LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When Dan Uggla hit .200 with two extra-base hits and 25 strikeouts in 75 at-bats at spring training a year ago, no one knew it would set the tone for a career-worst season for the Braves second baseman.
He knows not to make too much of one game in late February, but Uggla went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles in four innings of work Wednesday during a Grapefruit League-opening 5-4 Braves loss to the Tigers.
“The most encouraging thing? Just that I feel like me again,” Uggla said. “It’s Day 1. I’m going to have to keep working. I’ve got a long way to go. But it’s encouraging to be going in the direction I’m going, and feel the way I feel. I’m excited where I’m at and looking to build on this.”
Uggla posted career worsts last season in average (.179), on-base percentage (.309) and slugging percentage (.362), and matched a career-high with a franchise-record 171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats. He had laser eye surgery in August in hopes of getting back on track before the playoffs, but Uggla was left off the Braves’ postseason roster.
He now wishes he had delayed the surgery until after the season, and Uggla said his eyes weren’t as much a problem as things were out of whack with the lower half of his body in his swing. He also thinks weight loss before last season contributed to his woes, so this winter he added weight.
“I’ve been working really hard,” he said. “It’s always fun to gauge where you’re at and how your offseason workouts paid off and all that kind of stuff. I put some weight back on, and I feel great, man. I feel a long stronger than I think I was at this time last year. When you have 10, 15 more pounds, you’re going to have more muscle mass.”
Uggla had a two-out single in the second inning to drive in the game’s first run, after Chris Johnson lined a double down the left-field line. In the fourth, Uggla hit a sharp one-hop single off the third baseman’s glove.
“Danny had a couple of good at-bats,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
J-Up scratched: Justin Upton has a sore right side and was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup.
The Braves left fielder and Gonzalez characterized the injury as minor and said the move was precautionary, since there’s more than a month before the regular season and no sense risking further aggravation of the area.
“It’s just a little sore, and it’s Feb. 26,” Upton said.
Gonzalez said Upton won’t make the trip to Lakeland, Fla., for Thursday’s game, also against the Tigers. He’ll wait and see after that.
Jordan Schafer moved into the lineup in left, batting ninth, and designated hitter Ryan Doumit moved from ninth to fifth.
Upton had some soreness in the past couple of days and said that it didn’t stem from any specific swing or throw. He didn’t know whether it was an oblique muscle or some other muscle.
As Gonzalez sat in the dugout discussing the injury, Upton walked past, stretching his torso while heading toward a batting cage beyond left field, bat in hand. The manager said it was an indication that the injury is minor.
Loss in ninth: Uggla had two hits, including a two-out RBI single, and Ernesto Mejia had a pair of doubles for the Braves, who led 5-4 before the Tigers scored two in the ninth inning on three hits and a walk against Triple-A closer Shae Simmons.
The game was called because of rain with two out in the bottom of the ninth. A regular-season game in the same scenario would’ve been delayed or suspended and completed later.
“It was a little sloppy out there, both ways,” Gonzalez said, referring to three errors by the Braves and four by the Tigers. “It’s the first game of spring training. You forget sometimes it’s still February. What were there, seven errors? And I don’t know how many bases on balls.” (Four, including three in the last four innings.)
“No matter what time of the year or what level you’re playing at, when you walk guys, you’re going to have trouble getting out of innings.”
Etc.: Kris Medlen starts for the Braves on Thursday against Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello in Lakeland, Fla. The Braves don’t plan to take their starting infielders or Gattis. Catcher Gerald Laird will start against his old Tigers team, and Braves second-base prospect Tommy La Stella should get playing time.
Outfielders Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton should be in the lineup.