Shortstop Andrelton Simmons returned to the Braves lineup Monday, but not to the leadoff spot.
B.J. Upton stayed at the top of the order after snapping out of his funk while batting leadoff Saturday and Sunday when Simmons was out with a sprained thumb. Simmons was moved to eighth for Monday’s series opener against the Marlins, the same spot where he hit for most of his rookie season
“Whatever works, that’s fine,” Simmons said. “ No big deal. I mean, I like hitting leadoff, but it’s not an issue.”
Simmons was 3-for-17 with a double, a walk, a stolen base and a .222 on-base percentage in four games batting leadoff before injuring his thumb while sliding hands-first at second base.
B.J. Upton was 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts while batting fifth in the first four games, then moved to leadoff and went 3-for-6 with a homer, two stolen bases, three walks and no strikeouts in two weekend games.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would take it on a day-to-day basis — “a feel thing,” he said — and added that first baseman Freddie Freeman’s absence from the lineup played into the decision to keep Upton in the leadoff spot. Freeman strained an oblique late in Saturday’s game and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday.
Freeman was the Braves’ cleanup hitter before going on the DL. His first base replacement, Chris Johnson, was seventh in Monday’s lineup, with catcher Evan Gattis hitting cleanup, second baseman Dan Uggla fifth and third baseman Juan Francisco sixth.
Jason Heyward and Justin Upton remained in the second and third spots.
“I did a couple of lineups,” Gonzalez said. “It seems it just looks right when you put B.J. (first), especially now that Freeman is not in the middle of the lineup. With Simmons, if you lead him off, then that bottom third of the lineup kind of gets clogged up a little bit. Then you’ve got to either hit Chris Johnson or (Juan) Francisco in the eight-hole.
“It just works better (with Simmons eighth). But we’ll see. B.J.’s responded well to leading off. With Freeman out, right now I think maybe we’ll go this way a little bit more.”
As a rookie in 2012, Simmons’s .289 overall average in 166 at-bats included a .311 average and .359 OBP in 106 at-bats in the eighth spot.
Simmons said his injured left thumb wouldn’t restrict him in any way Monday.
Gattis not moving to 1B: He played seven games at first base for Class-A Rome in 2011, but the Braves don’t expect to have the rookie slugger Evan Gattis start any games at first base while Freeman is out.
Gonzalez said catcher Gerald Laird would be among the “emergency” options at first base, but Johnson would be the regular while Freeman is out.
Laird has played some first base in two major league games. Utility man Blake DeWitt, called up Sunday from Triple-A Gwinnett, also has limited minor-league experience at first base.
“Laird could do it in an emergency,” Gonzalez said. “But for an every-day thing, for a replacement for Freeman, I’m not sure. I think Chris Johnson will serve that purpose and serve it well.”
The Braves opted for the left-handed-hitting DeWitt over Ernesto Mejia, a big first baseman who hit .297 with 50 homers and 191 RBIs over the past two seasons at Gwinnett.
“It’s just we were looking for a left-handed bat off the bench to kind of balance us out,” Gonzalez said. “That was the reason we brought DeWitt over Mejia. (DeWitt) may not even get a start in the next 15 games. But he’s a professional guy who’s done it before and he can come off the bench. That was our thinking.”
J-Up’s historic week: When Justin Upton hit five home runs in the Braves’ first five games, he became the first player in major league history to so in his first five games with a new team. He also set a franchise record for most homers in the first five games.
The Braves got Upton and Johnson in a seven-player January trade that sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three minors leaguers to Arizona.
On Saturday, Justin and B.J. became the first brothers to hit a tying homer (B.J.) and a game-ending homer (Justin) in the ninth inning of a game.
Justin was 7-for-22 (.318) in six games before Monday with a National League-leading five homers and was the major league leader in game-winning RBIs (three) and slugging percentage (1.045).
Uniform change: The Braves wore new pants in Monday’s game. They are nearly identical to their regular grey road pants, but have only blue piping down the pant legs instead of blue and red. They will wear them with their alternate navy road jerseys and continue to wear the other pants with the regular grey road jersey.