Renteria proving to be valuable

Renteria showing off his all-around value

SAN DIEGO -- When Edgar Renteria made his first Major League start for the Marlins on May 18, 1996, at Wrigley Field, the third baseman positioned to his right was Terry Pendleton, a man who had an immediate influence on the then-20-year-old shortstop.

Almost exactly 10 years later, when the Braves begin their three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday, one of the most important weapons in their lineup will be Renteria, a man who is still profiting from the lessons Pendleton continues to provide.

"He was a kid that wanted to work and wanted to be better," said Pendleton, who now serves as the Braves' hitting coach. "He's still like that. He listened well."

During the first two years of his career, Renteria was surrounded in the Marlins clubhouse with the likes of Pendleton, Devon White and Bobby Bonilla, talented players who respected and understood the game. When he moved to St. Louis in 1999, he savored the influence Willie McGee provided.

Wanting to learn what it took to succeed at the Major League level, he spent countless hours asking them questions and learning what it took to be successful on and off the field.

"I wanted to learn how to play the game right like they did," Renteria said.

As he blossomed into a superstar, he became a standup individual like those aforementioned former teammates. When it came time for Braves general manager John Schuerholz to find a replacement for Rafael Furcal this past December, he certainly loved the fact that Renteria had been a four-time All-Star, with three Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves.

But just as important was the fact that Renteria had become a true student of the game, a leader and somebody who would be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

"Everybody who was ever around him said the same thing -- that he was the best teammate, best pro, you'll ever have on your team," Schuerholz said. "He came well advertised."

Given that Renteria had hit just .276 with 70 RBIs -- disappointing numbers only for someone of his caliber -- last season with the Red Sox, he also came with a warning label. But it was one the Braves chose to ignore, while focusing more on their belief that he would thrive in the less stressful, competitive environment that they could provide.

"We had every expectation that over here, back in the National League, in this environment, playing for [Braves manager] Bobby Cox, that he would thrive," said Schuerholz, who received Renteria and a guarantee of at least $8 million from the Red Sox in exchange for top prospect Andy Marte.

When the deal was made, it seemed like yet another Schuerholz victory. Now almost six months later, there's no doubt the Braves did the right thing. While Marte is hitting .236 in his second season at the Triple-A level, Renteria has resumed the excellence he'd displayed before leaving St. Louis for his one-year stint in Boston.

"The guy I'm seeing right now is the same guy that I had to face when he was in St. Louis," Braves veteran reliever Mike Remlinger said. "He's just a tough out. He's got a plan when he goes up there, and he usually doesn't miss pitches when he gets what he's looking for."

"Everybody who was ever around him said the same thing -- that he was the best teammate, best pro, you'll ever have on your team. He came well advertised."
-- Braves general manager John Schuerholz

Entering this weekend's series against the Cubs, Renteria is hitting .322, with a team-best .408 on-base percentage. He's already constructed a career-best 23-game hitting streak. But the most impressive thing is that he's hit safely in 35 of the 37 games he's played this year.

"The most important thing is I've made adjustments every time I've come to the plate," Renteria said. "That's never happened before."

During those early days Pendleton and the other veterans taught Renteria the importance of learning pitchers' tendencies and being patient at the plate. As the Braves' hitting coach, the longtime mentor still reminds his pupil the importance of plate discipline.

But he certainly doesn't have to discuss it with Renteria with the same frequency that he does Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur. While they are definitely free-swingers, the veteran shortstop can better be described as a pitcher's pest. With a 16-20 strikeout-to-walks ratio, he's the only member of the Atlanta lineup who has struck out fewer times than he's walked.

"It doesn't seem like he has a hole [in his swing]," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "He puts the ball in play and doesn't strike out too much. Those aren't the guys who usually hurt you with the long ball, but those are the guys in clutch situations that you don't want to face. They put the ball in play and usually put it in play hard."

Renteria's .316 batting average with runners in scoring position doesn't come as a surprise. His career mark in that category is .297.

The most telling sign of his importance is displayed in the results the Braves have garnered during the games that he's missed. During those 11 games, they've averaged 2.6 runs. When he's been in the lineup, they've averaged 5.9 runs per game.

"Every time I go to home plate, I feel comfortable," said Renteria, whose 17 RBIs are a disappointment only when it's forgotten that Marcus Giles has had trouble getting on base in front of him.

Renteria has quickly become very relaxed in his new environment. Routinely he displays his witty sense of humor and whenever any of the younger players want to learn in the same manner that he did, he's more than willing to talk baseball.

Along with discussing the game with young guys like Wilson Betemit, Renteria makes sure that he leads through his actions on and off the field. His conditioning and work in the weight room has been lauded by Braves strength and conditioning coach Frank Fultz, who has seen many other veterans arrive and begrudgingly accept the way he wants his players to condition.

"He's helped influence in a very positive way by leading," Fultz said. "He's been very committed to his preparation. He's been a true delight."

In other words, he's been the man Schuerholz described shortly after the trade was completed in December.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.