After career year, Freeman at faster HR pace

Slugger ties for MLB lead with 14th dinger, which he didn't hit until July 2 last season

After career year, Freeman at faster HR pace

TORONTO -- Having some fun with the fact that his California-born and bred teammate had starred for Canada during this year's World Baseball Classic, Braves outfielder Matt Kemp playfully asked, "Don't y'all know who this is?" as Freeman went through customs upon arriving in Toronto on Sunday night.

"They need to know who Freddie Freeman is because he's amazing," Kemp said with a smile. "It's fun to watch him and it's fun to play with him. He's got sick pop and [he's] a great first baseman with Gold Glove defense. He's just an all-around great baseball player, and definitely everybody needs to know who Freddie Freeman is."

There's no doubt the members of the baseball world have steadily come to realize Freeman has legitimized himself as one of the game's elite offensive threats. The Braves' first baseman aided Tuesday's 9-5 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre with a two-run, fifth-inning home run that simply sweetened the incredible statistics he has produced over the past 12 months.

"He does everything that an ultimate pro does," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He just prepares to play the games. He doesn't get too high or too low. It's just a great approach and a great outlook he has."

Freeman's homer off Marco Estrada gave him a Major League-high 14 through just 133 at-bats this season. On the way to hitting a career-best 34 homers last year, the 27-year-old Braves veteran notched his 14th home run on July 2, in his 302nd at-bat of the season.

Freeman had never previously hit his 14th homer of a season before the end of June, or before recording at least 281 at-bats.

"I don't know if [this good start] is because I played in the WBC, but the experience certainly couldn't hurt me," Freeman said. "We'll see how I fare in September and see if I'm a little tired from getting ready so early. I feel good right now and I've felt locked in since about March. So, I guess next year I'll go play winter ball before Spring Training."

After struggling through last season's early months, Freeman was hoping to do exactly what he's done this year, as he has batted .343 and constructed a 1.211 OPS through the first 36 games. He has essentially picked up where he left off last year, when he hit .338 with a 1.095 OPS over his final 95 games.

Count Estrada as the latest of the many pitchers who have come to understand the challenge of pitching to Freeman, whose ability to hit for power to all fields has influenced the fact he has homered once every 12.9 at-bats over his past 131 games, dating back to last June 15. Before this stretch, his career at-bats per homer ratio was 25.8.

"He's a good hitter," Estrada said. "You're not going to get away with mistakes against him. When you try going up and in on him and you miss middle in, he's going to put a good swing on the ball. I wasn't sure if he got it, but he obviously did. He's just a good hitter. It's tough to miss against this guy, and you've just got to make your pitches."

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