Braves-Marlins Preview

When the Atlanta Braves acquired Dan Uggla from the Florida

Marlins in the offseason, they had envisioned the power-hitting

second baseman adding some pop to the middle of their lineup.

He has not come anywhere close to living up to those

expectations.

Returning to Florida for the first time since the trade, Uggla

hopes playing in familiar surroundings can help him break out of

his season-long slump Tuesday night when the Braves open a

three-game series with the Marlins.

Atlanta (32-28) obtained Uggla in November after the two-time

All-Star finished with career highs of 33 homers and 105 RBIs in

2010. Uggla became the first second baseman in major league history

to hit 30 home runs four times, but he needs to pick it up

significantly to reach that mark again.

Uggla’s .172 batting average is the lowest among all qualifying

players, and he has seven homers and 16 RBIs through 60 games. The

slugger had 14 home runs and 35 RBIs through 60 games last

year.

The whole season has been a struggle for Uggla, but he is

currently mired in one of his worst stretches, going 5 for 60

(.083) with one RBI in his last 18 games.

In his first series against his former team, Uggla went 2 for 12

with a solo homer as the Braves dropped two of three to the Marlins

at Turner Field from April 12-14. In 389 career games at Sun Life

Stadium, Uggla hit .261 with 77 homers, 75 doubles and 228

RBIs.

“It was nice to get to play them in spring training and in

Atlanta,” he told the Braves’ official website. “Once the games

start we will compete and it will feel natural.”

Along with Uggla, manager Fredi Gonzalez also makes his return

to Florida. Gonzalez, who was hired by the Braves just days after

Bobby Cox retired, was fired by the Marlins (31-27) last June.

The Braves arrive in Miami after losing to New York 6-4 on

Sunday, their fourth defeat in six games. Atlanta managed 10 hits

in losing its final two games in the Mets series, and is batting

.237 in its last seven contests.

“In my gut, in my heart, I know we’re going to swing the bats,”

Gonzalez said. “Hopefully soon.”

The Braves hope to take advantage of facing Brad Hand, who will

be making his major league debut.

The 21-year-old left-hander went 7-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 11

starts for Double-A Jacksonville, striking out 40 and walking 26 in

59 2-3 innings. Hand is making a start for staff ace Josh Johnson

(right shoulder inflammation).

Hanley Ramirez, Uggla’s former double-play partner, joined

Johnson on the disabled list with a strained back prior to Monday’s

7-2 loss to Milwaukee.

Monday’s defeat extended Florida’s season-long losing streak to

five games. Mike Stanton was hitless in three at-bats and finished

the four-game series against the Brewers 2 for 12 with a solo homer

and six strikeouts.

“We have to regroup and go back do what we were doing before

this series,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said.

It could be tough for the Marlins to get back on track against

scheduled starter Tommy Hanson (6-4, 2.82 ERA), who is 3-1 with a

2.51 ERA in five starts against Florida since the start of last

season.

One of Hanson’s best starts this year came against the Marlins

on April 12, when he gave up four hits and struck out five in seven

innings of a 5-0 win.

In Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over San Diego, Hanson allowed two

runs and three hits in six innings. The right-hander has a major

league-best .170 opponents’ batting average since April 22.