Braves second baseman Dan Uggla was not in the lineup for Friday night’s game against Cubs right-handed starter Jason Hammel. It was the fifth time in 10 games that manager Fredi Gonzalez had someone else’s name at second base instead of Uggla’s.
Uggla is coming off of an ugly 2013 campaign in which he hit .179 with a .671 OPS. Somehow, he’s been worse as we wrap up the first full week of May. Uggla is slashing an awful .184/.241/.272 with two home runs and 10 RBI. Gonzalez hasn’t spoken with Uggla yet, but plans to discuss his second baseman’s role on the team soon. Via Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Gonzalez said he does plan to sit down with Uggla soon and address the way he’s using him.
“I’ve not spoken to him about it at all, but I think we’ll talk soon,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the way I am; I like to tell guys. But I have not sat down with him.”
As Rogers notes in her article, second base prospect Tommy La Stella is hitting very well at Triple-A Gwinnett, batting .300 with a .372 on-base percentage. If Uggla can’t turn things around, the Braves may hand the second base job over to La Stella, and the Braves would have a very expensive bench player. Uggla is owed $13 million each of the 2014 and ’15 seasons, and it’s increasingly unlikely a team would take on even a cent of his remaining salary to acquire him.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.