In the midst of the worst season of his career, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla will have Lasik eye surgery that will keep him out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks.
Uggla was placed on the 15-day disabled list and Tyler Pastornicky was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and will start Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies at Turner Field.
Uggla will have surgery in two or three days, and the Braves think he’ll be able to recover quickly, play in a few minor league games and return to the active roster in 15 days or shortly thereafter.
“It was a mutual decision,” said Uggla, who ranks second among Braves with 21 home runs and leads the team with 62 walks, but has the lowest average (.186) among major league qualifiers and most strikeouts (146) in the National League. “Obviously I don’t want to go on the DL whatsoever, but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s best for the team right now.
“I’ve been struggling pretty bad and battling with the contacts and grinding with those things day in and day out. I think the best thing to do is just go ahead and do it now.”
Uggla had hoped to put off surgery until after the season, but due to his astigmatism, playing in contact lenses wasn’t working out. The delay between him going on the DL Tuesday and have surgery later in the week was necessary because a patient must go without contacts for a few days prior to Lasik surgery.
“He tried it – the whole thing,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It’s a process with the contacts and trying to get it (right). We reached – the team and also Danny – reached a point where ‘let’s just get it done’ and also have enough time where he could get some at-bats (in the minors) and get used to it.”
They wanted to make sure minor league affiliates would not have completed their regular seasons before Uggla was ready to play some injury-rehab games.
Uggla hit .140 with five homers and 39 strikeouts in his past 31 games, including 2-for-41 with two singles and two RBIs in his last 12. In counts after getting behind 0-1, he’s 22-for-192 (.115) with 18 walks and 100 strikeouts.
His current .307 on-base percentage would also be the lowest of his career.
“I’ve said it before, your eyes are the most important thing in hitting a baseball,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who battled vision problems of his own for a couple of seasons before getting to a comfortable place after having two rounds of Lasik surgery and finding a remedy for an unrelated dry-eye condition.
“When you don’t have your eyes and you’re not seeing the way you’ve seen your whole life, it’s tough to hit sliders, it’s tough to… I changed the way I hit because of it,” McCann said. “I wasn’t working counts. I was trying to up there and swing at the first straight thing I saw, because I didn’t want to get to the slider to my back foot and the curveballs and all that stuff. So it’s tough.
“I feel for him, because when you’re dealing with eye issues, especially in this sport – when I was going through my problems, I was like, I wish I was a basketball player or a football player, I wouldn’t have this problem. But when you’re trying to hit 90 miles an hour every night, sinking and cutting, you’ve got to have your eyes.”
Uggla said in June, after being fitted for contact lenses, that he might have to have Lasik surgery if he wasn’t comfortable wearing the lenses.
“I think we’ve known for a while, since spring training anyway, that the eyes were an issue,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “He started wearing contacts to play a couple of months ago, and we also knew at that time that that probably wasn’t the end-all. It was going to be a help, but not solve the problem. He’s been battling through it.
“We’ve got a great group of doctors, and our eye doctor, Dr. (David) Ross, who fitted him with the contacts, has been out here on numerous occasions to observe first-hand, try different lenses, try different things, trying to get to the point where he could stave off this for the rest of the season. But it just became apparent than he needed to have it done now.
“If everything goes as we expect, it’s only a couple-of-weeks process. It gives us an opportunity to get him back by Sept. 1, and hopefully this works for him.”
Uggla had two strikeouts in Monday’s 5-1 loss to Philadelphia, including a strikeout with McCann at third base and one out in a then-scoreless game. That gave him a .141 average with runners in scoring position, third-lowest in the league. With runners on base, he’s hit .143 (18-for-126) with two homers, 13 walks and 50 strikeouts.
Before Pastornicky was called up from Gwinnett, light-hitting Paul Janish was the only backup infielder on the major league roster. The Braves had interest in trading for a utility player before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and are believed to be pursuing a possible waiver deal that could improve the team.
Wren insisted the Uggla situation would not change their plans or add any urgency to make a deal, and Gonzalez seemed to echo the sentiment.
“I think Tyler has done a good job in Triple-A playing second base,” Gonzalez said. “We know that offensively he can handle it. Bring him up here and let him play…. Obviously Danny has got tons more experience around the bag turning the double play than Tyler, but we’ll replace him with Paul defensively late in the game if we want to.”
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