Right on cue, second baseman Dan Uggla returned to the Braves’ lineup Wednesday night on the first day he was eligible to come off the disabled list. He was eager to get back in action coming off his Aug. 16 laser eye surgery.
“I feel great,” Uggla said Wednesday afternoon. “I feel confident with everything. I’m just happy to be back and finishing this thing out.”
Uggla took confidence from the final game of his injury rehabilitation assignment Tuesday night in Triple-A Gwinnett, when he went 2-for-4 with a home run.
“It’s been awhile since I hit two balls hard in a game — or two balls hard in a week for that matter,” said Uggla, who is hitting .186 this season. “It was very nice to know that that is still possible. For the most part, I was just going down to see some pitches and try to put some good swings on the ball. I ended up getting a couple hits, and that was cool.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said despite expectations that this will be an overnight fix, he knows it might take Uggla a while to get his timing back. “We’ve got to have a little patience,” Gonzalez said. “But I think he’s comfortable and from talking to him when he was with us taking (batting practice during the road trip), I think he’ll be fine.”
Uggla said the more live pitching he saw in those two games in Gwinnett, the better he felt. “I was a lot more confident in the box and just that alone is more than half the battle,” Uggla said. “Actually being able to see the ball and as I got more at-bats and was seeing more pitches, every at-bat felt that much better.”
Cunningham optioned: The Braves optioned outfielder Todd Cunningham to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Uggla on the roster. Cunningham will be eligible to return to Atlanta on Tuesday, before the normally requisite 10 days are up, because Gwinnett’s season ends Monday. Major league rosters expand Sept. 1.
Gonzalez told Cunningham that he keeps getting promotions because he’s earned the trust of the major league coaching staff.
“We trust him that he’s going to be ready to play defense, he throws to the right base every time,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a good baseball player. That’s a good trait to have when you’re a young player and you keep coming back and forth. We know what we’re going to get from Todd Cunningham when he joins us here with the club.”
Gonzalez said the Braves haven’t finalized their list of September call-ups, but that it would be a small number. That group of about a handful likely will include outfielder Jose Constanza and right-hander Freddy Garcia. Infielders Tyler Greene and Phil Gosselin are other possibilities.
Bourn on B.J.: B.J. Upton was back in the Braves’ lineup Wednesday for the seventh time in the past 15 games. The Braves were 3-3 in the previous games he started. Gonzalez has picked his spots to play the struggling Upton.
“Get him in there, get him some at-bats, too,” Gonzalez said of Upton joining Uggla in the lineup Wednesday. “Boy, if we can get those two guys going in the right direction, we’ll be really, really good.”
Upton, who signed a five-year $75.25 million contract with the Braves this winter, was hitting only .182 entering Wednesday night.
One player who understands how difficult it is to switch leagues after signing a free-agent contract is Michael Bourn, who is in his first season with the Cleveland Indians. Upton’s predecessor in center field for the Braves signed a four-year, $48 million contract this offseason with Cleveland.
“The National League East has (some) of the toughest pitching there is, especially with (Stephen) Strasburg, Gio (Gonzalez), all those players with (Jose) Fernandez in Miami coming on,” said Bourn, who like Upton had played his entire career in the other league. “So the first time going through it, it’s going to be tough. I knew that even coming into the American League, you’re going to go through a whole period of time where you’re going to face a lot of pitchers you don’t know. …
“(Teammates) give me tips on what this dude is doing, what this dude has. It helps me, but at the same time you like to see it for yourself.”
Walden injury: Gonzalez acknowledged he has rested reliever Jordan Walden because of some “leg issues” and left it at that. Walden hasn’t pitched since going two innings during the Braves’ 10-inning win in New York a week ago. Gonzalez said he didn’t think Walden would be out much longer than another day or two.
“We’ll throw him a little bullpen (session) today, a little side, see how he feels,” Gonzalez said. “But I don’t think it’s anything lingering.”
August stats: Alex Wood used 5 2/3 scoreless innings Tuesday night against the Indians to lower his ERA for the month of August to 0.90 which is the third-lowest ERA for a rookie starting pitcher in August since 1955, according to Stats LLC. Wood, who has given up three earned runs in 30 innings in five August starts, trails only Milwaukee’s Cal Eldred (0.61 in 1992) and Miami’s Jose Fernandez (0.82 this season). Fernandez, a 21-year-old Cuban sensation, will make his first start against the Braves on Friday night at Turner Field against Julio Teheran.
Staff writer Chris Vivlamore contributed to this article.