LAWRENCEVILLE — When Freddie Freeman stretched out to receive a throw to first base in the bottom of the second inning on May 28, he heard a sound that every athlete fears: a sharp pop.
The pop came from his right knee and Freeman immediately knew something was wrong as he fell to the ground in writhing agony.
“I was pretty worried when I first did it,” he said. “Because I was on the ground and I couldn’t get back up.”
Initially, Freeman thought that there was a possibility that the injury wasn’t very serious.
“I pushed myself up and didn’t collapse so I knew that was a good sign that I was able to walk,” he said.
While Freeman stayed in the game to complete the inning, team doctors examined him during the top half of the third and decided to pull the 20-year-old first baseman.
“They said I could stay in the game (during the second),” he said.
The moment was a scary one for Freeman, who leads the Gwinnett Braves in hits and RBIs and is second in runs scored and home runs.
“The next day I couldn’t even walk, so I knew something was wrong,” he said.
Freeman had an MRI on Tuesday in Atlanta and the test revealed no structural damage, just a severe strain. That news was announced on Wednesday by the Braves and Freeman is now considered day-to-day.
Named the No. 2 prospect in the Braves minor league organization by Baseball America, the loss of Freeman isn’t something that manager Dave Brundage particularly enjoys.
“He’s a young talented first baseman who’s got a great upside,” the manager said.
Freeman isn’t rushing back from his injury, however. In hopes of being able to continue his advancement all the way up to the major leagues, Freeman and the Braves medical staff are taking their time in getting the 6-foot-5, 225 pounder back on the field.
“I think the experience he’s gaining here in Triple-A and the experiences he’s gained so far along the way will prove very valuable down the road,” Brundage said. “So there’s no rush.”
After being drafted in the second round — 78th overall — by the Braves in 2007, Freeman began his career with Class-A Rome where he received the 2008 Hank Aaron Award, presented annually to the top offensive performer in the Braves’ Minor League system. After that season, Freeman was ranked as the Braves fifth-best prospect by Baseball America and was ranked the 38th-best minor league player in MLB.com’s Top 50 list.
That season also saw Freeman win the South Atlantic League’s midseason and postseason All-Star trophy and be named the Class-A Advanced All-Star by Baseball America. Only 18 years old that season, Freeman ranked second in the SAL with a .521 slugging percentage, ranked third with seven triples and 256 total bases, ranked fourth with 95 RBIs, 155 hits and 58 extra-base hits, ranked fifth with a .316 batting average and tied for fifth with 33 doubles.
Freeman hasn’t played since the day of his injury. Including the game which he left in the third inning, Freeman has missed six games. During that span, the Gwinnett Braves are 4-2.
Apparently, the minor league team hasn’t missed his bat a great deal.
“We’ve done alright so far without him,” Brundage said. “So we’re going to make sure that he’s up and running and then get him back in there and make sure to monitor him as we go.”
Despite the fact that the team is winning without Freeman, Brundage obviously wants one “of the better bats in the middle of the lineup” back where he belongs.
“(I will) talk with our trainer and our strength and conditioning guy and find out from a medical stand point,” he said. “(But) it’s the big picture. First and foremost we want to make sure that he’s healthy.”
While the Gwinnett Braves may have won more games than they’ve lost since Freeman went out of the line-up, that trend wasn’t on display Thursday night when they lost 4-0 to the Indianapolis Indians.
Freeman did not take the field.
“I don’t see myself starting for another couple of days,” the first baseman said. “It’s still causing me pain right now, but I’m trying.”
When asked if he’s worried that the injury will affect him going forward, Freeman shook his head, saying, “I don’t think it will, I feel pretty secure in my brace.”
Freeman may have a chance to test his right knee as a pinch hitter tonight at 7:05, as the Gwinnett Braves take on the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville.