Uggla's issues have club weighing options at second
Pena, Pastornicky and possibly prospect La Stella to see playing time at position
ATLANTA -- When the Braves excluded Dan Uggla from their roster for last year's National League Division Series, they left themselves with no other choice but to spend this offseason attempting to trade him to a team willing to take on a portion of his remaining salary.
Once those attempts proved unsuccessful, they brought Uggla to Spring Training with the hope this year would prove to be much different than the previous two. There were some occasional signs of encouragement as the veteran second baseman hit .237 through his first 16 games of the regular season
But while batting .114 with a .188 on-base percentage in the 12 games that have followed, Uggla has seemingly exhausted all of the patience Atlanta showed him over the past two years.
After spending time this week evaluating the financial consequences, the Braves have moved away from the thought of releasing Uggla. But this decision does not necessarily provide clear indication of who might serve as their primary second baseman over the remainder of the season.
If the Braves released Uggla, they would still be responsible for the approximate $24 million he is owed through the end of the 2015 season. While the perspective might change over the next few weeks or months, it does not appear the club is comfortable with eating this large sum of money. But Atlanta is every bit as uneasy about the prospect of remaining patient with Uggla, who has batted .185 with a .655 OPS in the 266 games he has played since June 1, 2012.
Even as Uggla hit a career-low .179 and produced a career-high strikeout percentage (31.7) last year, he provided some occasional value with 22 home runs. But through his first 112 plate appearances of this season, he has just five extra-base hits, which includes the two homers hit during an April 14 win in Philadelphia.
When asked what he thinks of his recent struggles, Uggla said, "I don't. I'm on the field to do my job. That's it."
Uggla has been out of the starting lineup for four of the past nine games, and it appears the Braves are planning to continue giving Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky time at second over the next couple of weeks.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has not indicated how much he plans to use Uggla as he moves forward. Nor has he provided clear indication of whether he would be willing to platoon Pena, a switch-hitter, with the right-handed-hitting Pastornicky.
"We'll just see how it goes," Gonzalez said.
As they have averaged 1.8 runs per game while losing eight of their past nine, the Braves have discussed all of their options, including promoting No. 7 prospect Tommy La Stella, an offensively-sound second baseman who has the potential to provide a much-needed contact presence to Atlanta's free-swinging lineup.
La Stella has batted .306 with a .372 on-base percentage through his first 31 games this season with Triple-A Gwinnett. But Uggla's presence on the roster complicates the potential promotion of La Stella, who like Uggla, is limited to second base from a defensive perspective.
Carrying both Uggla and La Stella would likely force the Braves to option Pastornicky, who unlike the two aforementioned second basemen, possesses speed and defensive versatility -- a pair of qualities that strengthen Atlanta's bench.
Thus before promoting La Stella, the Braves might spend the next couple of weeks evaluating their second-base situation. Pena, who has hit .283 from the left side since the start of last year, will likely get a majority of the at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
While many fans have clamored for Atlanta to promote La Stella, some of the club's veteran players have said they would rather first see the younger Pastornicky get a chance to prove whether he can be effective while getting regular time at second base.
Pastornicky is the better defensive option, and the statistics (.292 batting average and .354 on-base percentage) he produced in 74 games with Gwinnett last year are similar to the numbers La Stella has compiled to date this season.
"You just try to be ready, because in this game, you just never know what's going to happen," Pastornicky said. "When it's your turn, you want to be prepared and you want to be ready. I'll just continue to work hard and stay ready."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.