Of all the questions that Dansby Swanson has spawned since his explosive homecoming with the Braves and the plateauing that followed, this one is the most elemental.
When can he trust himself enough to swing a bat with true bad intent?
The wrist that troubled him since a cold April game in Chicago, the one that sidelined him in the Braves first playoff series in five years and was surgically repaired in the off-season, is still griping. Its complaints led to the Braves scratching Swanson from the lineup Friday and moving back his first spring appearance until at least next week.
“It can be frustrating,” Swanson said Saturday, “because it has been probably four months since surgery. You’re ready to get back out there.
“At the same time, you understand, especially for a baseball player, the hands and wrist are pretty much everything. The safer the better, especially right now. By the time the season starts, we won’t have these issues.”
That’s certainly the overriding hope because this is an important season in the defining of the team’s young shortstop. He has gone from premature poster player for a rebuilding team to one of many voices in the youth choir that is the defending National League East champion.
Does anyone really know what he is yet, at age 25, as a player? He’s already been so many things.
He has been a great homecoming story, the Marietta young’un returned as part of a big trade following the 2015 season.
He has been a sensation, called up in late 2016 and hitting over .300 like it was easy. Suddenly – too suddenly for anyone’s comfort – his mug was on every billboard between Macon and Ringgold.
He has been a defensive work in progress, that work paying benefits last season even as his offense turned on and off like a light on a clapper switch.
And something of mystery really. He upped his power significantly last season, hitting 14 home runs. But at the same time has lacked the consistency at the plate to get him above .240 in either of the past two seasons.
For Swanson, these have been the best of times and the wrist of times.
And now as the Braves ascend, it is up to Swanson to ascend with them. Nobody’s waiting on him. A sore wrist only complicates this task.
To hear Swanson talk about his wrist woes, maybe we should discount anything that happened at the plate last season when trying to make larger assessments.
“Honestly, I got to the point where it was really bad. It was hard to put shirts on the right way. It wasn’t a good situation,” he said. Just guessing here, but if it’s difficult to dress one’s self, it may be problematic to put a 95-mph fastball into play. And when Swanson presses, and his pitch selection suffers as a result, at-bats just fall apart.
The wrist can be a problematic connection between a hitter and his bat. A real potential weak point in the mechanics of a swing. Here Swanson was getting all ramped up to take his repaired wrist for a test drive Friday, and a subtle difference in feeling was enough to make him pull up.
“Oh, this is a little new, let’s hold off for today,” he thinks.
Swanson will need to be able to crank it up within the next week if he can be counted upon to be ready to start the regular season. Even then, he’ll be playing catch-up. And he’ll need to learn the difference between expected discomfort and something more worrisome. “With anybody going through surgery there’s always points where scar tissue or whatever it may be, it comes back a little bit,” he said. “It’s just a matter of dealing with things the right way, calming things down and moving forward.”
“We’re trying to play it smart, play it safe, be patient with everything,” he said.
Patience is hard. Swanson knows it. Those following him know it, too. But what other choice is there at the moment, as we wait with great interest for Swanson to fully reveal himself as a player?
At this stage, there is a more immediate concern: When is he going to be able to swing like he means it?
Soon, he believes.
“Let’s just say I’m glad it’s taken care of. And we’re well on our way to better things,” he said.