Braves second baseman Dan Uggla worked on his balance at the plate and widened his stance during the offseason as he tries to bounce back from his horrid 2013 season. (Reuters)
KISSIMMEE, Fl. — Dan Uggla hit his third home run of spring training on Monday against the Astros, always an encouraging sign for a hitter coming off such a rough season, but the Braves second baseman was happiest about a triple he hit to the gap in right center.
The home run? Uggla hit 22 of those last year, while batting a career-low .179. A line drive to the opposite field gap is another story. And on Monday it was telling Uggla that his recent work at the plate is paying off.
“I think every spring, every hitter kind of looks to that one swing that (feels like) ‘Oh OK,’” Uggla said. “You can catch up to a homer. Just protecting the plate, accidentally hit a homer, whatever. But that’s me. Being able to let the ball get deep with two strikes again and drive it the other way, that’s the swing like ‘All right, it’s feeling good. Just build on that.’”
Uggla said he’s been working on his foundation and balance all offseason, but an adjustment he made to a wider stance a week ago in Clearwater “clicked.” And that’s no small thing for a hitter who said his set-up caused him a lot of problems.
“That’s probably been my biggest hiccup this last year and a half,” Uggla said. “It’s not really been my swing, it’s been my pre-swing. Once I get in the box I haven’t felt comfortable. Now I feel comfortable again finally. It clicked the other day in Clearwater, and it’s just been getting and better ever since …
“I looked at a lot of video and noticed that I was narrow last year, more narrow with my base than years past, so I spread out and I immediately just felt way better. I felt like I had more time.”
Uggla went 2-for-2 with three RBIs in a rain-shortened 4-0 win over the Astros to raise his spring training average to .273 (9-for-33) with 10 RBIs. He has walked nine times and struck out 13.
“The ball he hit to right center field that was about as good of a pass as I’ve seen him take in a long time,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “And that ball stayed on the line, stayed true and he hit it hard. So that’s a really good sign.”
WOOD’S WORK: Rain forced the Astros and Braves to call Monday’s game after five innings, but that allowed Alex Wood to get the work he needed, pitching his five scheduled innings. Wood gave up only two hits, walked one and struck out six as he continues to progress toward the start of the season.
Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan were also scheduled to pitch in relief but Gonzalez said he can work them back in easily after the off day on Tuesday.
“We got our work in,” Gonzalez said. “I think with the relievers, those guys are easy to plug in. The starters would have been the hardest thing. We got the gate in for the fans and the organization and there’s no sense in putting anybody at risk.”
INJURY UPDATE: Both Freddie Freeman (left hand) and Ryan Doumit (right middle finger), who left Sunday’s game against the Yankees in Tampa after taking balls of their hands, expect to be ready to return to the lineup by today. Both had some swelling overnight but nothing major. Doumit’s injury was potentially more serious after he took a foul tip off his bare hand while catching, but X-rays were negative.
“I feel very fortunate,” Doumit said. “I’ve broken fingers in the past on balls like that, and (Sunday) when that happened I feared the worst. So I’m glad everything came back OK. It’s a little sore and little stiff but give it a couple days and I’ll be all right.”