Freeman's hot stretch coincided with rib injury

Freeman's hot stretch coincided with rib injury

DENVER -- When Freddie Freeman produced his impressive offensive tear during June's final two weeks, he was not taking batting practice because of the discomfort caused by what was essentially a cracked left rib.

Since Freeman resumed taking batting practice once he started feeling better during July's first week, he has endured another maddening slump. It has just been that kind of year for the Braves first baseman, who has batted .179 with a .648 OPS since the All-Star break. He improved those numbers as he notched a pair of hits in Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field.

"It was painful, but it's over with and I feel great," Freeman said. "Now, I just need to start hitting again."

Though there was a point where the pain and lack of production was significant enough for him to contemplate going on the disabled list, Freeman successfully hid the left rib injury which occurred courtesy of a collision with Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich during a May 29 game at Turner Field.

Freeman made himself visible as he took ground balls during batting practice in June, but he limited his pregame swings to the handful he could tolerate in the indoor batting cage. But other than missing the final four innings of a blowout loss at Dodger Stadium on June 5, he continued to play through the pain on an everyday basis and ended up hitting .426 with a 1.281 OPS over June's final 17 games.

"They said if I could deal with the pain, I should play," Freeman said. "So, I did and for some reason I started hitting. It was a weird thing. I don't know if it was because I couldn't do too much and I was just trying to stay up through the middle and not hurt myself. Sometimes, you can get too big when you feel too good."

The left rib cage discomfort was significant enough to keep Freeman up at night throughout much of June. His most recent sleepless nights are courtesy of the struggles he has experienced while striking out in 18 of the 39 at-bats compiled since the break.

"Maybe I need to get hurt again, so I can start hitting again," Freeman said.

When Freeman began this year with two hits in his first 25 at-bats and then compiled a .903 OPS over his final 14 games in April, he successfully gained confidence that he no longer had to worry about the right wrist injury that he battled most of the 2015 season. His rib injury extended the disappointment experienced in May through the first two weeks of June.

Freeman extended his late-June success through the early days of July, but during the All-Star break he had a mole removed from his back that possessed some cells that could lead to cancer. It was a relatively common procedure, but it created some concern for the veteran first baseman, who was nine years old when his mother died after battling melanoma.

"There's been a lot of mental aspects I've had to learn this year and continue to tell myself, 'You're fine, just be yourself,'" Freeman said. "For some reason, I've got to remember to tell myself because I've had some weird injuries that affects everything on my swing."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.