Uggla back in lineup, Pena back on bench after HR, double

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Even though Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday afternoon that Dan Uggla wasn’t “benched” and that he planned to have him back in the lineup Tuesday, Gonzalez knew some fans would be incredulous and upset when they saw the lineup he posted Tuesday with Uggla at second base and Ramiro Pena on the bench.

Sure enough, immediately after the lineup was made public, many fans on Twitter and radio call-in shows bemoaned that Uggla was back in the lineup Tuesday after Pena homered and doubled when the veteran utility man started at second base in Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals.

“In any sport, your bench players are your bench players for a reason,” Gonzalez said. “And I think fans don’t understand that. For example, somebody off the bench goes out and shoots the lights out – ‘the Microwave,’ Vinnie Johnson with the Detroit Pistons … boom, boom, boom, 15 (points) real quick. And then people say, ‘How comes he never starts?’ Well maybe (coach) Chuck Daley knew exactly you handle that player.

“I think coaches don’t get enough credit (for knowing). People say, ‘How come you’re sitting Pena? He had a home run.’ Well, you kind of know you’ve got to match them up, put them in position – I always say, put them in positions where you know they’re going to be successful.”

Pena has a .272 career average and 23 extra-base hits in 345 career at-bats against right-handers, with the Yankees and Braves. In 97 at-bats against lefties, he’s 14-for-97 (.144) with one extra-base hit — the homer he hit off Cardinals lefty Kevin Siegrist in the seventh inning Monday. Lefty Tyler Lyons started Tuesday for the Cardinals.

The Braves aren’t ready yet to bench Dan Uggla, and neither is Gonzalez ready to make Pena an every-day player. The Braves think he has more value for his above-average defense at three infield positions and for his ability to hit certain pitchers, particularly those who are right-handed.

If Uggla keeps struggling and loses the job at some point, it’s likely the Braves will call up prospect Tommy La Stella and give him an opportunity to show what he can do as the primary second baseman.

Pena, 28, will probably continue as the team’s top utility infielder, regardless of what happens at second base.

“Play him two or three days a week and he always produces,” Gonzalez said of Pena, who was having a career-best season — .278 with nine extra-base hits (three homers) and a .330 OBP in 97 at-bats – last season before tearing up his shoulder and having season-ending surgery.

“You match him up with the right pitcher and he gives you really good at-bats. His defense is A+, whether he’s playing short, second or third. You never lose any defense; shoot, sometimes maybe you’re even better off at some defensive positions. He gives you a good at-bat every time he goes out there.”

Someone asked Gonzalez if there was a concern that Pena might be “exposed” if he played every day.

“I think matchups is the right word,” he said. “I never want to use that word exposed, because you never know – I don’t think he’s ever been given that opportunity to play every day. But I think the right matchup and the right amount of games, he could be productive, or he has been productive. If something happened to one of our infielders and you’ve got to run him out there for two or three weeks, I feel comfortable with that.”