SAN FRANCISCO – When Fredi Gonzalez was asked by Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver what the manager had learned from his Braves’ September collapse last year, Gonzalez said he’d learned to be less patient.
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve got to go with a guy, and you go with him for a lot of good reasons,” he told McCarver. “But you have to understand, April and May is not September…. At the end of the season, you say, ‘You could have done this, you could have done that, maybe I stuck with this guy at this position too long, maybe I stuck with that pitcher too long.’”
And so I asked Fredi today about the specific player that came to mind when I read what he’d said to McCarver. I asked him how his statement applied to Dan Uggla, who entered Sunday with a .206 batting average and .364 slugging percentage, and who had hit just .143 in his past 66 games with five homers, 44 walks and 82 strikeouts in 224 at-bats.
Uggla was 2-for-28 with one extra-base hit and no RBIs in his last nine games, yet had started more games (122) than any Brave except All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn (124) before Sunday. Uggla started 16 of the last 17 games before Sunday, when he was out of the lineup and Martin Prado was at second base. Uggla was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts against Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ starter for he series finale.
“It applies, but it doesn’t apply,” Gonzalez said of his comments about being less patient and not sticking with some players too long. “With me with Danny … you know he’s struggling. We all know he’s struggling. He knows he’s struggling. The whole world knows he’s struggling. It gets tweeted and blogged every single day. And I’m going to pick my spots with him.
“We need to get him straight. That’s a big bat. We need to get him straight, and Walk [hitting coach Greg Walker] thinks that we can get him straight and get him going in the right direction. That being said, why run him into 0-for-10 with six punchouts against Lincecum today?”
And so Uggla was on the bench for the second time in five games, which equaled the number of times he didn’t start in the team’s first 97 games.
“We’ve got to be smart and diligent,” Gonzalez said. “Or I’ve got to be smart and diligent, because I’m the one who makes the lineup. And pick our spots with him until we get him straightened out. We’ve seen it where he can carry us. So you see 0-for-10 with six punchouts, why keep running him out there? That’s not doing him any good, it’s not doing us any good. So we’re going to pick our spots a little bit.”
Prado was an All-Star second baseman in 2010, before the Braves traded for Uggla that November and moved Prado to left field. With the July 30 trade that brought Reed Johnson from the Cubs, the Braves now have what they consider a viable option if Uggla’s out of the lineup, although Gonzalez said he prefers to play Johnson against lefties.
Johnson has hit .321 with an .854 OPS in 109 at-bats against lefties this season with the Cubs and Braves, and .293 with a .736 OPS in 99 at-bats against righties. In the previous three seasons, the veteran bench player hit .308 with an .822 OPS in 276 at-bats against lefties and .255 with a .681 OPS in 337 at-bats against righties.
“We do [have an option at second base] against a left-handed pitcher,” Gonzalez said. “But against a right-handed pitcher it’s tougher. With a lefty you can put Prado at second and Reed Johnson in left field. Against a righty you can do the same thing, but you’re doing an injustice to Reed. And he hasn’t played every day. He has a history of some back issues, almost like [a Mark] Kotsay type of deal.”
It’s clear that Gonzalez isn’t ready to give up on Uggla or make second base a platoon position, but it’s also clear that with the wild-card race tightening up behind them and the Braves down to only 35 games left to try to catch the Nationals, Gonzalez isn’t going to continue his former practice of “keep running him out there” every day until Uggla gets out of his epic slump, if a three-month slide can even be called a slump.
• Chipper rests sore oblique: With Chipper Jones out of the lineup for the second consecutive game, the third baseman and Gonzalez divulged today that it was a sore left oblique and back that was the reason. Not the “just old” explanation that Chipper gave Saturday morning.
Jones, who got hurt in his final at-bat Friday, doesn’t think it’s anything serious — as long as he doesn’t aggravate it by trying to play before it’s ready. He’s taking some easy swings in the batting cage as I type this Sunday, during BP, but I haven’t seen him swing hard yet. He said he’d see how it felt in BP before deciding if he’d be available to pinch-hit.
