B.J. pleased he’s getting some hits to fields other than left

Braves outfielder B.J. Upton poses for a portrait during Braves Media Day at spring training on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Braves outfielder B.J. Upton poses for a portrait during Braves Media Day at spring training on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After getting off track as a hitter in recent years when he became too pull-conscious, B.J. Upton said Friday he was most pleased by the fact he's hit balls the other way this spring, to right field or hard up the middle.

He did that in a big way Sunday, driving a ball over the head of Mets right fielder Kirk Nieuewenhuis to the warning track for a triple in the first inning, then adding a single to center in the third inning of the Braves’ 4-1 Grapefruit League win. He also had a two-out walk in the seventh, and his brother Justin hit a solo homer, his second.

“I think the majority of my hits have been up the middle or to right field, and that’s a good sign,” said B.J. Upton, batting .294 (15-for-51) with three extra-base hits, four stolen bases and a .357 on-base percentage in 17 games, although he’s struck out 17 times, or once every three at-bats.

“I’m not reading too much into the (number of) hits in spring training, but it’s the location of the hits. That’s a pretty good sign, man.”

The Braves and their veteran center fielder hope the good signs carry over to the regular season for Upton, who is coming off a nightmarish first season with the team. His .184 batting average was 71 points below his career average in eight seasons with the Rays, and he also set career lows in on-base percentage (.268) and slugging percentage (.289).

His nine homers were his fewest since 2008, and 12 stolen bases were his low since his rookie year and 24 below his average over the previous six seasons.

Upton, 29, cleaned up his swing during the offseason, eliminating some of the excessive movement he accumulated in recent years. The simpler swing looks a lot closer to his form during his best seasons with the Rays in his early 20s.

“It feels pretty good, man,” he said. “I can’t complain. It feels a lot more natural than it did at the beginning of spring. Now it’s just maintaining, keeping it where it’s at.”

Gattis update: Catcher Evan Gattis will have been out of the lineup for a full week Monday since straining his right quadriceps, but he wasn't concerned after ramping up his activities Sunday and having no difficulties. Gattis had hoped to return to the lineup Monday, but was told to give it one more day as a precaution.

“So tomorrow I’ll turn it up some more, do a little more,” he said. “It’s feeling good. We’re just taking it slow. Just don’t want to have this turn into something that becomes a long-term thing.”

Gattis strained the muscle while scoring from first base on a Dan Uggla triple against the Astros. Gattis has played in the fewest games (13) among Braves lineup regulars this spring and batted .225 (9-for-40) with four doubles, one home run, no walks and 10 strikeouts.