Braves' Uggla confident he'll warm up after cold start to spring

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Braves' Uggla confident he'll warm up after cold start to spring

KISSIMMEE, Fla.—Braves second baseman Dan Uggla popped out in foul territory, grounded out to the pitcher and drew a walk against the Astros Saturday.

That represents a bit of progress in light of Uggla's slow start at the plate this spring.

“Small victories right now with him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Him and (hitting coach Greg Walker) are working extremely hard in getting him going. I'm not concerned because it's still March. We've still got a lot of at-bats to get him ready for the season.”

The reason Uggla's spring struggles could cause more consternation than usual is because he's coming off what he calls his worst big-league season. In 523 at-bats in 2012 Uggla hit .220 with 19 home runs, 78 RBI and 168 strikeouts.

Uggla struck out four times against the Nationals Friday, including consecutive three-pitch strikeouts, to push his strikeout total to 10 in 16 spring at-bats. The 0-for-2 day against the Astros dropped his batting average to .111 in the spring.

But Uggla said he felt better at the plate Saturday. He said that plus some strong swings in batting practice lately have him positive he's on the right track.

“I've never been one of those guys that starts off hot, in spring training especially,” he said. “There's always an adjustment period—getting the timing, figuring out how to stand in the batter's box again. (The at-bats) have been pretty bad, to say the least, but they are always bad in the first couple weeks of spring."

Uggla said 2012 was “a tough year mentally for me, but I got through it.” He said he took some positives from the season, which included leading the NL in walks with 94 and an on-base percentage of .348 in spite of the poor hitting.

Uggla said the bad year motivates him to get back on track in 2013.

“For anybody that takes pride in their profession, their career, it's going to drive them that much more to come back and get back to what they are used to doing, if not even better,” he said. “That's all it's done for me. I'd like to come out and get hits and be hitting homers these first couple weeks of spring; it would be a lot more fun than grinding it out. It's still a process getting your rhythm back and getting your timing back. I'm happy with where I'm at and the progress.”

Kimbrel finishes strong

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel got in a final inning of work before leaving camp on Sunday to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

 After a walk, hit batsman, RBI single and another walk by Kimbrel in the seventh inning, Braves pitching coach Walker visited him at the mound.

 “He said, 'Just quit thinking and throw the ball,'” Kimbrel said.

Kimbrel then got George Springer and Jimmy Paredes to strike out looking to end the inning.

For the spring, Kimbrel allowed five hits and three earned runs in four innings with five walks and three strikeouts.

“I gave up runs, but I kind of figured out today what I need to do and where I'm at” he said. “I would say if I wouldn't have finished the way I did I wouldn't feel too good about it but I do now.”

 Gilmartin struggles

 After Julio Teheran had another strong outing in his bid to be Atlanta's fifth starter on Friday, left-hander Sean Gilmartin allowed six hits and four earned runs in three innings with three strikeouts against the Astros.

 Gilmartin gave up all four of the runs in the fourth inning. From there, he retired the side in order in the fifth inning and faced three batters in the sixth, which ended with a double play.

Gonzalez said Gilmartin was affected by the strong winds at Osceola County Stadium.

“Sean had trouble pitching his breaking ball,” Gonzalez said. “He throws that big loopy one and with the wind blowing in his face had a tough time. But he's a smart enough kid the second time around he started using his change-up more and that seemed to be working.”

Against the Nationals Friday Teheran retired nine of 10 batters faced in three innings with five strikeouts and no walks.

Short hops

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman hit a two-out, solo home run in the third inning Saturday that carried in the wind well beyond the right-field fence. It was Freeman's first homer of the spring. . . .

Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, was 3 for 5 with two doubles and two runs scored in a 5-0 victory over South Korea on Saturday. Simmons hit first in the order.

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