SAN DIEGO – Struggling Dan Uggla showed Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez enough Monday to stay in the lineup, but not to keep him out of the eighth spot for the first time in his career.
Gonzalez wanted to play outfielder Reed Johnson on Tuesday against Padres left-hander Andrew Werner, so he moved left fielder Martin Prado to shortstop. Paul Janish was out of the lineup for just the second time in 44 games since he replaced injured shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Uggla, batting a league-worst .207 before Tuesday, was dropped to Janish’s usual eighth spot after batting mostly sixth or seventh for the past eight weeks as his struggles continued.
“I talked to Danny,” Gonzalez said. “You hate to hit him eighth, but somebody’s got to hit eighth, and I felt like that way you kind of split the left-handers.”
He referred to left-handed hitters Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, who batted fifth and seventh Tuesday. Gonzalez wanted a right-handed batter between them and went with Johnson, batting .300 overall and .321 with an .854 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against lefties.
That left the eighth spot for Uggla, who has been equally bad against lefties and right-handers this season. Uggla hit .145 with five homers and 82 strikeouts in his past 69 games before Tuesday, including 3-for-31 with no RBIs in his past 10 games.
He did, however, single up the middle and hit a 400-foot flyball that was caught at the center-field wall Tuesday. And Gonzalez also saw a good sign in another Uggla at-bat Tuesday – a fifth-inning pop fly to second base.
“He hit a ball up the middle, and then the one to straightaway center, he nailed it,” Gonzalez said. “And you know what? I was encouraged – this is going to sound a little crazy – but I was encouraged when he got jammed, on that [pop fly]. For me, it means OK, he’s letting the ball travel a little, he’s letting the ball get deep [on him]. That’s a good sign. You can work from that. So yeah, that was the reason I chose [to sit Janish] instead of Danny….
“To the casual observer, OK, it’s a fly ball to [second] base. But I haven’t seen that from him lately, and they say good hitters get jammed. Good hitters are not afraid to get jammed. And then the next at-bat he goes straightaway center in this ballpark. So OK, there’s [encouraging] stuff there.”
To be clear: Gonzalez concedes he is always a glass-half-full kind of guy when it comes to his players. Nowhere has that been more blatant that in his steadfast support of Uggla during severe slumps in each of his first two seasons with the Braves, including the career-worst stretch Uggla has been in since the first week of June.
He did bench Uggla twice in the past week, replacing him with Prado on Sunday at San Francisco against Tim Lincecum and playing Tyler Pastornicky at second base against Washington’s Ross Detwiler on Aug. 22. Uggla was a combined 0-for-18 against those two pitchers, and Gonzalez said when he told him why he wasn’t playing him against Detwiler, Uggla took it well.
“He’s been, ‘Whatever you want,’” Gonzalez said. “Here’s a guy that’s been on the All-Star team three times, and he’s got an ego — all the good players have egos and feelings. And he has never said anything. Which is a good sign.
“That’s why we cheer him on so much, because of the kind of player he is. We want him to be successful. Hell, he’s going to be here for three more years. We want him to get through this stuff.”
Uggla is in the second year of a five-year, $62-million contract he signed soon after being traded to the Braves in November 2010.
Another lefty Wednesday
The Braves will face another Padres left-hander, Eric Stults, in Wednesday’s series finale. Gonzalez said Johnson would be in the lineup again, and mentioned possibly resting Chipper Jones or one of his left-handed hitters. Or he could have Prado play second base again.
For the second year in a row, the Braves have faced more left-handed pitchers than any other NL team. A lot more.
The only four NL players with as many as 175 at-bats against lefties this season were all Braves – Michael Bourn (197), Jason Heyward (187), Freeman (182) and Prado (181).
No division has as many lefty starters than the NL East, and the other teams in the division have had more lefty pitchers start games this season than the Braves, who had only one (Mike Minor) until the July 30 trade for Paul Maholm.
The Braves had 1,638 at-bats against lefties this season before Tuesday, while the Mets (1,506) were only other major league team with as many as 1,500. Last year the Braves led the NL with 1,637 at-bats against lefties.
This was particularly troublesome last season, when the Braves had the most at-bats in the league against lefties, they ranked dead last in the league in average (.228) and OPS (.642) against lefties. This season they were eighth in NL with a .249 average vs. lefties and ninth with a .705 OPS vs. lefties.
Much of that has to do with Prado, back in top form after his health-affected 2011 season. Against lefties, he led Braves regulars by a wide margin with a .331 average against lefties before Tuesday. Next were Jones (.310) and Bourn (.284), with no other lineup regular above .241 against lefties.
Mejia named IL’s top rookie
Triple-A Gwinnett Braves first baseman Ernesto Mejia was named International League’s rookie of the year, the third consecutive Gwinnett player to win the award. Pitcher Julio Teheran won it last season and Freeman in 2010.
Mejia, 26, hit .303 with 24 home runs, 91 RBIs and an .871 OPS before Tuesday.