Hours after Juan Uribe was traded to the Braves on May 27, he was asked by an Atlanta reporter whether Uribe thought he could hit like he did in 2014 if he got regular playing time.
Uribe was hitting .247 with two doubles, one homer and a .596 OPS in just 87 plate appearances with the Dodgers at the time of the trade, after hitting .311 with nine homers and a .777 OPS in 404 PAs in 2014.
The 36-year-old third baseman replied that yes, he was confident that he could hit like he did before if given a chance to play on a regular basis.
He got that chance with the Braves, and Uribe’s done what he said he could do, batting .303 with five doubles, six home runs and an .860 OPS in 119 plate appearances over 32 games before Saturday, including four home runs in his past six games.
Uribe doubled and scored the Braves’ first run in Thursday’s 2-1 win against the Nationals and Max Scherzer, and his home run Friday provided the game-winning RBI in a 2-1 victory against the Phillies.
“He’s been great, he really has,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “What’s he got, (six) home runs since he’s been here? He’s played good defense. Right after we left LA, I ended up talking with (Dodgers manager) Don Mattingly and then we went to San Francisco from there and I ended up talking to (Giants manager Bruce) Bochy about him. Both guys said, ‘Just keep an eye on him.’ You know, his legs are – he’s 36 years old and, ‘just keep his legs fresh and he’ll do great.’ And we’ve done that.”
Uribe has started 27 of the Braves’ 35 games since the trade, including 26 starts at third base and one at second base. After going 1-for-8 in the first days after the deal, including a game against the Dodgers — the team that had just traded him — on the day of the trade, Uribe has a .317 average with six homers, 12 RBIs, a .373 OBP and .545 slugging percentage in his past 29 games through Friday.
It’s quite a change from his last weeks in Los Angeles, when Uribe started just one of his final nine games with the Dodgers, who were going with younger players at third base. He was immensely popular with Dodgers teammates and fans, and Uribe’s amiable personality and sense of humor allowed him to move seamlessly into the Braves clubhouse. Teammates and coaches love the guy, who is rarely seen without a smile off the field, or without a fat, unlit cigar.
“I like it here,” said Uribe, who’ll be a free agent after the season. “I like to play. They’re giving me a chance to play, and I try to do a good job every day. It’s a good team. I’m happy. I want the team to win and I want to help my team. Whatever they need.”
Gonzalez said, “He’s been fun to have. He comes in, same guy every day, whether he was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. And he loves playing the game. Shoot he’s been terrific.”
Uribe is considerably older than most on the team, but he likes that young-and-hungry aspect of the Braves, too.
“Not too many big names (stars), you know?” he said. “With people like that, they hustle a lot. I like it.”
Two Braves are older than Uribe – reliever Jason Grilli and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, both 38. Uribe was teammates with Pierzysnki for four years on the Chicago White Sox, including the 2005 World Series championship team.
“Him and A.J. are like two old married women,” Gonzalez said, laughing. “They get on each other back and forth, it’s funny. Pierzynski goes, ‘The only reason you talk to me is because I’m the only name you know here — A.J., A.J., A.J. Everybody else is Papi.’ When they hit the home runs back-to-back (Wednsday vs. the Nationals), He tells A.J., he goes, ‘Hey A.J., you went 330 (feet). I went 440 out there to straightaway center. Papi’s got more pop.’”
Though he’s probably going to spend no more than about four months with the Braves, Uribe has made himself at home, in more ways than one. He’s had his son, Juan Jr., with him in recent weeks, and Uribe also had five of his cars shipped to Atlanta, including a Rolls-Royce, two Hummers (“I have the Hummer 1, and 2”), a Ferrari, and a Porsche Cayenne.
“I like cars,” Uribe said, laughing. “I have a lot of them. I have more in the Dominican.”
When a reporter commented on the Rolls, Uribe smiled and said, “You like the Rolls? I like the Ferrari.”
Then he spit some tobacco juice, walked over to the bat rack to get a stick for batting practice, and said, “I’m a free agent next year. I have to get another contract, to buy more cars.”
And with that, Uribe smiled, laughed loudly, and headed out on the field to the batting cage.
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