Fredi on Freddie: Rookie in Gold Glove race
Braves skipper thinks Freeman should be top candidate for award
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is starting to become a broken record when he talks about first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Gonzalez continued his praise for the 21-year-old rookie on Wednesday when he said Freeman should be in the race for a Gold Glove by season's end.
Freeman has been flashing the leather of late, including two potential game-saving snags that lined down the first-base line in Tuesday's 19-inning win over the Pirates. Gonzalez compared Freeman to a younger Derrek Lee, who he said is one of the best he's ever seen.
"He's the best I've ever seen, Derrek Lee, at first base and around the bag," Gonzalez said. "The best. [Albert] Pujols has won Gold Gloves, and Todd Helton has won Gold Gloves, but for me, he is the best. By me just comparing [Freeman] to him says how much I like him."
Freeman will likely find himself in the thick of the National League Rookie of the Year chase at the end of the season. He entered Thursday second among NL rookies in batting average (.287), homers (15), RBIs (51), multi-hit games (27) and runs (47) -- then added a three-hit game in Friday's 5-2 loss to the Bucs.
"He changes his approach when he gets two strikes," Gonzalez said. "He really puts his nose in there, and he's looking to make contact. You can see that as soon as he gets two strikes. You can even see him choke up a little bit. You don't see that very often anymore."
Freeman extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a first-inning single on Thursday, and earlier this season, he became the first Braves rookie since Hank Aaron to reach 50 RBIs before July 18.
"He's 21. What is he, a junior in college?" Gonzalez said. "And he's playing with men for the most part. You don't start getting your man muscles, your mature muscles, until you starting getting to 23, 24, 25 years old. I think you'll see a lot more from him."
Varvaro called up, hurls two innings in finale
ATLANTA -- The taxed Braves bullpen needs some help. Playing two consecutive games that go a total of 29 innings will do that.
"We're kind of getting into some danger zones," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Here's August [coming up], and we need to make sure we don't put anybody in situations where they could get hurt."
The Braves added some insurance to their tiring bullpen Thursday by calling up right-hander Anthony Varvaro from Triple-A, and optioning Wilkin Ramirez back to Gwinnett.
Varvaro has the capability to pitch multiple innings for Atlanta, and Gonzalez needed him to do just that. The right-hander contributed two innings of hitless baseball in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Pirates, walked three and struck out four in relief of Derek Lowe.
By optioning Ramirez, the Braves only had two true position players -- Brooks Conrad and Julio Lugo -- on their bench. The other two were the ailing Chipper Jones and backup catcher J.C. Boscan. But it was a move the Braves felt they needed to make in order to add some much-needed depth to the relief corps.
"We've got a couple guys out there on fumes," Gonzalez said. "We just needed some coverage -- just in case."
Varvaro was claimed off waivers in the offseason from the Mariners, with whom he appeared in four games last September, going 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA. He was 2-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 50 2/3 innings for Gwinnett.
The skipper said that he would like to give some days off to Scott Linebrink and Jonny Venters, in particular.
Linebrink had pitched in six of the Braves' last seven games, including each of the previous four. He picked up the win on Wednesday with a scoreless 10th inning.
Gonzalez said he would like to give the reliable Venters Thursday night off, and possibly even Friday if the series opener with the Marlins allows it. The left-hander, who didn't pitch Wednesday, had thrown in seven of Atlanta's previous 11 games and appeared in five games in six days from July 17-22.
Venters -- who hasn't allowed a run in 11 1/3 innings -- leads all Major League relievers with 58 appearances.
"It's the end of July and he's got  appearances," Gonzalez said. "We probably need to take care of him a little bit."
The Braves' bullpen -- which allowed only two runs in 22 innings in the series with Pittsburgh -- has gotten close to needing some help from the starting rotation. Lowe would have entered Tuesday's 19-inning marathon had it continued, while Brandon Beachy was down in the bullpen Wednesday.
"Just in case," Gonzalez said. "We were really, really close to using him."
Chipper to continue pinch-hitting in interim
ATLANTA -- Braves third baseman Chipper Jones will continue to serve in a pinch-hit role over the next several days as he recovers from a strained right quadriceps.
"Probably a couple more days that way, and see how that helps him out," said manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Jones has pinch-hit in each of the Braves' last two games with the Pirates, grounding out to shortstop both times.
"The first night, he really surprised me that he ran that well going straight," Gonzalez said. "But the biggest thing is side-to-side [and] reacting. You really can't control that as a third baseman."
Gonzalez was asked if he had the urge to put Jones in Thursday's lineup, seeing as how it was his bobblehead night at Turner Field.
"I'll let him take out the lineup card," Gonzalez said.
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.