Inciarte feeling fine as part of crowded Braves outfield

| March 8, 2020 1:30 PM

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — When Atlanta Braves hitters talk about their goals, they rarely speak about number of home runs, RBIs, steals or average.

Instead, it's three words: "Just stay healthy."

Ender Inciarte understands that so well after an injury-plagued 2019 season. The two-plus months of recovery and rehabilitation left him thinking, "I don't want to repeat that ever again."

Inciarte is part of a full Braves outfield that includes one of the most talented young players in the game in Ronald Acuna Jr., free-agent acquisition Marcell Ozuna, productive Nick Markakis and veteran Adam Duvall.

When he's feeling fine, Inciarte is one of baseball's best defensive players.

From 2016-18, Inciarte was one of just four players in the majors to win a Gold Glove three straight years. The others were third baseman Nolan Arenado, pitcher Zack Greinke and outfielder Mookie Betts.

Inciarte also proved to be a solid offensive player by averaging 22 steals and a .287 batting average in that span.

Last season, Inciarte's injuries started when he missed 55 games after hurting the lumbar region in his torso. He later missed significant time because of hamstring injuries.

"My body just wasn't right," he said. "That lower back controls your quads, your hamstrings. I was always in the training room, always trying to be upbeat. But out of about three months, I had two months where I had some of my worst offensive moments."

Inciarte hovered around .200 in late July before he warmed up in August and brought his average to .246 and showed some power with six homers. He credited a lot of the Braves coaches -- at both the minor- and major-league level -- with his recovery and return to Atlanta.

"Ender is a pro," Braves teammate Charlie Culberson said. "Everyone goes through injuries at some point. We're with each other more than our families. It's important to lean on them and be open to their help and encouragement. Everyone can play, obviously to different abilities. Being mentally tough and getting through injuries is really important."

In the offseason, Inciarte received injections, rested and did Pilates as part of his therapy. He also went jogging.

Since then, he regularly works out to build his core and strengthen not only his back but all those areas around the back.

"We work on something different every day but it's usually core, hips, reaction, movement and power," he said.

The 29-year-old Inciarte is well aware that keeping his speed, having good reaction time and anticipating is the difference in getting that extra step that separates him from many outfielders. Those elements also keep him playing for the NL East champions.

"Of course I want to be in the lineup every day, but the options come from how I swing the bat and how the manager is thinking of using me. I have to be ready every day. It's going to be up to me with how much I play."

As a member of the Cardinals, Ozuna watched from a distance and saw Inciarte's injuries and how "that pushed him back a little bit.

"This year, he's going to be awesome. Everyone trusts him. He's a great defensive player who also can hit sometimes. He's good at anticipating a play or the hitter and he knows the pitcher. He knows where the ball is going and where the hitter will hit it," Ozuna said.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports