Braves second baseman Dan Uggla leads Atlanta with four spring training home runs. (Reuters)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dan Uggla has twice as many home runs and more than three times as many walks as last spring training, and Braves officials aren’t even bothering to knock on wood anymore when they say they’re encouraged by his progress.
Uggla hit a two-run homer off Red Sox pitcher John Lackey in the fifth inning of the Braves’ 6-3 Grapefruit League win Saturday at Champion Stadium. It was the team-high fourth homer for Uggla, who went 1-for-3 on Saturday and was 1-for-3 with a single on Sunday.
“I love it,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. “He’s starting to get results. You could see early on in camp he was doing things a lot better. And it’s not just running into breaking balls or anything else — he’s covering a lot of different kinds of pitches. We’re excited for him, we really are.”
The Braves, who played late Monday in a spring training game against Houston, also love what they’ve seen from Alex Wood (2-0), the second-year left-hander who held the Red Sox to six hits and one run in six innings, with no walks and four strikeouts. It was the first earned run allowed by Wood, whose ERA is 0.45 in five starts. He has 16 strikeouts and only two walks in 20 innings.
Entering Monday’s game, Uggla is batting .267 with a .407 on-base percentage, .595 slugging percentage, and 14 strikeouts in 45 at-bats. A year ago, he hit .200 with a .268 OBP, .280 slugging percentage and 25 strikeouts in 75 at-bats at spring training, with two homers and only three walks.
The veteran second baseman had a career-worst season for the second year in a row, batting a majors-worst .179 with 22 homers and career-lows in RBIs (55), OBP (.309) and slugging (.362), and a franchise-record 171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats. It was so bad, Uggla was left off the postseason roster.
He added more than 10 pounds this offseason to get back to a comfortable weight, and worked get a flaw out of the lower-body movement in his hitting stance. After hitting a lot of balls hard early but not getting results, Uggla has four homers (and five walks) in 30 plate appearances over his past 10 games.
Walker seemed just as pleased by a line-out to left field Saturday as the home run, given that it came on a breaking ball.
“He’s done that two or three times here in the past week,” Walker said. “He just keeps getting better every day. We’re sitting back and watching him have (success). We’re excited for him. We’ll see when the season starts, but I anticipate good stuff. Real good stuff.”