Slumping Uggla left off Braves’ playoff roster

Dan Uggla had a miserable season.

There’s no denying that.

Still, it was rather stunning when the Atlanta Braves left the
three-time All-Star off the roster for the NL division series
against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Braves announced their 25-man squad during a workout at
Turner Field, a day before Game 1 in the best-of-five series.

”It’s tough,” catcher Brian McCann said. ”Dan is one my
closest friends on the team. I feel for him. He’s put so much hard
work into the season and since he’s been here. We all have his back
in here.”

Uggla wasn’t the only surprise. Freddy Garcia, who was picked up
on the cheap from Baltimore in August, was kept as a likely Game 4
starter if needed. Rookie David Hale made the roster as a long
reliever, even though he made just two starts for the Braves after
the rosters expanded in September. Speedy Jose Constanza, who also
spent most of the season in the minors, is on the roster as an
extra outfielder.

”I’m taken back completely,” Hale said. ”I was not expecting
that.”

Then there was Uggla, who hit 22 homers this season but batted
just .179 and broke his own franchise record with 171 strikeouts in
448 at-bats. His struggles became so pronounced that he went on the
disabled list Aug. 13 to have laser eye surgery.

When Uggla returned, he was even worse. The second baseman
batted just .122 in 49 at-bats in September and began losing
playing time to journeyman Elliot Johnson, who was acquired from
Kansas City off waivers in August.

Now Johnson is a starter in the postseason.

Uggla will only be able to watch against the Dodgers.

”Let’s win,” closer Craig Kimbrel said, ”and hopefully he’ll
be playing in the next round.”

The Braves also decided not to keep a couple of left-handed
pitchers who got extensive work this season. Paul Maholm was a
regular member of the rotation, going 11-12 with a 4.41 ERA, but
manager Fredi Gonzalez decided Garcia was a better option against
the Dodgers. Reliever Scott Downs, who was acquired at the trade
deadline from the Los Angeles Angels to bolster the bullpen,
struggled down the stretch and was left off the postseason
roster.

Gonzalez conceded that setting the roster ”might have been one
of the hardest days I’ve ever had to experience as a major league
manager.”

Especially when he broke the news to Uggla.

”If you look at the scope of the entire team and think that you
put the best 25 out there, it makes it a little easier,” Gonzalez
said. ”But yeah, it was a difficult decision. I’m not going to lie
to you.”

Gonzalez said Uggla might be on the roster if the Braves advance
to the NL championship series.

”It’s a seven-game series,” the manager said. ”Maybe you
compose your roster a little bit different. You know, he may be
able to get that roster spot.”

Uggla did not speak to the media after the 90-minute workout. He
quickly gathered up his personal items and took them to an area of
the clubhouse that is off-limits to reporters. Later, team
officials said he had already left Turner Field.

Uggla was expected to be a cornerstone of the Braves offense
when he was acquired from the Marlins before the 2011 season and
quickly agreed to a five-year, $62 million contract.

He put up solid power numbers his first season with the Braves,
hitting a career-best 36 homers with 82 RBIs. But his batting
average plummeted to a career-worst .233 despite a 33-game hitting
streak, a troubling sign of the struggles to come.

Last season, Uggla briefly lost his starting job and set career
lows in homers (19), RBIs (78) and average (.220). This season was
even worse, costing him a chance to play in the division series and
raising questions about his future in the organization, even though
he is still owed a total of $26 million over the next two
seasons.

Another of the Braves’ big-money disappointments, outfielder
B.J. Upton, did make the roster despite a season that was roughly
on par with Uggla’s – a .184 average with nine homers and 26
RBIs.

Upton makes even more than Uggla, finishing up the first season
of a five-year deal that will pay him more than $75 million.

Both players lost their starting jobs down the stretch, but
Upton has more value than Uggla off the bench because of his speed
and defensive skills. Uggla can only play second base, isn’t highly
regarded for his defense, and doesn’t have nearly as much speed as
Upton.

The Braves are expected to go with an outfield that includes
rookie Evan Gattis in left field, Jason Heyward in center and
Justin Upton, B.J.’s younger brother, in right. Heyward is shifting
from right and Justin Upton from left to get Gattis’ powerful bat
in the lineup. B.J. Upton will likely be used as an expensive
late-inning defensive replacement if the Braves are ahead.

Atlanta’s roster also includes Paul Janish, who batted just .171
but was kept over Uggla because he can play second, shortstop and
third.

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