Uggla looking to bounce back for Braves
FEB 26, 2013 2:39p ET
While Dan Uggla did arrive at spring training lighter than he was a year ago, the second baseman says his weight loss has been blown out of proportion.
“It’s not as significant as people make it out to be,” he said sitting at his locker. “I think somebody caught wind that I may have lost a little bit of weight and ran with it like I lost like 30 pounds.”
For the record, Uggla — who still has that Popeye-like physique — estimates he’s gone from 215 pounds to around 206-208. After speaking to the Nationals’ Jayson Werth, who has been gluten-free for three years, Uggla decided to make some changes to his diet.
“I’ve always tried to eat right, I just didn’t know how to do it,” he said. “It’s not just eating chicken breast, grilled chicken and rice or something like that. You’ve got to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and you’ve got to eat lean meats.”
Uggla, who true to his new habits was spotted walking around the locker room eating a bowl of fruit, is hoping these alterations pay off on the field.
“Time will tell,” he said. “I was playing at 205 and 210 in years past; normally fluctuated like 210-215, but time will tell. … Hopefully (I’m) a lot better. I hope I’ll be quicker, faster, stronger and have more energy.”
Uggla is looking to bounce back after an erratic season in which he posted career lows in home runs (19) — ending a five-year streak of at least 30 HRs, a record for second basemen — along with RBI (78), average (.220), slugging (.384) and OPS (.732). He also struck out a career-high 168 times.
He started off hitting a respectable .267 through May. But after a summer slump, which included stretches in July in which he went 0-for-20 and 0-for-21, his average had dipped down to .202 by September and he was demoted to eighth in the lineup.
Uggla would spent much of the season trying to find some balance at the plate, battling timing issues and letting go of the bat too early with his top hand, which caused him to rotate out of the hitting zone.
“My swing just felt out of whack,” he said “Just a lot of different things. … I’d feel great in the cage, feel great in (batting practice) and hit homers to center field all day. But some reason it wasn’t translating to games.”
He was benched at the beginning of September but responded, hitting .299 with an .876 OPS over the last 23 games of the season. Uggla had found his groove again, but even that wasn’t enough. He suffered a cut on his hand that required stitches after he reached into an ice bin for a drink during the Braves’ playoff celebration, causing him to miss two of the last three regular-season games.
There were positives in Uggla’s season. He tied the Reds’ Joey Votto for the National League lead with 94 walks and played in the All-Star Game for the third time in his career. But for the second straight season, he saw his average and slugging percentages drop — going from a .287 average in ’10 to .233 in ’11 and .220 in ’12, while his slugging fell from .508 to .453 to .384 — and his strikeout rate rose (22.1 in ’10; 23.2 in ’11 and 26.7 in ’12).
“I always feel like I’m starting to get hot again, whether I struggle for a week or two weeks or whatever, but I always feel like that at the end of the season,” Uggla said. “Of course, I didn’t want it to end last year. I was sitting on 19 homers and a lot of other things I could have improved on. I would have loved for it to have gone another month.”
For all the focus on what newcomers B.J. and Justin Upton bring to the Braves’ lineup — power, speed, youth — it’s what they can do for the likes of Uggla that could be one of the biggest benefits.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has penned Uggla into the sixth spot in the order in an Opening Day lineup that’s expected to go: Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton, Uggla, Juan Francisco/ Chris Johnson, Gerald Laird, pitcher.
With B.J. Upton in front of him, Uggla should see better pitches to hit and he has the home run capability and on-base percentage to provide a boost to the bottom of the lineup.
Uggla spent the offseason pouring over film from 2006, his rookie season with the Marlins, when he says he was “probably a more complete hitter, going foul line to foul line.”
“(I) made the adjustment and I’m just concentrating on building on that, getting back to the basics a little bit,” he said.
It’s an approach that could pay dividends if Uggla can provide something that, save one 33-game hit streak, has been largely missing during his Braves career — consistency.