Pache goes deep twice in four-RBI night

His early struggles in the Majors notwithstanding, Cristian Pache remains very much a key part of the Braves’ future. A performance like he had Thursday night is the reason why.

MLB’s No. 11 overall prospect homered twice and drove in four runs during a three-hit performance as Triple-A Gwinnett rolled past Memphis, 11-0. Pache was appearing in his fifth game with the Stripers after spending April and May in the Majors — and on the injured list.

Gwinnett hitting coach Carlos Mendez believes the early-season struggles in the Majors spiraled into something more.

“I thought Cristian was doing a better job with his approach [in the Majors] before he got hurt again,” Mendez said. “But from what I saw, he wasn’t hitting the fastball. I just think the pressure started building up and it affected his confidence and his approach at the plate.”

Assigned to Gwinnett on June 2 after his second IL stint, Atlanta’s top prospect had gone 5-for-18 (.278) with two RBIs in his first four games back in the Minors. Pache connected on his first home run to left-center field in the third inning, rapped an RBI single to left in the seventh and capped the scoring with a two-run blast to left-center in the ninth. It was the first multi-homer game of his career and his second four-RBI effort of the season, the first coming with Atlanta on May 1.

“When he came back down [to Gwinnett], we knew he needed to get back to hitting the fastball,” Mendez said. “The only thing we did mechanically was to get his hands in a better spot to attack. All of his hits today were off sliders and offspeed pitches, but he was timing the fastball well and right on it. He just needs to get that confidence back.”

Signed as an international free agent in 2015, Pache put together three solid Minor League campaigns before breaking out in 2019. The Dominican Republic native established career highs in most offensive categories and reached Triple-A at 20 years old. Pache took part in the 2019 Futures Game and finished the season with a .277/.340/.462 slash line, 57 extra-base hits and 61 RBIs in 130 games.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder spent most of 2020 at the Braves’ alternate training site and made his Major League debut last August. Although he struggled during Spring Training, Pache broke camp with Atlanta and was the club’s Opening Day center fielder before a strained groin cost him three weeks. He struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats upon his return and was placed on the injured list again on May 14 with right hamstring inflammation.

“The one thing about Cristian I can say is that when he gets back to the Majors, he’ll be mentally ready for it,” Mendez said. “That doesn’t mean he’ll tear it up but he’ll be prepared on how to deal with it. There have been a lot of good players who have had to figure that part out first before the success comes. When it does start to click, he’ll be just fine.”

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