Justin Upton’s 10 home runs at Turner Field were the most by any Major League Baseball player at his own ball park entering Tuesday’s late game against the Red Sox. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — It’s safe to say, Justin Upton is a homebody.
When he hit his 10th home run at Turner Field Sunday night, it was more home runs than any other player in the majors had hit in his home ballpark. That’s one more than the nine Giancarlo Stanton had hit at Marlins Park (where the Marlins are a majors’ leading 20-8 entering Tuesday’s game) and two more than the eight Troy Tulowitzki had hit at Coors Field and Todd Frazier at another hitter-friendly ballpark, Great American Ballpark.
“I’m seeing the ball really good at Turner Field right now,” Upton said, matter-of-factly. Same goes for what his numbers say.
On Monday, Upton was sizzling again with two hits and three RBIs in an 8-6 loss to the Red Sox. He raised his batting average to .299 in the loss. At home, he’s hitting .381 in 28 games with 26 RBIs and nine doubles. On the road, he’s hit .195 in 20 games with three home runs and seven RBIs.
“The times I’ve stunk have been on the road,” Upton said. “The times I’ve hit the ball well I’ve been here. I think it’s coincidence.”
Maybe so, but it’s been a trend throughout Upton’s career, wherever that “home ballpark” has been. He was the same way in Arizona.
Over his six seasons in Arizona, Upton hit .307 at Chase Field, with 76 doubles, 18 triples, 67 homers and 219 RBIs in 363 games. Over that same period, he hit .250 on the road, with 71 doubles, 10 triples, 41 homers and 144 RBIs in 367 games.
Since he arrived in Atlanta via trade before last season, he’s hit .292 with 23 home runs and 57 RBIS in 100 games at home. On the road, he’s hit .249 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs in 96 games.
“We tricked him this May telling him it was April,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, referring to another of Upton’s lopsided splits. “Maybe we’ll go on the road and just wear white uniforms and trick him that way, too. But you know what, he is a special talent and he can do those kind of numbers anywhere, really.”
SETBACK FOR VENTERS: What Jonny Venters had thought would be just a week-long setback with some elbow discomfort has turned into something more. He felt soreness in his elbow when he got back on the mound for a bullpen session Sunday and was told doctors believe that was caused by scar tissue breaking up.
Scar tissue breakup is a common setback for those recovering from Tommy John surgery, and doctors told Venters Sunday evening that his elbow is structurally sound.
But just at the point when Venters was ramping up his effort level, and beginning to face hitters again in live batting practice for the first time in more than a year, he’s back to resting and waiting to see how his elbow will respond.
“We’re just playing it day by day and when it starts to feel good again, throw again,” Venters said. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to battle through and be better for it. But it’s just a little sore.”
Venters was 10 pitches into facing hitters for the first time in a live batting practice session May 14 at the Braves complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. when his elbow started to bother him. He was told it was a flexor muscle strain.
Now looking back doctors believe the flexor strain was a result of some scar tissue starting to break up. Venters said he felt a similar sensation on a pitch 15 pitches into his bullpen session Sunday at Turner Field, and believes that was a continuation of the scar tissue breaking up.
KIMBREL CLOSE TO RECORD: As he neared John Smoltz’s Braves career record for saves, closer Craig Kimbrel tried to put things into perspective by noting that Smoltz only served as closer for 3 1/2 seasons of a distinguished 21-year career.
But the fact remained, what Kimbrel has done is nonetheless impressive and historically dominant.
Kimbrel, in his fourth season as closer, entered Tuesday needing two saves to match Smoltz’s Braves record of 154. Kimbrel considered it an honor.
“It definitely is,” he said. “(Smoltz is) a man I looked up to when I was younger, and still look up to. The things he was able to do in the game of baseball, not only as a closer but as a starter — and to do it as long as he did it, that’s impressive. Nearing a record that he has is pretty special, but he only (served as closer) for four years.
“So I’m getting closer to a record that he did in four years, and not many guys have had the opportunity to do it here in Atlanta for much longer than that.”
Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to have many as 200 wins and 150 saves. He closed for 3 1/2 seasons after returning from Tommy John elbow surgery, and in his three full seasons as closer he had save totals of 55 in 2002 (still the franchise record), 45 in 2003 and 44 in 2004.
Kimbrel last season became the second Brave to have a 50-save season and youngest (25) in major league history to do it, notching a career-best 50 while leading the National League in saves and ERA (1.21). He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.
This season he had 13 saves and a 1.96 ERA in 19 appearances before Tuesday, and already racked up 36 strikeouts with seven walks in 18 1/3 innings. His 17.7 strikeouts per nine innings was more than 1 1/2 strikeouts higher than the next-highest rate among major league pitchers.