The Braves called up shortstop Julio Lugo from Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, looking for more of a veteran presence to back up Alex Gonzalez at shortstop.
The move, which sent Diory Hernandez back to Gwinnett, didn’t have anything to do with the bunt sign Hernandez failed to pick up during a seventh inning at-bat Monday night. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he wanted a more experienced player at shortstop to give Gonzalez some time off.
“Some of the guys we’ve been trying are younger players,” said Gonzalez, referring to Hernandez and Brandon Hicks. “I think that role fits more of a veteran guy, a guy who has played shortstop at the big league level and been successful at the major league level.”
Lugo, 35, has played 11 major league seasons for four teams, beginning with the Houston Astros. He’s a career .270 hitter. He hasn’t had an every day job since 2007 with the Red Sox. He hit .240 with 20 RBIs in 93 games last season for Baltimore.
The Venezuela native went unsigned over the winter. Lugo had been working out at the Arizona Diamondbacks Academy in the Dominican Republic when the Braves signed him to a minor league contract on May 23. He went to extended spring training in Orlando, then hit .231 (12-for-52) in 13 games for Gwinnett, with four doubles, one home run and seven RBIs.
“I’m in good physical shape, I just needed to be in game shape,” Lugo said. “I just needed to see some pitching. My legs feel good, my mind feels good. I think I’m ready.”
Lugo said his contract did not stipulate a deadline for a major league call-up.
“They just told me that if I go down there and they like what they see I’m going to get a shot,” Lugo said. “And that’s all I asked for, for them to give me a shot.”
While Lugo wasn’t tearing it up in Gwinnett offensively, Gonzalez said it’s not his bat they’re interested in as much as his glove.
“That’s not the reason we got him,” said Gonzalez after mentioning Lugo’s .270 career average. “The reason (is to) maybe give Gonzo a spell at shortstop. Talking to our minor league people, they say he may not have the range he had five years ago but if he catches it, you’re out. He’s a pretty steady ballplayer.”
Alex Gonzalez has started every game but three this season and has had one day off during this stretch of 16 consecutive games for the Braves. Gonzalez was considering making that two days off before the stretch reaches 16 straight on Wednesday. He’s thinking about giving Lugo his first start on Wednesday afternoon in the series finale against Toronto and giving Gonzalez back-to-back days of rest with Thursday’s off day.
Hernandez was hitting .212 (7-for-33) with four RBIs, three of which came on a pinch hit home run June 5 in New York.