Through thick and thin, second baseman Dan Uggla remains a stalwart in the Braves' lineup.
By ANDY JOHNSTONFS South
Fredi Gonzalez has made it clear.
He’s not going to be the one to tell Dan Uggla he’s getting a day off. At least not to his face.
Maybe Gonzalez could text him, send a personal message on Facebook or even talk to him via the electronic wizardry of Skype. Do people still send telegrams?
Perhaps someone else can tell him. Any volunteers?
“Or maybe I’ll have one of you do it,” the
Braves manager joked to a handful of reporters one day.
Anything other than being in the same room as Uggla, whose competitiveness and pure dislike for sitting on the bench has conveyed the message that he expects to be in the lineup.
Every inning. Every game.
“I don’t need a day off,” Uggla said. “If I’m putting together quality ABs and playing quality ‘D’ and running the bases like I know how to run them, there’s no point. We have days off designated for us, and I consider those my days off.”
Uggla has not played all 162 games in any of his six full seasons in the majors, but he’s also never played in fewer than 146. His name was in the lineup a career-high 161 games last year--playing every day even through his remarkably deep first-half slump--and he’s averaged 156 for his career.
Atlanta has completed one-third of its season, and Uggla is the only Brave who has played in every inning of every game.
Don’t get him wrong. He’s not trying to be the next Ironman or Iron Horse or even iron-headed about the issue. Uggla isn’t trying to break any team or league records. Simply, he thinks that if he’s healthy enough to help the Braves win, he wants to be in the lineup.
“They pay me a lot of money for this game, and I don’t like sitting out,” Uggla said. “My body is fine. I take care of my body. Even if don’t feel 100 percent, I’ll compete to fill as close to 100 percent as I can for that game.”
That’s perfectly fine with Gonzalez.
Uggla was the last man standing for several games as the Braves endured injuries to the bulk of their top run producers. Freddie Freeman, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have all missed games due to a variety of injuries, and Uggla was a steadying presence while all three were out at the same time.
“He’s one of those--and we have a couple of those guys--they’re old breed type guys, and for a long time, this organization had them,” Gonzalez said. “Andruw Jones. Chipper Jones. Rafael Furcal. They never came out of the lineup. Danny is one of those guys. And Freeman is one of those guys. Last year, (Uggla) had (an injury) and you try to give him a day off, and he’s like, ‘No, I want to play,’ instead of the other way around, where you try to beg guys into the lineup.”
Chipper Jones played in at least 153 games every year from 1996-2003 and Furcal played in 143 or more in his final four seasons as a Brave. Andruw Jones, former All-Star centerfielder for the Braves, averaged 157 games in his 11 full seasons with the club--he played in all 162 in 1999 and missed only one in each 2000 and ’01.
Andruw Jones is just one of five Braves to play every game since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966, joining Felix Millan (1969), Dale Murphy (who did it from 1982-85) and Jeff Francoeur (2006 and ’07).
This season, Michael Bourn is the only other Brave to play in all 54 games, but he was given the day off on May 16 and appeared later in that game as a pinch hitter.
Gonzalez is determined to rest his top players, even if they’re on a hot streak. He showed that with Bourn, who sat out against tough Miami lefty Mark Buehrle even though Bourn was on a 12-for-27 tear and had hit in 17 of 18 games.
Uggla, though, wants to be in there, no matter what. Like last year, when he struggled through a calf strain up until the point where he felt like he could make it worse by playing on it.
So he took a whole day off on July 21. The only one of the entire season.
The next day, Uggla hit a pinch-hit home run, and on July 23, Uggla was back in the lineup.
“My intent, if I’m healthy and capable of going out there and competing, then that’s what I’m going to do,” Uggla said. “If capable of doing that for the 162-game season, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not trying to break Cal Ripken’s record. That record will never be broken. I’m not trying to do anything like that. I just take a lot of pride in being out there every day.”