He’s said all the right things about his recently decreased playing time, but it’s pretty clear B.J. Upton is frustrated by the situation.
The struggling Braves center fielder was out of the lineup Sunday for the seventh time in 13 games, including two of four games since right fielder Jason Heyward went on the disabled list with a broken jaw.
“Obviously I want to play,” he said Sunday morning. “It’s not my doing…. I’ve always been the guy who, even at my worst, I’ve always played through it, and always been out there every day. So, you know, it’s really out of my hands.”
Upton, 29, has been at his very worst in his first season with the Braves and the first of a five-year, $75.25 million contract.
His .182 average is the lowest in the majors among the 275 players with at least 250 plate appearances. His .263 on-base percentage was tied for ninth-lowest, and he has 12 doubles, eight homers, 21 RBIs, 36 walks and 125 strikeouts in 330 at-bats, including a ninth-inning strikeout Sunday after he entered the game in the eighth.
There’s a saying that you can’t hit your way out of a slump from the bench, but it appears Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez finally tired of letting Upton try to turn things around, after sticking with him for nearly three-quarters of the season.
Upton went 10-for-21 with two doubles from Aug. 3 through Aug. 7 in his first five games back from a three-week DL stint for a strained adductor muscle. But since then, he’s 1-for-32 with one walk and 16 strikeouts in his past 13 games, and his playing time has eroded. That’s something the veteran had never experienced.
“I guess it’s what it is,” he said, and acknowledged it’s a no-win situation if he says much other than that. “I’m fine. I’m good. I know where I’m going. Every time I feel like I’m getting to where I want to be it’s like…”
He stopped without finishing the sentence.
He’s one of the only Braves with significant playoff experience, having hit .267 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 25 postseason games with Tampa Bay.
“I’ve been there, man,” he said. “There’s a select few guys in this clubhouse that can say that. G-Money (Gerald Laird) has got a World Series. My brother (Justin Upton) has been in the NLCS. I was in the playoffs three out of four years, got an American League championship ring. So I know what it takes to get there. I know what it’s like when those lights are on. And a series like this (against the Cardinals) could be a preview.”
That was one reason being out of the lineup for two games against the Cardinals stung. Plus it’s August, and it was around this time last season when Upton showed how quickly he could heat up.
After getting off to a terrible start in 2012, he hit .349 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 17 games from June 23 through July 16. As quickly as he went to scorch mode, he cooled to .167 with three homers and nine RBIs in his next 41 games. Then he flipped the switch again, hitting .363 with 16 extra-base hits (five homers) and 20 RBIs in his final 24 games.
“That’s part of it, too — I kind of have a track record of these being my two months,” said Upton, whose highest monthly homer and RBI career totals have been in August (27 homers, 95 RBIs) and September (30 homers, 90 RBIs).
Jordan Schafer has started nine of the past 13 games, including seven in center field. He’s started all four since Heyward got hurt, including starts in left field Friday and Saturday and center field Thursday and Sunday.
Justin Upton switched from left field to right in place of Heyward, who could miss at least the rest of the regular season.
C. Johnson (turf toe) a lineup scratch: When Chris Johnson stumbled over first base while racing to beat out an infield hit Saturday, the third baseman got more than good-natured razzing from teammates. He got turf toe.
“It happened when I tripped over first base,” Johnson said. “I jammed it and bent it back. But then I kept playing through the game. I took my shoe off last night and it swelled up after the game. I came in today and it was pretty swollen.”
He hoped to be back in the lineup Tuesday against Cleveland after the Braves’ day off Monday.
“It’s not broken,” said Johnson, who was examined after Saturday’s game. “They said it’s turf toe. It’s just one of those things where I jammed my toe, and we’re trying to get the swelling out. It’s not a big deal, hopefully just a one-day thing.”
Johnson’s average has slipped 15 points in three weeks, from a National League-leading .346 to .331, second to St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (.336) before Sunday. But he’s driven in more runs since moving to the middle of the lineup, going 17-for-59 (.288) with two doubles, three homers and 15 RBIs in his past 15 games.