“The oblique’s bothering me more than the back,” he said. “Or else I would have pinch-hit yesterday with the bases loaded and one out. Kind of a good time to use me…. . That situation comes up and I know he wanted to use me right there, but you’ve just got to be smart.”
When Jones showed up Saturday morning, he told Gonzalez he didn’t think he could help the team Saturday. They didn’t want to say anything before Saturday’s game because they didn’t want the Giants to know he wasn’t available to pinch-hit.
Jones felt a twinge in his left side when he swung on a foul ball in his final at-bat Friday, and ended up popping out on the at-bat to go 0-for-4 to snap an eight-game hitting streak. He was 10-for-32 (.313) with two doubles and three home runs during the streak.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Tim squared. Tim Hudson vs. the Giants’ Tim Lincecum (7-13, 5.30 ERA), who is having a most un-Lincecum season.
But look a little closer and you will see that, while Lincecum has a hard-to-believe 6.99 ERA and .877 opponents’ OPS in 13 road starts, he’s got a decent 3.92 ERA and .684 OPS in 13 starts here at AT&T Park. He’s 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in his past five starts, the losses coming in his past two home starts against Colorado and Washington
Lincecum is 6-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 regular-season starts against the Braves, but 0-3 with a 4.12 ERA in his past three including two losses in 2011 (he hasn’t faced them this season)
Meanwhile, Hudson is 6-0 with a 3.44 ERA in his past nine starts, and the Braves won eight of his starts in a row before losing his last one at Washington in Monday’s road-trip opener, when he gave up four runs in the first inning (and no more in the next five innings)
Hudson is 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his past eight starts against the Giants, including a July 19 win when he gave up eight hits and two runs in 7-1/3 innings.
Craig Kimbrel’s ninth-inning appearance in Sunday’s 7-3 win was just the fifth time he’s pitched in the past 21 games, none of those in save opportunities. His last save opportunity was Aug. 3, when he struck out the side against Houston to give him 22 saves in 23 chances during 31 appearances over a stretch of 76 Braves games.
Since then Kimbrel has pitched just five innings and allowed one hit, one walk while collecting 10 strikeouts in five scoreless innings. When the Braves scored a run in the ninth to make it a non-save situation Saturday, Gonzalez thought about not using him, but pitching coach Roger McDowell reminded the manager that Kimbrel had pitched only twice in the past 10 days….
Jason Heyward’s crucial three-run homer Saturday was just the first by a left-handed batter off Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner at AT&T Park in exactly two years, since Joey Votto hit on Aug. 25, 2010. In nine games at AT&T Park before Sunday, Heyward was 13-for-33 (.394) with five homers, 11 RBIs, a .487 OBP and a .879 slugging percentage. That’s even better than at Wrigley Field, where Heyward also has 33 and has hit .333 four homers, 10 RBIs, a .425 OBP and .758 slugging percentage.
Heyward has hit .262 with a .777 OPS and eight homers in 62 home games this season, compared to .294 with 15 homers and a .933 OPS in 62 road games before Sunday. For his career, he’s hit .254 with 22 homers and a .771 OPS in 203 home games, and had a .272 average with 33 homers and .852 OPS in 191 road games before Sunday.
• OK, let’s get this posted. First pitch in a half-hour. Here’s a classic cut by the mighty Clash, which you can hear by clicking here. It was a solid night of tuneage last night at the Joe Strummer Tribute at Bottom of the Hill here in San Francisco.
“RUDIE CAN’T FAIL” by The Clash
So we reply
I know that my life make you nervous
But I tell you that I can’t live in service
Like the doctor who was born for a purpose
Rudie can’t fail
I went to the market to realize my soul
‘Cause what I need I just don’t have
First they curse, then they press me till I hurt
We say Rudie can’t fail
We hear them sayin’
Now first you must cure your temper
Then you find a job in the paper
You need someone for a savior
Oh, Rudie can’t fail
Now we get a rude and a reckless
We been seen lookin’ cool an’ a speckless
We been drinking brew for breakfast
So Rudie can’t fail
So where you want to go today?
Hey boss man!
You’re looking pretty smart
In your chicken skin suit
You think you’re pretty hot
In your pork pie hat
But…Rudie can’t fail
Look out, look out…
Sky juice!…ten cents a bottle!