Gonzalez failing at lineup construction

The Braves are struggling, and the manager is not helping the cause.

The Braves have lost four in a row. The 5-0 start is long gone. This team is now struggling, like most believed it would.

But the manager, Fredi Gonzalez, is making a grave mistake by his strategy with the starting lineup. Some believe lineup construction does not matter. I believe it does matter.

I think consistency can be important. I think young players need confidence and can't get it if they are in and out of the lineup, and up and down a lineup.

I think what Gonzalez is doing with the Atlanta lineup is idiotic.

As we approach Saturday's game with Philadelphia, we have our 17th different lineup made out by Gonzalez. It is game 17.

The fact that rookie Christian Bethancourt has, in effect, been replaced in the starting lineup this quickly in the season is ridiculous. A.J. Pierzynki will start his ninth game of the season Saturday at catcher, his fourth straight. Pierzynski still has skills. There is no doubt about that. He's hitting .400 through 33 plate appearances.

And yes, Bethancourt is hitting only .133. He has just four hits in 32 plate appearances. But I thought the Braves were giving the young catcher a chance? I thought he was the catcher of the future? And now he's being replaced after three weeks of the season?

Maybe the Braves want to trade Pierzynski, but how much value are they going to get for a 38-year-old catcher, regardless of how much he might hit? And he's only had 33 plate appearances, so it's not a huge amount of success that will get many other general managers on the phone.

If Gonzalez is playing Pierzynski over Bethancourt because he thinks that gives the Braves more of a chance to win (and yes, all managers would want that), then we know he's very worried about his job. This team was never going to contend, and making sure we set the stage for the future was part of the process. That does not include giving up on Bethanourt after a couple of weeks.

Why wasn't Jace Peterson given more time as the number two hitter? I know he's hitting only .179, but he's been moved around in the order and we weren't able to find out what kind of number two hitter he can be. That seemed to be the plan in spring training.

I know what Eric Young, Jr. is as a player, but it would be nice to see him left alone in that leadoff spot to see what he can do. Yes, he's hitting .174 and I don't expect him to be Rickey Henderson. But this moving him all over the order does not seem like an answer.

Gonzalez isn't using strict platoons. He's inconsistent in that and provides no real rhyme or reason for his decisions. It has backfired several times this week on him.

Why can't he just use one lineup for a while and see what happens with it? I know there are players on the team (Chris Johnson and Jonny Gomes at the top of the list) that might warrant a platoon. But give them a chance to show what they can do.

I would have liked to have seen this lineup tried for a while, just to see what it could have done.
Eric Young, Jr. - CF
Jace Peterson - 2B
Nick Markakis - RF
Freddie Freeman - 1B
Chris Johnson - 3B
Jonny Gomes - LF
Andrelton Simmons - SS
Christian Bethancourt - C

It might have failed, but it would have been interesting to see if it had been left alone if it could have been more effective than the musical chairs stuff we have seen in the first 17 games.

Sure, Young might not be good enough to stick in the lineup full-time. We knew that coming in. But give him a month to show us something. Sure, Peterson might not be an everyday player. But let's see. He's been jerked all around and in and out of the lineup.

Sure, Chris Johnson might never hit right-handed pitchers. It didn't stop Gonzalez from putting him in earlier this week against Mets' closer Familia, a right-handed pitcher. But the Braves are paying Johnson a lot of money, and they need to see if he can get back to what he was in 2013. If he can, they might trade him. But that can't happen when he's on the bench.

Even if Gonzalez wanted to have one lineup against left-handed pitchers and one for when the Braves face right-handed pitchers, that would be acceptable. At least he would have something that he could try for a while, and then if didn't work he could try something else. That's not what he's doing. He's just using a dart board and coming up with a lineup.

And now, a player that he said earlier in the week was the perfect number three hitter is leading off Saturday against the Phillies.

I would hope no one would be silly enough to throw this article up to me if the Braves go out and score 15 runs Saturday. First, they are playing the Phillies. This is a big-picture issue, and the manager is not doing this team any good by playing musical lineups on a nightly basis. There needs some consistency and the young players, the players that this season was supposed to be all about, need to be given a chance.

But we'll see. Gonzalez said he has had fun mixing and matching the lineup. One more loss and the Braves are under .500 and that's not much fun at all. He needs to settle on a lineup and leave it alone for a while and see if it works. If it doesn't (after some time), then try again. It might take this strategy on this team, since we know it might not be very good anyway. But this plan doesn't seem to be working much at all.




Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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