The struggles endured by Heyward, Uggla and Upton are not similar
As the Braves recorded season highs in runs and hits (16) during Thursday night’s 11-3 win over the Blue Jays, they utilized a starting lineup that was absent Jason Heyward and their two highest-paid position players – B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla.
After the game, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “We’ll see” when asked if he would be tempted to continue using the same lineup. But by the time he was done with his postgame session, he made sure to say that he is confident Heyward, Upton and Uggla will turn things around and maximize the potential of the Braves’ offense.
“I’m sure that come the end of June or July, or whatever it is, the team that’s supposed to be out there, the guys that are supposed to be out there, will be out there, because you’ve got to believe the back of the baseball cards, and they’re good players,” Gonzalez said. “It may not even be the end of June, it may be the middle of June or five days from now, who knows?”
Or it might be tonight.
While Upton might be given another day to fix the flawed mechanics and approach that have led to his Major League-worst .145 batting average, there is no way Uggla and Heyward will be left out of tonight’s lineup against Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg. Uggla has hit .478 (11-for-23) with two homers and two doubles in his career against Strasburg. Heyward has seven hits in 14 career at-bats against the former top overall selection.
Count me among those who have not been overly concerned with what Heyward has done since missing nearly a month after undergoing an appendectomy. He has batted .195 (8-for-41) with two doubles in the 12 games he has played since coming back from his lengthy absence. He has also compiled a .353 on-base percentage and hit the ball the opposite way much more frequently than he had before he was forced to undergo the emergency surgery.
Before going hitless in his past 12 at-bats, Heyward had hit .276 in the first 29 at-bats he had recorded since coming off the disabled list. Like there was little reason to get overly-excited about those 29 at-bats, there is not any reason to get concerned the past 12. If he continues to hit the ball to all fields and gets on base frequently, his numbers will be there in the end.
About the only thing we have definitely learned about Uggla over the past few years is that it is unwise to predict what to make of one his inspiring surges or extended slumps. Remember this is the guy who hit .173 during his first 86 games with the Braves and then spent the next 33 games setting an Atlanta record hitting streak. After hitting .276 through his first 55 games last year, he batted .185 over the 99 games that followed.
Through his first 22 games this season, Uggla batted .160 with four homers and a .625 OPS. In the 26 games that have followed, he has batted .207 with six home runs and a .765 OPS.
Uggla does have five home runs in the 61 at-bats has totaled over his past 18 games. But he has also hit .164 with a .288 on-base percentage during this stretch.
From July 4, 2011 until June 5, 2012, Uggla went through a 131-game stretch in which he hit .289 with 34 homers and a .934 OPS. In the 147 games that have followed, he has batted .185 with 19 homers and a .664 OPS.
If these struggles continue, the Braves might eventually have to attempt to cut their losses by finding a team that is willing to pay at least a portion of the remainder of Uggla’s five-year, $62 million contract, which runs through the end of the 2015 season. But now is not the time. <p>
Uggla has hit 10 home runs this year and he led the National League in walks last year. It is not like he is a complete disaster at the plate. Just a year ago, he was performing exactly how the Braves envisioned when they gave him the big contract.
The Braves just have to hope this proves to be the third consecutive season in which Uggla’s early-season production contrasts what he does in the season’s second half.
There actually might be reason for the Braves to be even more concerned about Upton, who is just two months into the franchise record five-year, $75.25 million contract he signed in November. Upton’s .146 batting average and .478 OPS are the lowest marks compiled this season by any qualified Major League player.
Upton has fought frustration for more than a month. We saw some of it unleashed on Wednesday night, when he bounced his batting helmet off the ground. But to his credit, he has managed this difficult situation better than many others might have.
Through his first 19 games, Upton hit .160 with three home runs and a .549 OPS. In the 26 games that have followed he has batted .133 with one home run and 36 strikeouts in 83 at-bats. <p>
There were some encouraging signs last week when he notched a two-hit game against the Twins and then homered during the next day’s series finale. But he has played just three games since then and in the process, he has struck out seven times in 10 at-bats.
About halfway through the Grapefruit League season, Justin Upton told his brother how impressed he was with hitting coach Greg Walker.
Now, B.J. can only hope he too will eventually benefit from Walker’s direction. But like everybody else, he can’t assume everything is going to magically change overnight.