Sitting in his corner cubby of the Braves spring HQ, Dan Uggla was talking one day about a new approach to waking up his bat.
He spoke enthusiastically about the need to constantly rethink baseball – “That’s what makes this game so crazy and awesome.”
Almost professorially, he broke down his ideas of March, both old and new. All these years, Uggla said, he had operated under the principle that the spring was for seeing as many pitches as possible. So, he’d let a lot of early-count fastballs go by him unmolested.
Maybe it would be a better idea, he decided this year, to actually hack away at some of the plumper offerings.
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“I’m finding out now (with the old approach) it took me longer to be on time with the fastball. I didn’t take into my thinking if I’m barreling up the first fastball, that’s half the battle right there – be on time with the fastball. Then you can make your necessary adjustments to off-speed pitches.”
The report of this conversation made Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez arch an eyebrow.
“He’s talking hitting? Danny’s talking hitting?” Gonzalez asked.
“There are three things you don’t talk about: religion, politics and hitting with Danny Uggla.”
Anyone studying Uggla’s first season with the Braves would have seen few hints of a scientific method at work. Put an ax in his hand instead of a bat, and he’s Lizzie Borden. His swing can be broken down into fourths: 1. See it; 2. Try to hit it; 3. Unscrew himself from the batter’s box clay; 4. Repeat.
But there has to be more at play than is outwardly visible, especially after such a season as 2011, one as eccentric as the main room at DragonCon.
Anyone would feel the need to get a little contemplative after catapulting between the extremes of a frigid start and a 33-game hitting streak. Thus has Uggla this spring given the impression of a man willing to try anything to even out Braves season No. 2. Even if that involves thinking at the plate.
“Seems like he’s a lot more focused and prepared. He’s not going to let what happened last year happen again,” Chipper Jones said.
The needed result here is for Uggla to not spend the first couple months of this season in a statistical coma. This team cannot afford to wait on him again.
He came in last season wearing a contract extension – five years, $62 million – like an anvil. Hoping to prove his worth, Uggla instead began sucking the air out of the stadium with each at-bat. He had experienced slow starts before, but nothing like this. This was the slump that he couldn’t scrape off the bottom of his cleats.
Slow starter, sort of
Uggla’s reputation as a slow starter is not entirely clear-cut. Nothing is simple with this guy. “Maybe it’s just an every-other-year thing,” he suggested.
Indeed, his batting average through May during even-numbered years (.295) is nearly 80 points higher than that during odd years (.218).
This just in: 2012 is an even-numbered year. Expect better things of Uggla.
“I don’t know what this year is going to bring me, but I’m feeling great right now, and I’m kind of excited about it,” Uggla said.
“Last year is behind me. If I have another hitting streak, that would be awesome. If I struggle again at the beginning of the season, I’m going to battle through it.”