Atlanta center fielder Michael Harris II has regained the offensive punch that helped him earn National League Rookie of the Year honors a year ago, and the catalyst was a pep talk from a guy who started the season in a dismal slump of his own.
The Braves swept a doubleheader on Wednesday to take two of three in Detroit, and they have won nine of their past 11. The Rockies are coming off a 6-3 loss in Boston that snapped their three-game winning streak. This will be the first meeting of the year between Atlanta and Colorado
Harris' early struggles began when he sustained a lower back injury that landed him on the injured list in April and cost him 19 games. He was hitting as low as .163 through May 22 when teammate Marcell Ozuna pulled him to the side and imparted words of support.
"He told me, 'Hey, you're the best center fielder in the league -- not even the National League, in all MLB. So, you've got to trust yourself,'" Harris said. "'Since now, your season starts. Don't worry about anything in the past, earlier this season. Forget about everything and start the season now.'"
Harris took the inspiration and ran with it. He went 4-for-8 in the Wednesday doubleheader and raised his average to .221. In his past eight games, Harris is batting .452 (14-for-31) with three homers and eight RBIs.
The pitching matchup for the series opener features Colorado left-hander Kyle Freeland (4-7, 3.91 ERA) and Atlanta rookie right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver (0-0, 0.00).
Freeland will be making his 15th start of the season, his seventh on the road. He did not receive a decision on Saturday in his latest outing despite allowing only one run in five innings during the Rockies' 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres
"Kyle has been around, so he knows there are going to be games like that where you get locked in a duel with the other pitching staff," Colorado manager Bud Black said. "It's part of the game as you play a six-month season. He knows he pitched well."
Freeland has been the victim of poor run support. He has received an average of 3.08 runs this season, the fifth lowest in the majors. The Rockies have provided only three runs in support over the past five starts
Freeland has made six career starts against the Braves, going 1-2 with a 4.75 ERA. He is 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts at Atlanta, but he hasn't pitched there since 2018
Smith-Shawver made his first major league start on Friday against the Washington Nationals. He pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs, both unearned, on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Smith-Shawver became the youngest Braves starter (20 years, 201 days) to throw at least five innings since Steve Avery in 1990
Colorado third baseman Ryan McMahon, who had two hits on Wednesday, has reached base in 20 of his past 22 games. He has 10 multi-hit games since May 25.
The Braves may be without reliable middle reliever Jesse Chavez, who was hit in the left shin by a line drive on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but he will be re-evaluated on Thursday
--Field Level Media