Spacious park can't hold Lillibridge

Spacious park can't hold Lillibridge

SAN DIEGO -- With the Braves spending this weekend at spacious PETCO Park, Brent Lillibridge had reason to believe he'd likely have to wait until after the All-Star break to experience his first career home run.

But the baby-faced shortstop surprised many, including himself, on Saturday night when he notched his first career homer in the ninth inning of a 4-1 win over the Padres. His milestone came with a 394-foot homer off Joe Thatcher.

"He's hit in the past," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It's there. He hit that ball good."

Lillibridge, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound infielder who is known more for his speed than power, had at least gained some confidence by recording two hits, including a third-inning double, in Saturday's four at-bats. That gave him just six hits in the 33 Major League at-bats this year.

But since beginning his big league career without a hit in his first eight at-bats, the 24-year-old infielder battled back to at least record each of these six hits in a span of 25 at-bats.

This has been a rough year for Lillibridge, who was in good position to win an Opening Day roster spot before struggling in Spring Training this year. In 55 games with Triple-A Richmond this year, he has hit .212 with a .276 on-base percentage. His finest month was June, during which he hit .227 (15-for-66).

"I feel good going into [Sunday]," Lillibridge said. "I just feel like I have my swing back to where it was."

Lillibridge started at shortstop throughout this weekend's series against the Padres in place of Yunel Escobar, who will have his left shoulder examined by an MRI exam in Atlanta on Monday. Omar Infante, the club's top utility infielder, will be on the disabled list until July 22 with a strained right hamstring that he says has improved.

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