MIAMI – Dan Uggla spent several hours Thursday watching video of his swing, working on that problematic swing in the indoor batting cage at Sun Life Stadium, and then taking batting practice with the rest of the Braves before the night game against the Florida Marlins.
Then he found a seat on the bench for the start of the game.
In the midst of a season-long slump the likes of which he’s never had to endure, the second baseman was out of the lineup Thursday for the third time in 14 days. Uggla missed only four starts during his entire 2010 season with the Marlins.
“Just to give him a breather,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, using what’s become his stock answer to why Uggla isn’t in the lineup.
Uggla was 6-for-68 (.088) with one double and one RBI in his past 20 games before Wednesday, dropping his average to a major league-worst .170 and his on-base percentage to a National League-worst .232.
He was asked if being out of the lineup was harder to take against Florida, in his first trip back since the Marlins traded him to Atlanta in November.
“It’s never a good day to get a day off, for me anyway,” Uggla said “It is what it is. I’m not swinging it [well], and Fredi’s putting together the best lineup he can to try to win ballgames.”
Gonzalez was his manager for 3-1/2 of Uggla’s five seasons with the Marlins, before being fired in June 2010. Uggla hit over 30 homers in each of the past four seasons for Florida, and averaged 93 RBIs over five seasons while hitting .243 or higher with at least a .326 on-base percentage and .459 slugging percentage.
After posting career-best totals last season in average (.287), OBP (.369) and on-base-plus slugging percentage (.877), Uggla would have to get hot and stay hot for pretty much the rest of the season to avoid career-lows in every category.
His .306 slugging percentage was the league’s second-worst before Thursday, as was his .542 OPS. He had seven homers and 16 RBIs in 62 games.
“He’s working real hard with Larry [Parrish, hitting coach], watching film, working off a tee, doing all the things hitters work on,” Gonzalez said.
But his slump has only deepened. Uggla was 12-for-105 (.114) in his past 30 games with two homers, six RBIs and 25 strikeouts.
Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren have repeatedly expressed confidence Uggla will get going and hit like the player the Braves saw torment them in the past. Uggla said he remains confident he will, too.
“I’m always confident in that,” he said, “and I’ve been really close to having those nights. It’s right there. I need to have a little luck and a lot of hard work.”
He there have been nights when he’s felt in sync and not had any balls drop for hits. And other nights when his stance and swing didn’t feel right but he got a hit, like his sixth-inning single Wednesday.
“My timing was off, my hips were flying open, my hands were dropping,” Uggla said. “One thing can cause other things to be off.”
After his hit Wednesday, he struck out in his final two at-bats in the eighth and 10th innings, both with runners in scoring position. That dropped him to 6-for-56 (.107) with runners in scoring position, second-lowest among major leaguers with enough plate appearances to qualify
One thing seems fairly certain: He isn’t going to be benched for any sustained period, not less than halfway through the first season of a five-year, $62 million contract extension.
Throughout this ordeal – and that’s what it has become — Uggla has heard countless opinions and received more hitting advice from outsiders than he could ever process. He has heard one analyst say his toe is pointed in the wrong direction, another say he needs to bring back his leg kick, and another say he’s just not staying back and “trusting his hands.”
“It’s nothing I don’t already know,” Uggla said. “It’s a matter of getting repetitions and getting that muscle memory back. You can look at it one time and say, ‘He’s doing this and needs to do that.’ Believe me, I’m right there. I see everything that everybody else is seeing.
“It’s just that my body, it wants to do its own thing right now.”