Tyler Pastornicky points to one at-bat this spring when it all started to click.
On March 20, the Braves were playing the Tigers. On the mound: Reigning American League Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander.
Pastornicky, a rookie embroiled in a battle with fellow rookie Andrelton Simmons for the Braves starting shortstop job, had struggled for the first two weeks of spring training. He had been anointed as the starter before the team reported to Florida, but Pastornicky was beginning to play his way out of the job.
It was looking like he might lose out to Simmons, meaning Pastornicky would start the season in the minors.
So, he walked to the plate in the third inning that day, wondering if he could turn it around. Pastornicky knew it wouldnt be easy against Verlander, but he promptly singled to right, a hit that sent his confidence and comfort level escalating.
He singled again the next day, and a day after that, Pastornicky went 4-for-5, sending a signal to the Braves that he, not Simmons, was the man for the job.
I was able to settle down. Ever since then, Ive been swinging the bat good, Pastornicky said last week. Ive had quality at-bats. Ive been making all the plays. That was a big turning point.
His strong start has helped alleviate any more concerns that he might not be ready for the majors. The 22-year-old has been one of the highlights of the Braves poor start.
His big moments:
He walked, tripled and helped turn a double play in his first big-league game with his parents watching from the stands at Citi Field.
He singled in a run against the Astros on Monday.
He hit his first career home run on Tuesday to help the Braves earn their first win of the season.
Overall, Pastornicky is 3-for-12 (.250) with a home run, a triple, two RBIs, two walks and a .357 on-base percentage in four games. He has committed an error, but hes looked strong in the field, even though his throws have lacked a little accuracy.
Its life changing, playing in the big leagues instead of Triple-A, second baseman Dan Uggla said. Theres a lot of benefits that come with it, but theres a lot more stress that comes with it, too. (Pastornicky) finally got all of that aside, and hes like, Im good to go. Now Im going to start playing. It took him a couple of weeks to shake it, but now hes ready.
Expect Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to continue to replace Pastornicky with veteran Jack Wilson on occasion, like he did on Sunday and Wednesday. Gonzalez wants Pastornicky to sit and learn from time-to-time, which means spending hours watching video with Braves coaches, who will work with him on his hitting and fielding throughout this season.
We are teaching here still with him, Gonzalez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And shortstop is such a position where youre doing something, even if youre not involved. Youre the leader of that infield.
Pastornickys confidence has continued to soar, thanks to his strong start. He won the job because of bat, which has shined through the seasons first two series. Simmons is considered as the better fielder, but he had not played above Single-A before this spring and is now at Double-A Mississippi.
I pride myself on hitting the ball hard, Pastornicky said. Im not a super power guy. Ill hit some doubles and some triples. I want to have good quality at-bats, draw some walks, hit line drives and move guys over. If I need to bunt, Ill do that here and there. I have some speed, so Id like to steal some bases and take extra bases. Whatever the team needs, I want to do.