When the Atlanta Braves host the Tampa Bay Rays in the middle game of their three-game series Saturday night, outfielder Joc Pederson likely will be starting his first game for his new team.
In the wake of Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season-ending knee injury last weekend, the Braves acquired Pederson, 29, on Thursday, sending minor-league first baseman Bryce Ball to the Chicago Cubs — perhaps a sign of surrender from the struggling club on Chicago’s north side.
A veteran of seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pederson batted .230 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs in 73 games with the Cubs.
Pederson brings a strong recent postseason pedigree to the Braves, who are chasing their fourth consecutive National League East title.
In the Dodgers’ World Series-clinching run in 2020, the lefty-hitting Pederson batted .382 with two home runs in 16 games.
Pederson arrived at the start of Friday’s game and was called on to pinch hit with two outs and the tying run at second in the 10th inning.
However, Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks induced a groundout up the middle from Pederson on the first pitch to seal the win for the visitors.
Manager Brian Snitker said Pederson will be his everyday leadoff hitter, which could begin against Tampa Bay left-hander Josh Fleming (7-4, 3.26 ERA), who will make his first career appearance against the Braves — either as a starter or in a bulk-innings role in relief.
Atlanta’s president of baseball operations, Alex Anthopoulos, said Pederson hasn’t gotten hot yet this season but is the type of player, “If he gets hot, he can carry you.”
Anthopoulos added, “Our focus right now is as banged up as we’ve been, if we can add where it makes sense, we’ll certainly look to do it. I think any time we can strengthen the ballclub, we’re going to look to do it.”
Max Fried (6-5, 4.71) will look to turn around his efforts this month in his 15th start. Through two July outings, the left-hander is 1-1 with a bloated 8.10 ERA — allowing nine runs on 16 hits in 10 innings.
Fried has made one career start against the Rays — a 2-1 Braves win last July 30 in Atlanta in which he retired the first 14 batters and allowed just one run on three hits while striking out seven in 6 2/3 innings in the victory.
On Friday in the series opener, Tampa Bay erased a pair of two-run Atlanta leads to win 7-6 in 10 innings — improving to 9-4 in interleague play.
Meanwhile, the Braves slipped to a woeful 2-11 against the American League.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was happy to see a win in extra innings, which snapped a six-game losing streak beyond the ninth inning, and watch Fairbanks get back on track with a perfect 10th inning for his fourth save.
Tampa Bay’s Joey Wendle, who went 3-for-5 with a double, run and an RBI, said the victory was important.
“To battle back like we did, it felt like a big win,” Wendle said. “Just because we haven’t been successful in extra innings this year, I don’t think anybody’s lost confidence in our ability (to win).”
–Field Level Media