"I didn't really think [hitting 30 homers] would happen, especially after the start [of the season] and obviously coming off an injury. You don't know how it's going to hold up," Freeman said. "Just to stay healthy for a whole year is a big enough accomplishment for me. It just eases everything for me going forward into my career."
Having just celebrated his 27th birthday on Monday, Freeman is surging into what might be his prime with the confidence he has gained while hitting .334/.434/.632 with 21 home runs over his past 82 games. In essentially half a season, he has nearly bested the career-best homer total (23) he carried into 2016.
Freeman secured his first 30-homer season during the first inning. The two-run shot off Jake Esch traveled 416 feet and had an exit velocity of 109 mph, according to Statcast™. Just two of his previous home runs this year registered a higher exit velocity.
"I've always known he's a great player," Braves left fielder Matt Kemp said. "It's exciting to see it every day and being able to go out there and work with him and be in the same lineup as him. Yeah, it's exciting."
Freeman has gone deep 12 times and compiled a 1.137 OPS over the 39 games he has played since Kemp arrived, providing the protection he had lacked most of the past two seasons. But Freeman's surge actually began almost six weeks earlier, when he overcame a broken rib sustained via a May 29 collision with Miami's Christian Yelich. Freeman truly gained confidence he no longer had to worry about his wrist, which sidelined him for a month last season and limited him to a couple of weeks' worth of dry swings and tee work during the offseason.
"Wrist injuries and hand injuries are really not something you want to deal with early on," Freeman said. "A couple months in, I was able to [feel relief] and take a lot more swings than I normally did in Spring Training and early on. I think everything just fell into place."
Though Freeman doesn't necessarily want to focus on what has influenced this surge and enabled him to rank among the top five NL players in WAR, Weighted Runs Created Plus and OPS, he has seemingly benefited from the choice to focus on going up the middle and the other way during batting practice.
"I'm not going to try to figure it out because I don't want to do that, because then all the sudden it might not be that thing, and then I start focusing on that, and then the thing that was making it click is gone," Freeman said. "So I'm just going to go out there, keep trying to get good pitches to hit and hopefully I can finish strong."