Posted: 5:51 pm Saturday, March 8th, 2014
By David O'Brien
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – With more than half of spring training completed and opening day just over three weeks away, the report card is incomplete on Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, veteran hitters trying to bounce back from career-worst performances last season. So far, they’ve had mixed results.
Upton was 4-for-20 (.200) with two doubles and a .238 on-base percentage in seven games before Saturday, when the center fielder was a late scratch from the split-squad lineup against Miami due to sickness. Jose Constanza replaced him and had three hits in a game that ended in a 6-6 tie after nine innings, the third tie in 13 games for the Braves (2-8-3).
Uggla was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the other split-squad game, an 8-2 loss against the Nationals in Viera.
For the spring, Upton has one walk and eight strikeouts, including five strikeouts in nine at-bats over his past three games.
“We’re seeing some fundamentally good swings and then we’re seeing some spins,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said of Upton, who had too much movement in the batter’s box when he set career lows in average (.186), on-base percentage (.268) and slugging percentage (.289), matched his full-season low of nine homers, and struck out 151 times in 391 at-bats.
It was his first season in a five-year, $75.25 million contract, the largest free-agent deal in Braves history.
Upton, 29, eliminated much of the leg and head movement in his stance during the winter, trying to get back to the simpler swing he had years ago with Tampa Bay. Generally speaking, he’s looked better in batting practice than games this spring.
“He does some different things in the game than he doesn’t do in BP,” Walker said. “He knows what he’s trying to do, and in the games we’re getting about a third of them that are really good, and then about two-thirds of them he’s spinning. He seems to be getting better and better. We’re trying to get his bad-posture spin out of it.
“We need more than what we’ve got so far, but he’s headed in the right direction, I think.”
Uggla is 4-for-17 (.235) with four singles, five walks and seven strikeouts. After collecting three hits and three walks in nine plate appearances in his first three games, he has one hit in 16 plate appearances over his past five games.
“When he came into camp everything was great,” Walker said. “Then he lost it for two or three days.”
Uggla is still owed $26 million in 2014-2015. Barring a trade, he’ll be the opening-day second baseman and have a chance to show he can still be productive. But if he struggles the Braves have options, including prospect Tommy La Stella.