B.J. Upton returned from the disabled list Saturday and rejoined a Braves team that went 12-5 in his absence and a lineup that sizzled during an eight-game winning streak, scoring five or more runs in an inning in each of the past five games through Friday.
“He said, ‘Fredi, I hope I don’t (expletive) this up,’” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Saturday, smiling as he shared part of his conversation with the center fielder.
A little later, Upton said something similar while kidding around with Jason Heyward, the right fielder who shifted over and did strong work in center after the Braves lost Upton (adductor muscle strain) and Reed Johnson (Achilles tendinitis).
The Braves hit .330 with 11 homers and 57 runs in an eight-game hitting streak before Saturday.
“Obviously you want to be out there, but the team’s been fun to watch,” said Upton, who saw some of Friday’s 6-4 win against Philadelphia after finishing his third and final injury-rehab game with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Upton hit a majors-worst .177 with 10 doubles, eight homers, 20 RBIs and 102 strikeouts in 277 at-bats, and he had seven stolen bases in 84 games before he was hurt July 12 attempting a sliding catch.
After flying to Philadelphia on Saturday morning, he described why he felt better about some things following his rehab stint at Gwinnett. He did one-on-one work there with Braves special assistant Lee Elia, Tampa Bay’s hitting coach in 2003-05 when Upton was a Rays prospect.
Upton has said several times this season that he wanted to get back to being the hitter he was at the beginning of his career, when he hit balls to every field and had a much higher batting average than in recent seasons after morphing into primarily a pull-hitting power guy.
“He was in Tampa with me, and he had seen me when he was on the other side coaching against me,” Upton said of Elia, who was on Seattle’s coaching staff in 2008, Upton’s second full season in the majors. “He just put some things in my mind that I used to do. That’s what we worked on for three days. I picked up on them fairly quickly.”
What did they work on?
“Just some things that I had gotten away from, like the fact that I was able to really drive the ball the other way” earlier in his career, Upton said. “That’s something that I had been looking to do all year. A lot of times this year when I hit the ball that way (to right field) it was kind of soft or it’s a lazy pop fly. I was able to get some backspin on some balls to the opposite field (at Gwinnett). That’s what I wanted to accomplish all year.”
In his first full season in 2007, Upton hit .300 with 24 homers and a .386 on-base percentage. In 2008, he hit .273 with 37 doubles, nine homers, 44 stolen bases and a .383 OBP.
“Early in my career I hit the ball the other way so well that I had to learn how to pull,” he said. “I think over the years I learned how to pull and I lost what got me here.”
Upton also is realistic about his statistics this season. With more than two-thirds of the season completed, he likely will have the worst season of his career regardless of how he does in August and September.
“At this point, the numbers don’t matter,” he said. “Our goal is to make it to the postseason.”
Laird to 15-day DL: To open a spot for Upton, the Braves placed catcher Gerald Laird on the 15-day disabled list. He had a procedure Wednesday to remove a kidney stone and would not have been able to play for several more days anyway. The DL designation is retroactive to July 26, the day after Laird last played.
Gonzalez said Laird was scheduled to see the doctor again Monday and would join the team in Washington at some point during the three-day series against the Nationals that begins Monday. He won’t be eligible to play until Aug. 10.
Lineup shuffle: After starting all eight games during the winning streak before Saturday, Heyward was out of the lineup, as B.J. Upton was in center field Saturday. Justin Upton started in right and rookie Joey Terdoslavich in left.
Heyward hit .344 with three homers in the past eight games and was 10-for-25 with 11 runs and eight RBIs during a six-game hitting streak before Saturday.
Gonzalez wanted to give Heyward and hot-hitting catcher Brian McCann a rest and said that both would play Sunday in the series finale against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee.
McCann started seven of the past eight games and had three homers and nine RBIs in his past four. He batted .349 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in his past 29 games.
The Phillies started lefty John Lannan on Saturday. Heyward was 1-for-11 against him and McCann 8-for-33.