Johnson gets night off amid struggles
Leadoff man searching for spark, consistency in top spot
ATLANTA -- Dating back to his Minor League days, Kelly Johnson has always recognized the fact that he's a streaky hitter. While this trait might follow him throughout his career, his recent inconsistencies have further weakened an injury-depleted Braves lineup.
With Johnson recording just four hits over 39 at-bats in the past 11 games, Atlanta has been limited to two runs or fewer seven times. During this span, the club has received a .111 batting average, .200 on-base percentage and a .133 slugging percentage from the top spot of its lineup.
Looking to provide a spark during Tuesday night's game against the Cardinals, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to rest Johnson in favor of Omar Infante, who batted leadoff and played second base.
Johnson's recent struggles have been magnified by the fact that both Brian McCann and Garret Anderson are on the disabled list. But with this in mind, it's seemingly more important for the 27-year-old second baseman to find some of the consistency that has been absent throughout his career.
"We need Kelly to get it going, regardless of who is in the lineup," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said.
The closest thing Atlanta has to a prototypical leadoff hitter is Jordan Schafer, and the team would like the rookie center fielder to get better acquainted to the Major League level before burdening him with the extra pressure he might feel batting in the leadoff spot.
Thus, the Braves opted to begin a second consecutive season with Johnson at the top of their lineup. Last year, the infielder was essentially removed from this role in May. Up until that point, he'd hit .263 with a .328 on-base percentage in 114 at-bats in the leadoff role.
In the 133 at-bats Johnson had while hitting sixth or seventh last year, he hit .294 and seemed more comfortable with the opportunity to be more aggressive in a position without the responsibility of forcing pitchers into deeper counts.
With this in mind, Johnson says that he has attempted to maintain an aggressive plate approach while hitting in the leadoff role this year. This is supported by the fact that the 3.64 pitches he's seen per plate appearance rank 13th among all qualified National League second basemen.
"I'm not up there trying to change anything," Johnson said. "I'm not up there trying to take any extra pitches or anything. I can't see how it would be a problem to have [Yunel] Escobar and Chipper [Jones] hitting behind you. You're going to get some good pitches to hit."
Since hitting .333 with a .412 on-base percentage in his first eight games this year, Johnson hasn't been able to take advantage of the good pitches that he's seen. During an 0-for-3 performance Monday night, Pendleton noticed that his second baseman was seemingly jumping toward the ball, causing him to create an unbalanced, longer swing.
"He's jumpy and fidgety at the plate right now," Pendleton said. "It's like he's anxious to get done with one swing."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.