BRAVES NOTEBOOK: B.J. Upton wants more playing time; Kimbrel joins elite club

Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton reacts after striking out against the Phillies. Upton, hitting .182 in his first season in Atlanta, has the lowest batting average of any current MLB player with 250 or more plate appearances.

Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton reacts after striking out against the Phillies. Upton, hitting .182 in his first season in Atlanta, has the lowest batting average of any current MLB player with 250 or more plate appearances.

ST. LOUIS — He’s said all the right things about his recently decreased playing time, but it’s pretty clear B.J. Upton is frustrated by the situation.

The struggling Braves center fielder was out of the lineup Sunday for the seventh time in 13 games, including two of four games since right fielder Jason Heyward went on the disabled list with a broken jaw.

“Obviously I want to play,” he said Sunday morning. “It’s not my doing … I’ve always been the guy who, even at my worst, I’ve always played through it, and always been out there every day. So, you know, it’s really out of my hands.”

Upton, 29, has been at his very worst in his first season with the Braves and the first of a five-year, $75.25 million contract.

His .182 average is the lowest in the majors among the 275 players with at least 250 plate appearances. His .263 on-base percentage was tied for ninth-lowest, and he has 12 doubles, eight homers, 21 RBI, 36 walks and 125 strikeouts in 330 at-bats, including a ninth-inning strikeout Sunday after he entered the game in the eighth.

There’s a saying that you can’t hit your way out of a slump from the bench, but it appears Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez finally tired of letting Upton try to turn things around after sticking with him for nearly three-quarters of the season.

Upton went 10-for-21 with two doubles from Aug. 3 through Aug. 7 in his first five games back from a three-week DL stint for a strained adductor muscle. But since then, he’s 1-for-32 with one walk and 16 strikeouts in his past 13 games, and his playing time has eroded. That’s something the veteran had never experienced.

“I guess it’s what it is,” he said, acknowledging it’s a no-win situation if he says much other than that. “I’m fine. I’m good. I know where I’m going. Every time I feel like I’m getting to where I want to be it’s like…”

He stopped without finishing the sentence.

He’s one of the only Braves with significant playoff experience, having hit .267 with seven homers and 18 RBI in 25 postseason games with Tampa Bay.

“I’ve been there, man,” he said. “There’s a select few guys in this clubhouse that can say that. G-Money (Gerald Laird) has got a World Series. My brother (Justin Upton) has been in the NLCS. I was in the playoffs three out of four years, got an American League championship ring. So I know what it takes to get there. I know what it’s like when those lights are on. And a series like this (against the Cardinals) could be a preview.”

That was one reason being out of the lineup for two games against the Cardinals stung. Plus it’s August, and it was around this time last season when Upton showed how quickly he could heat up.

After getting off to a terrible start in 2012, he hit .349 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 17 games from June 23 through July 16. As quickly as he went to scorch mode, he cooled to .167 with three homers and nine RBIs in his next 41 games. Then he flipped the switch again, hitting .363 with 16 extra-base hits (five homers) and 20 RBIs in his final 24 games.

“That’s part of it, too — I kind of have a track record of these being my two months,” said Upton, whose highest monthly homer and RBI career totals have been in August (27 homers, 95 RBIs) and September (30 homers, 90 RBIs).

Jordan Schafer has started nine of the past 13 games, including seven in center field. He’s started all four since Heyward got hurt, including starts in left field Friday and Saturday and center field Thursday and Sunday.

Justin Upton switched from left field to right in place of Heyward, who could miss at least the rest of the regular season.

CAN’T STOP KIMBREL: Braves closer Craig Kimbrel continues to re-write the club record for saves.

Kimbrel converted his 41st save in a 5-2 won in St. Louis on Sunday and now has three straight seasons with at least 40 saves. That marked his 30th consecutive conversion and put more distance between himself and John Smoltz, who had 27 straight during a stretch in 2002-03.

Since blowing his last save May 7 at Cincinnati, Kimbrel has given up only one run and 20 hits in 39 1/3 innings. He has 35 strikeouts over his last 22 innings.

Kimbrel had 46 saves in his rookie season of 2011 and had 42 saves in 2012. He is the first pitcher in major league history to start his career with three 40-save seasons.

Upon earning his 40th save, Kimbrel joined John Smoltz as the only pitcher in club history to have three 40-save seasons.

Kimbrel is the only player in Braves history to start their career with three 20-save seasons. Smoltz and Mark Wohler saved 20 games three times and Gene Garber holds the club record with four 20-save seasons.

Kimbrel has converted 130 of 144 save opportunities, a 90.3 percent success rate, which is surpassed only by Smoltz (91.1 percent) and ranks third in major league history for closers with a minimum of 100 opportunities.