Uggla thinks things have clicked

sports@macon.comMarch 18, 2014 

Braves Phillies Spring Baseball

Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, left, congratulates Dan Uggla, center, after Uggla hit a two-run homer off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Mario Hollands in a spring exhibition baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

KATHY WILLENS — AP

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Dan Uggla believes something might have clicked for him in a game last week in Clearwater, Fla. As he has tried to figure out what has happened to his offense the past few years, perhaps one single at-bat made a difference.

“I spread out a little bit,” Uggla said. “I have looked at a lot of video, and I noticed I was narrow last year -- more narrow with my (stance) than in years past. So I just spread out and immediately felt way better. I felt like I had more time. Actually, I kind of thought to myself, ‘Wow,’ because I would be out in front of a couple. I had a lot more time to let the ball travel. Immediately I could tell from that.

“It was a very familiar feeling that was good.”

The Braves are hoping he’ll have a good feeling going into the season. With all the pitching question marks due to injuries, the Atlanta offense might have to carry this team. And it cannot afford another .179 batting average from its starting second baseman.

Uggla has had many people talk with him about his swing, but he believes it’s his approach at the plate that has caused the problems.

“That’s been probably my biggest hiccup in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “It’s not really been my swing, but my pre-swing. Once I get in the box, I just haven’t felt comfortable. That’s just a bad start. Now I feel comfortable again.”

Uggla has hit .273 with three home runs, 10 RBI and a .432 on-base percentage this spring.

Meanwhile, Uggla’s potential replacement at second base, Tommy La Stella, has hit .286 and is making a great impression. He’ll probably be in Triple-A Gwinnett. And the Braves will also have Jose Peraza get more time at second base. Peraza, who turns 20 years old next month, hit .288 and stole 64 bases last year in Single-A Rome. He primarily has played shortstop in his pro career, but with Andrelton Simmons locked up for the long term at that position, Peraza will move across the bag and play more at second.

• The Braves are in the market for another veteran reliever. With the rotation still unsettled a bit until Mike Minor returns, the middle relief corps could be vitally important in the first month. So expect the team to search around for an innings eater who could bridge the gap between the starters and the solid late-innings relievers. The Braves have brought in relievers late in March before, such as Juan Cruz and Chris Reitsma a decade ago and in the past few years Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez.

• Atlanta likely could have one rookie in the bullpen, and left-hander Ian Thomas might be the favorite right now. Thomas was an undrafted player that spent time in independent baseball before being signed by the Braves two years ago. He had 123 strikeouts in 104-1/3 innings of work last year for Double-A Mississippi.

• With all the bad news regarding the rotation this spring, two pitchers have stood out and have been outstanding. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood have allowed one earned run between them in 27 innings of work. The Braves probably will name Teheran as the opening day starter later this week. He is showing the stuff that had many label Teheran as the next Pedro Martinez from the time he was in rookie ball. Wood looks like a pitcher determined to never see the bullpen again. That was his potential destination until the injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.

• While outfielder Jordan Schafer is penciled in as the fourth outfielder, expect him to get playing time. He’s the only legitimate leadoff man on the roster, and if B.J. Upton struggles again, the Braves will not hesitate to get Schafer in the lineup.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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