LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – OK, so Justin Upton’s two long home runs against Philadelphia Monday came not against Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, but against a 37-year-old non-roster invitee, Rodrigo Lopez, and a 22-year-old minor leaguer, Colton Murray.
Upton and the Braves were nonetheless encouraged to see the left fielder’s mini-surge continue in a messy 17-10 Grapefruit League win against the Phillies at Champion Stadium.
Upton went 3-for-3 with two homers, six RBIs and a walk in four plate appearances, giving him five hits in his past five at-bats including a two-hit game Saturday against the New York Yankees.
“It’s always nice when you go up there and you see the ball and you’re putting good swings on it,” said Upton, who raised his spring average to .292 (14-for-48) with four homers, a .358 on-base percentage and a team-high 15 RBIs in 18 games. “Obviously it’s spring training and you’re just trying to get comfortable right now, get your timing right. But it’s always nice to see some results.”
The Braves acquired the slugger from Arizona in a seven-player January trade that sent Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and two minor leaguers to the Diamondbacks. The Braves also got third baseman Chris Johnson in that trade.
Upton hit a two-run homer off journeyman right-hander Rodrigo Lopez in a six-run first inning, a ball that landed on top of the grass berm beyond left field. Upton added a three-run homer in the third inning off righty Colton Murray, an extra pitcher brought along from Phillies minor league camp for the day.
Both pulled shots sailed at least 425 feet – plenty long, but not colossal like the homer Feb. 25 homer he hit against Miami that sailed over the berm and a fence that separates it from the players’ parking lot. Coincidentally, Kris Medlen was the Braves’ starting pitcher Monday and Feb. 25.
Upton had gone 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts in a six-game stretch before his consecutive multi-hit games. He credited early work with hitting coach Greg Walker in the batting cage for helping him snap out of the funk.
“Just getting into a routine in the cage in the morning, getting reps,” Upton said. “Early on in the spring there’s a lot going on – you’re taking pictures, maybe doing an interview, doing something, and you don’t really get into your routine. Now everything’s died down, you get to the cage and try to find what’s going to get you through the season.”
Walker said during the weekend that Upton had an adjustment to his swing and become more comfortable.
“We were working on a few things, get the swing path back right,” Upton said, “and Saturday I was starting to feel OK. Having (Sunday) off and getting some cage time, then getting back out there today, it’s starting to come along.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez: “Him and Walk did some tinkering, and it looks like it’s paid off. They were talking about a little different bat angle. He’s been locked in.”