Austin Riley is in the midst of a brutal slump after he set the world on fire his first month in the bigs. He’s hitting .231 in his last 30 games, .204 over his last 15, and an even worse .192 this past week. The numbers are abysmal, but the at-bats and the approach are even worse. Riley is swinging at balls fifteen inches off the plate like they are fastballs down the middle. With Ender Inciarte now activated from the IL, a demotion of Riley could be on the cusp, but I’m not buying the Braves sending him back to Gwinnett.
It’s a fair question to ask. Riley has almost looked lost in the batter’s box over the past few weeks. Pitchers now have some video on him and have figured out his weaknesses. But this is a situation where you have to let one of your future cornerstones battle it out in the majors.
Going back to the minor leagues, Riley has been a notoriously streaky hitter. He didn’t hit a home run from April 6th to April 25th in Gwinnett; then he exploded for thirteen of them in an eighteen game stretch. This is who he is.
Just a few weeks ago, Riley was being heralded as one of the best baseball players in his age group, and he is. He proved that when he was called up. Sending him back to the minors isn’t going to help him regain confidence. If anything, it could hurt him mentally. Riley is the reason the Braves went from an average offense to one of the best in baseball. If the Braves give up on him after one month of slumping; how is he supposed to take that when he comes back up? You don’t want him to start worrying about a bad week at the plate.
Brian Snitker said it best in his postgame press conference after yesterday’s loss in Milwaukee.
Snitker cont. on Riley: "We watched Ozzie go through that last year. They’re both very intelligent. When (Riley) came here and as good as he was doing, I figured at some point he’s going to have to go through this….
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) July 18, 2019
There was no way Riley was going to hit .350 with 55 bombs like he was on pace for in his first month of play. Eventually, pitchers were going to figure out his tendencies, and he was going to hit a lull like pretty much every rookie that has ever played the game. But this team needs Austin Riley if they want to win the World Series. They cannot do it without him. So the best thing for him is to continue starting in left field and work through the growing pains at the major league level.
He may have a day off tonight, and he may need one. But Ender Inciarte is not the answer in the outfield, Austin Riley is. This move should not be permanent. If the Braves don’t demote Riley, they could ride with a short-handed bullpen until this situation sorts itself out or send down another player with options like Johan Camargo.