CLEARWATER — A day after Justin Upton hit a towering homer over the 60-foot scoreboard wall at Champion Stadium, brother B.J. Upton hit his second homer of the spring Friday against the Phillies.
His solo homer in the seventh inning gave the Braves a 5-4 lead, which they extended in the eighth before journeyman left-hander Daniel Rodriguez gave up three runs including a pair of homers in the last two innings of a 7-6 loss.
The Phillies’ Darin Ruf hit a game-ending homer with two out in the ninth, then was optioned to Triple-A.
While B.J. hasn’t blasted tape-measure homers like his brother this spring, the center fielder has hit .377 with six doubles and two homers in 61 at-bats. B.J. hasn’t drawn a walk and has 11 strikeouts, only the seventh-most strikeouts on a team that has three players with at least 15 – Dan Uggla (20), Justin Upton (17) and Juan Francisco (15).
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has played the outfield trio of the Uptons and Jason Heyward together in spring games but made an exception and let B.J. rest Thursday when the other two played, so he could play Friday in Clearwater and Saturday’s split-squad game in Dunedin, two cities close to his home in Tampa.
B.J. has commuted to Braves camp just over an hour away in Lake Buena Vista throughout spring training.
Uggla still struggling: Uggla made his team-high sixth error in the fourth inning, and the Phillies scored three unearned runs after it. The second baseman has hit .210 with one extra-base hit, three walks and 20 strikeouts in 62 at-bats, and his .537 OPS is second-lowest among Braves with at least 20 at-bats (Reed Johnson, .490 in 48 at-bats).
Etc. The Braves have their last split-squad day Saturday. Julio Teheran will start against the Astros at Champion Stadium, and prospect Sean Gilmartin will face the Blue Jays in Dunedin. The next round of roster cuts are likely to be made by Sunday….The Phillies also scored an unearned run in the second after third baseman Chris Johnson’s high throw to first base, his fifth error…. Jonny Venters, who hasn’t pitched since a four-walk inning March 13, will throw in a minor league game Saturday. The Braves rested Venters for most of a week, insisting it was for no particular reason other than it was a long spring and they wanted to “back off” using him for a while…. Cory Gearrin threw in a minor league game Friday, giving him appearances in back-to-back games. The Braves like to have all of their relievers pitch on consecutive days before the end of spring training.
The Braves haven’t been able to acquire the ace they might have wanted for the top of their rotation, but they secured the depth they needed Monday with the signing of free agent right-hander Gavin Floyd.
One week after the Braves were eliminated by the Dodgers in a four-game division series, Braves general manager Frank Wren met with the team’s beat writers and discussed the 2013 season and the team’s needs going into the offseason.