PITTSBURGH – Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sat scuffling second baseman Dan Uggla for Tuesday night’s opener against the Pirates.
It’s the first time all season Uggla has been out of the lineup, but after going 2-for-21 (.095) in the first five games of the Braves road trip to drop his season average to .185, Uggla conceded a breather was good.
“I couldn’t argue my way back into the lineup today,” said Uggla, who talked to Gonzalez about it on the plane ride from Arizona Sunday night. “It’s one of those things where he could tell I was really frustrated, and he wanted to let me have a little break.”
The fact that it came after an off day Monday and in a game the Braves are already playing without Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward, both of whom are on the disabled list, gives an indication of the depth of Uggla’s slump.
He hit only .202 in April, in his first month as a Brave following his offseason trade and subsequent signing of a $62 million extension. He’s traditionally a slow starter, but more than three weeks into May the “it’ll come” argument has lost merit. His .185 average is third worst in the National League among qualified every-day players.
So Gonzalez is trying a mental break.
“Give him a breather…” said Gonzalez, who indicated he’d probably use Uggla off the bench at some point in the game. “Even though you get a scheduled off day (Monday), it’s not the same as playing a game and having an off day, sitting in here, watching a game, kind of relaxing.”
A day off is rare for Uggla period. He averaged 156 games per year in his five seasons with the Marlins and had played in every inning of every game this season, with the exception of the eighth and final defensive inning in Friday night’s 9-0 loss in Anaheim.
“You’ve just got to stay focused, stay positive and keep the right mindset,” said Uggla, who acknowledged that has gotten harder during a 1-4 trip. “When you lose games, things get magnified.”
Brooks Conrad made his first start of the season at second in Uggla’s place Tuesday night, making only his second start in the field this season.
Gonzalez said he hasn’t seen Uggla put too much pressure on himself and commends him for continuing to play hard.
“The way he’s been playing the game, you’ve got to really appreciate that,” Gonzalez said. “In other facets of the game, running the bases, playing the game hard-nosed, that’s just the way he is. I don’t think that’s going to change whether he’s hitting .500 or hitting what he’s hitting. He knows how to play the game one way. A lot of guys would feel sorry for themselves and play differently. That’s not him.”