Young emerges as favorite to man center field

Young emerges as favorite to man center field

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Those who have closely followed the Braves through the Grapefruit League season's first week know that Eric Young Jr. has quickly erased doubts about his ability to play center field. In the process, he has established himself as the favorite to primarily man this position while Melvin Upton Jr. is sidelined until at least May with a left foot injury.

But it wasn't until the conclusion of Wednesday's loss to the Cardinals that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez essentially confirmed this assumption.

"If we had to break camp tomorrow, I'd be comfortable running him out there in center field," Gonzalez said. "We've still got a lot more games to be played and a lot more work to be done."

In the process of making three diving catches and providing an indication that his arm strength would be sufficient, Young has not looked like a guy who has played just 44 Major League games in center field. His inexperience of reading balls off the bat from that angle seems to be negated by his speed and determination.

"He's got the athletic ability and he seems fearless," Gonzalez said.

Because they have played center field throughout most of their Minor League careers, Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham appeared to have an advantage over Young. But for now, it appears they are both battling to begin the season as a backup outfielder.

Odds and ends
Freddie Freeman's first-inning double in Wednesday's game against the Cardinals was his fifth extra-base hit in a span of 10 at-bats. Like during many previous Spring Trainings, Freeman's simple swing has helped him get off to a hot start. He has batted .429 (6-for-14) with two homers and three doubles through his first six games.

"I've got to find a way to bottle it up a little bit and keep it," Gonzalez said. "I don't want him to peak too soon. He's swinging the bat. Even when he's making outs, he's making hard outs."

• After allowing three hits during his exhibition season debut last week, Jason Grilli worked a perfect fourth inning Wednesday. But Jim Johnson, who completed a perfect inning when he debuted on Sunday, did not fare as well two innings later. Johnson surrendered a pair of hits, issued a walk and surrendered three runs (one earned).

The two unearned runs tallied against Johnson came courtesy of Chris Johnson's second error of the day. Chris Johnson was playing for the first time since he began battling a sore left wrist on Friday.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.