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Simple approach pays off for J. Upton

Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton hits a walk off single in the tenth inning against the Washington Nationals on Friday. Upton said he has simplified his offensive approach. (Reuters)

Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton hits a walk off single in the tenth inning against the Washington Nationals on Friday. Upton said he has simplified his offensive approach. (Reuters)

ATLANTA — Four days ago, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker told Justin Upton he wanted him to simplify the work he did before a game. Take a few swings off the tee to get a feel, take batting practice on the field, a few more swings off the tee before the game if he wants and go play.

No more swinging off coach flips in the indoor cages, tinkering, overthinking.

Upton went out that night, Thursday night, and homered to the opposite field in his first at-bat for his first home run of the year. He homered to left field in his next at-bat, estimated at 477 feet. He started a tear that has seen him put together three straight three-hit games, including the game-winning opposite field walk-off RBI single Friday night against the Nationals. Upton raised his early season batting average from .265 to .366 in three days.

“We’re trying to get it back to being just simple where he can go out and play the game and let his gifts let them happen, instead of trying to force things or out-think things,” Walker said. “Just trust your feel, trust your talent and that’s it. We made an agreement, we’re not going to stay in the cage all day fighting it and fighting it and fighting it. We’re just going to go get a good feeling and go out and take the test.”

Upton got off to a torrid start last April, hitting .298 with a majors-leading 12 home runs in his first season with the Braves. But the rest of the season was much more of a grind — he hit .256 with 15 home runs from then on out. Walker said he could see Upton working so hard, almost too hard, that he came into spring training with a goal of simplifying things for Upton.

Walker said Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca raved about the player Upton was at age 19, as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, when Tosca saw him as the Diamondbacks third base coach.

“When he was a kid the game came easy to him,” Walker said. “Carlos Tosca told me that when he came into the Diamondbacks first big league camp at 19 years old, he was their best player. And they had to send him down because everyone was going to start hollering before he was going to make the team…. He’s that talented. Through the years I think he’s made it more difficult on himself. And we’re trying to find ways to make it easier and more fun for him because he works so hard and pushes so hard.”