Braves give Uggla a shot in 2-hole

DETROIT – On the Braves' charter flight from Denver to Detroit on Wednesday, hitting coach Greg Walker mentioned to manager Fredi Gonzalez that he might want to consider batting Dan Uggla second.

“I told Walk, we just left Colorado and I know that stuff (marijuana) is legal out there, but did you bring some on the plane?” Gonzalez said Friday.

The manager was joking, because he actually thought the idea had merit, and Uggla was in the lineup in the 2-hole for Friday night’s interleague series opener at Detroit.

Uggla was his regular No. 2 hitter in 2007 when Gonzalez managed the Marlins, and also hit second for the Marlins in 2006 was a rookie and Joe Girardi managed the team.

“Hitting second, I’m excited about it,” said Uggla, who lugged a .175 average into Detroit, but felt a lot better at the plate this week at Colorado after making an adjustment in his swing.

At Walker’s suggestion, he lowered his hands and got the bat upright, after watching video and seeing how much the bat had “flattened out” at the beginning of his swing and how his hands weren’t getting into a hitting position quickly enough.

In the two games he played against the Rockies, he homered Tuesday and had his first double and first multi-hit game of the season Wednesday. He missed the last game in Pittsburgh Sunday with a strained calf and Gonzalez kept him out of the second game in the doubleheader because of it.

“(Batting second) will give me a chance to hit behind the runners a lot,” Uggla said. “Early in my career when I was hitting second, I think that helped me out more than I probably knew it did.”

Uggla hit .282 with 27 homers and 90 RBIs in 2006, and .245 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs in 2007. His on-base percentages those two years (.339 and .326) were lower than the .348 he posted last year, when he hit a career-worst .220 with a career-low 19 homers, but had a career-high 94 walks to tie for the National League lead.

“Why not, you know?” Gonzalez said of moving him back to the 2-hole. “ He draws bases on balls. We need somebody to get on base today in front of Justin (Upton), so why not? Walk and I talked about it on the plane ride here a couple of days ago. You know me, I listen to the coaches.

“For every reason there’s not to, there’s a reason to put him in there.”

Uggla was tied for ninth in the league with 24 strikeouts before Friday, but was also tied with Upton for the team lead in walks with 12.

Braves No. 2 hitters ranked last in the league in average (.138), OBP (.263) and slugging percentage (.275). Jason Heyward had 58 of the team’s 80 at-bats in the 2-hole, batting .121 before he went on the 15-day disabled list after an emergency appendectomy Monday in Denver.

Gonzalez was asked Friday why Chris Johnson, who led the NL with a .397 average, wasn’t moved to the 2-hole (he hit fifth Friday).

“We’re playing American League, so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s nine hitters, and go get ‘em. But you’ve got to put somebody behind those (middle-order hitters) to kind of protect them a little bit.”

In 2006, Uggla usually hit second behind Hanley Ramirez and in front of Miguel Cabrera, with Josh Willingham at cleanup. In 2007, Gonzalez hit Uggla second, sometimes with Ramirez third and Cabrera fourth.

Hitting second for the Braves means having major league home-run leader Upton behind you. Ten of Upton’s 11 homers came with no one one base, and the Braves were ready to try anything to give him more RBI chances.

“I’ve got freakin’ tons of hitters behind me, man,” Uggla said. “Justin, Freddie (Freeman), C.J. (Chris Johnson)…. So it’ll be fun. Hopefully it’ll work out for us.”