When he said this week that Dan Uggla would not be a lineup regular in September, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez never meant the struggling second baseman would be benched the rest of the way.
Uggla was back in the lineup Wednesday against Colorado, batting seventh, after being benched for three games and getting only a pinch-hit appearance in that period. Gonzalez reiterated that he would “pick his spots” with Uggla and play him according to matchups or when the manager and Braves hitting coaches thought Uggla was progressing.
His .208 average was the worst among National League qualifiers before Wednesday, and Uggla hit .152 in 75 games over the past three months, with seven homers, 27 RBIs, 90 strikeouts and a .578 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He was 8-for-52 (.154) with two RBIs and a .267 on-base percentage in his past 17 games.
“Three games,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think it does him any good to sit more than three. Doesn’t do us any good. Got to get him going somehow. We’ll play it by ear.”
Uggla, 32, was a starter in this summer’s All-Star game, as voted by fans. He led the NL with 80 walks before Wednesday but also had 150 strikeouts, six shy of the franchise record he set last season. After hitting a career-high 36 homers in 2011, becoming the first second baseman to hit at least 30 in five consecutive seasons, he had 17 homers before Wednesday, on a pace for 20. His career-low is 27 homers as a Marlins rookie in 2006.
He was on pace for 76 RBIs, after setting a career-low of 82 in his first season with the Braves. He also had a career-low .233 average in 2011.
Uggla had 90 or more RBIs in four of five seasons with the Marlins, and had career-bests of 105 RBIs and a .287 average in 2010.
“I made sure that I made myself clear, that it wasn’t [permanent], that we were going to pick our spots,” Gonzalez said, referring to his announcement this week that Uggla’s playing time would be reduced. “Three games…is a big number for a guy that’s your everyday second baseman.”
Uggla’s missed nine starts this season, after being out of the lineup only five times in 2011 and never after the 100th game of the season. He missed four starts in 2010, including three in a row Aug. 30-Sept. 1, the last time he missed more than two consecutive starts before this week.
In 2009, he missed five starts and never was out of the lineup in consecutive games for the Gonzalez-managed Marlins.
Prado at shortstop
Martin Prado, after playing the past three games at second base – the position he had before the Braves traded for Uggla in November 2010 – moved to shortstop Wednesday in place of Paul Janish. Jose Constanza started in left field for the second time in three games and is will likely platoon with Reed Johnson in left when Prado plays elsewhere.
Prado has started 100 games in left field and at least four games at every position in the infield this season, including 18 starts at third base and seven at second base.
Janish, an exceptional defensive shortstop, had a .191 batting average with seven extra-base hits, nine RBIs and a .277 on-base percentage in 48 games while filling in for rookie sensation Andrelton Simmons, who’s recovering from a broken hand and could return as soon as Saturday.
Simmons played his second rehab game Wednesday for Class-A Rome in a playoff game, and is set to play for high-A Lynchburg in a playoff game Thursday. Gonzalez said he could possibly rejoin the Braves Saturday in New York and play against the Mets.
Janish was 5-for-41 (.102) with three RBIs in his past 15 games before Wednesday.
“Try to keep Prado in the lineup; he’s swinging the bat,” Gonzalez said of Wednesday’s lineup. “Try to keep Constanza in there. Hey, Yonny [Janish] didn’t come here to swing the bat. Let’s make sure we get that perfectly straight. He came here [as a defensive specialist] and really saved our butt. I think everybody will agree to that. If we were going on all cylinders, his batting average wouldn’t even be a factor.
“And again, he saved our butts. Because when Simmons goes down the last day before the All-Star break, we hold our breath and go, God, what are we going to do now? And this young man has gone out there and got us to this point.”
The Braves hit .220 and averaged 3.2 runs while losing 11 of their past 17 games before Wednesday. They scored 24 runs in their past eight games, and 14 of those runs came in wins Sunday and Monday against Philadelphia and Colorado. They totaled 10 runs in the other six games during that 3-5 stretch, including two shutout losses.