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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