for the Atlanta Braves to Mark Fidrych chatting with baseballs or to Mike Trout's otherworldly 2012 season.
Still, this is amazing. Actually, this is better than that, and not just because Gattis spent nearly four years out of baseball wandering from -- in no particular order -- a drug rehabilitation center to working as a parking valet to operating a ski lift to janitorial duties.
There are Gattis' slew of clutch home runs, including the grand slam that the right-handed slugger dropped over the right-field fence at Turner Field on Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins.
Said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to reporters, "That's the second time this year, I've seen a 3-0 [pitch] grand slam the opposite way for a right-handed hitter. [Miguel] Cabrera in Detroit and then [Gattis] here. We are not making any comparisons, by any means, but that's the sign of a good hitter where he [allows the ball to travel] and to have enough juice to hit it to the opposite field."
Yep, and that bases-loaded shot by Gattis to seal the Braves' 8-3 victory over the Twins was just the latest of his eyes-bulging moments. Said Gonzalez, "He spent three years living in a van. I don't think a baseball game is going to faze him."
Instead, Gattis does the fazing. With hands as hard as your average piece of steel, Gattis is a 6-foot-4, 230-pound lumberjack of a player who is a rarity by not wearing batting gloves.
He doesn't even take practice swings.
Gattis just swings, but don't get the wrong idea. Listen to future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, who continues to study nearly every aspect of his old teammates despite retiring after last season.
"I've gone down [to the Minors] on a couple of rehab assignments during the last couple of years, and I've gotten a chance to see Evan in three or four games or so, and he's gone deep at least five times that I was down there," Jones told me the other day. "Each time, I've come back and said to people, 'Keep your ears out for this guy. No. 1, the ball sounds different coming off his bat. No. 2, he has an idea what he's doing at the plate. He's got a plan. He can hit the ball from foul pole to foul pole.'
"That's what most impressive here about Evan -- to see how mature his baseball IQ is. I know he's 26, but he hasn't played baseball that long. He just looks like he's been around a while."
Neither the Los Angeles Dodgers nor the Twins would disagree. They were terrorized so much this week at Turner Field by Gattis during the Braves' pair of three-game sweeps of both teams that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, "We know Gattis is a monster."
He's a monster as the Braves' third-string catcher.
The day before Gattis sealed victory over the Twins with that grand slam, he used the imaginary fangs on his bat to rip a two-out, pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. The Braves eventually won.
Just like the Braves beat the Dodgers on Saturday, when Gattis sent the Braves from trailing 1-0 in the eighth to a lead they wouldn't relinquish after his two-run homer.
There's more. There was the go-ahead-for-good homer that Gattis hit against the Colorado Rockies in April. A few days before that, he slammed a two-run homer as a pinch-hitter in the eighth against the Pittsburgh Pirates to break a 4-4 tie along the way to a victory.
A few days before that, Gattis' two-run blast against the Washington Nationals provided the winning margin.
Then there was April 3, when Gattis hit his first Major League homer with his parents watching from the stands at Turner Field. That was just part of the story. His father was in the midst of a live interview during the Braves' telecast, which meant he was able to give his instant reaction.
The stuff of fairy tales. All of it.
So this is where Gattis stands overall with his first season in the Major Leagues nearing its two-month mark: .256 batting average, 10 homers and 27 RBIs. Entering Friday's action, he owned twice as many homers and 10 more RBIs than the next-closest rookie in each category.
This is the same Gattis who mostly sits behind perennial All-Star Brian McCann and veteran Gerald Laird at catcher. Plus, at times, when Gonzalez wants to make sure his "monster" is in the lineup, he inserts Gattis in left field or at first base.
You know, to the chagrin of pitchers.
"People keep asking me, 'Why do they keep throwing him fastballs? He's not going to do well with the breaking balls.'" Jones said. "Well, let me tell you something. The good hitters, they don't swing at the sliders off the plate, and they don't swing at curveballs in the dirt.
"He gets himself into predictable fastball situations, and then he does damage when he's in those situations."
Simple. Not that Eddie Perez is surprised by it all. The former Braves catcher, who now is the team's bullpen coach, joined Chipper years ago as one of Gattis' biggest supporters.
That's why Perez leaned against a wall inside the Turner Field home clubhouse, eased into a smile and said, "I told them. I kept telling them that they needed to bring this guy up. I kept telling them that his bat is just unbelievable."
The Braves believe Perez now.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.