If you’re wondering about Dan Uggla’s game-day attire on Monday, he will arrive at the stadium wearing beige shorts, a plaid button-down shirt and tennis shoes with no socks.
We know this because for as much as Uggla insists he is not superstitious, this just isn’t the time to mess with the cosmic forces.
“I’ll wear the same thing I wore today — you ain’t lying,” he said, smiling.
This was a good day — unlike most of his days as a Brave. He went into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia carrying a .196 batting average the way a pageant queen carries a blemish in the middle of her forehead.
The Braves traded for Uggla. They committed to him over the long term with a five-year, $62 million contract extension. He reciprocated by hitting .154 with runners in scoring position while batting fifth.
“I know he cares and it bothers him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said earlier Sunday.
The bad run might be over now, which would be good because Uggla probably is running out of outfits. He scored all three of the Braves’ runs in their 3-2 victory over Philadelphia at Turner Field. He singled, went to third on a hit and scored on an infield hit. He walked, went to third on a single (head-first slide) and scored on a sacrifice fly. Then in the eighth inning, with the score tied 2-2 — and with Chipper Jones (knee) and Jason Heyward (shoulder) not available for a late-game heroics — Uggla cracked a Roy Halladay sinker over the left-centerfield wall to give the Braves the lead.
If this is where Uggla starts turning into the offensive force that the Braves have expected, give him points for timing. The victory enabled them to win their second straight series over Philadelphia, the team they figure to battle all season for the National League East.
That assumes they also can figure out a way to win a series from the Washington Nationals.
Uggla’s acquisition figured to be the key for the Braves this season. He was a right-handed bat with power, something they’ve needed and the Phillies lack. For as much as the baseball world has been fawning over Philly’s pitching staff this season, the Braves currently have a better staff ERA (2.99) than the Phillies (3.13). So if the pitching holds up, what happens if Uggla starts putting up numbers that reflect his tenure in Florida (average: 31 homers, 93 RBIs, .263 average)?
The Braves are 5-4 against Philadelphia this season. They’re 23-19 overall, a relatively pedestrian record but impressive considering they’re hitting only .243 as a team. This is a lineup that should produce more offense than it has been. Uggla could be central to the turnaround.
“It’s not a secret how bad I’ve been scuffling all year, so it feels good when you feel like you’re able to contribute,” he said. “Each time you do something like that, it helps you feel more a part of the team. These guys have made me feel welcome. But at the same time, you want to contribute and do your part.”
Gonzalez said that to Uggla’s credit, he hasn’t let his struggles at the plate creep into the rest of his game. “To the contrary, I think he’s playing the game at an even higher level in other aspects,” he said. “Usually when you see guys struggle,their whole game struggles.”
Uggla is not unaccustomed to bad starts. In his career, he has a career batting average of .238 in April. So the fact that he was hitting .194 after the first month might have been humiliating but it wasn’t a complete surprise. He went 3-for-4 in the second game of a doubleheader against Milwaukee May 4, but any thoughts that was the start of a turnaround ended quickly. He went 4-for-34 (.118) in the next nine games.
“Everybody wants to come to a new city with a new organization and do well, and do what they’re paying me to do,” Uggla said. “Obviously I haven’t gotten the results I would’ve liked, but I have to believe it’s just a matter of time.”
The time could be now. But just to be sure, the clothes won’t change.
By Jeff Schultz