Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) catches a fly ball hit by San Francisco Giants third baseman Joaquin Arias (13) in the 3rd inning at Turner Field in Atlanta on Saturday, June 15, 2013.
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Justin Upton returns to lineup, still trying to snap out of slump

KANSAS CITY – Justin Upton returned to the Braves lineup Tuesday after missing two games with a sore right hand. With the designated hitter in use for the interleague series against the Royals, left fielder Upton was penciled in at DH as he eased back into the swing of things.

“It’s good,” he said in clubhouse a few hours before the opener of the two-game series, his hand wrapped tightly in brown cloth wrap.

The question that remained: How much longer would the Braves have to wait for the return of Upton’s power stroke?

He led the majors with a whopping 12 home runs in April, setting an Atlanta franchise record for that month in his first month with the Braves.

But after getting off to a sensational start with his new team, batting .298 with a .402 on-base percentage and .734 slugging percentage in April, Upton hit just .208 with three homers in 46 games in May and June before Tuesday, with a .322 OBP and .298 slugging percentage.

In his past 31 games, he was 22-for-118 (.186) with one homer, six RBIs and 41 strikeouts, dropping Upton’s season average to .240 before Tuesday’s game. His .454 slugging percentage ranked fourth among Braves regulars and had also slipped below backup outfielder Jordan Schafer’s .470.

Schafer, who had four hits including a homer Sunday, made his third consecutive start in left field Tuesday.

Upton said his sore right hand was something that only cropped up Saturday in Milwaukee during the first stop of the current five-game, two-city trip. He said he did it swinging, and didn’t feel a pop or anything like that. He said it was inflammation, an overuse type of injury.

“Just came to the yard with some soreness a couple of days ago,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it was right before I went back out and swung.”

Upton was out of the lineup Saturday and Sunday against the Brewers, and the Braves were off Monday.

“He felt OK on Sunday,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “After taking (batting practice Sunday) he said, ‘I feel like I could go.’ But we felt like the smart thing to do would be to take another day, and then with the Monday off day as (three straight days to rest), and he feels good today. So that was good to wait.”

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