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Freeman's clutch double may foreshadow turnaround

Braves' slumping slugger has shown signs he could return to early-season form

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ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman's game-tying ninth-inning double did not prove to be enough for the Braves in Saturday night's 11-6, 13-inning loss to the Angels. But his teammates are hoping the clutch hit proves to be the spark Freeman needs to escape his troublesome funk.

Freeman entered Saturday having hit .188 with two home runs, seven RBIs and a .665 OPS in his previous 23 games. The 24-year-old first baseman then proceeded to strike out in three of his first four plate appearances. But when he capped a four-run ninth by bouncing a double over the right-center-field wall, he provided the reminder that he has always had a knack for delivering in the clutch.

"It's good for us and big for him," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "He always comes up big in those situations. No matter how he's swinging the bat, we're confident when he is up there with the tying run on base. He did it again."

Freeman's .310 batting average with runners in scoring position is nowhere near as impressive as the .443 mark he produced in these situations last year. But it is a product of the struggles he has encountered over the past two months.

When the Braves began this season with a 17-7 record, Freeman was hitting .444 with runners in scoring position and .344 with a 1.033 OPS overall. As the Braves have gone 18-25 in the 43 games that have followed, their once-reliable first baseman has batted .230 with a .738 OPS. With runners in scoring position during this span, he has hit a pedestrian .250.

Maybe most alarming about Freeman's most recent struggles is his strikeout rate. He has struck out three times in four of his past 17 games and five times this season. Just six of the 147 games he played last year included at least three strikeouts.

Freeman could be showing some wear and tear as he has started each of his team's first 67 games. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he plans to give the first baseman his first chance to rest at some point before the club's June 23 off-day.

"He'll get it going again," Gonzalez said. "I've seen him walk more the last three or four days than he did when he was swinging the bat in April or May. So that's a positive."

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

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