07/21/12 12:21 AM ET
Uggla given opportunity to play through slump
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"My biggest thing is as long as he is confident and has that competitiveness. ... We've seen it and lived through it last year," Gonzalez said. "I think history makes you remain patient."
Gonzalez's patience paid dividends when Uggla produced three hits and reached base five times in Friday night's 11-10, 11-inning win over the Nationals. Uggla's leadoff single in the 11th put him in position to score the game's winning run.
After Uggla struck out in each of his four at-bats during Wednesday's loss to the Giants, sitting out of Thursday's lineup wouldn't have been out of the question. But with Tim Hudson on the mound, it would have been viewed as a defensive risk to give Tyler Pastornicky his first career start at second base. Pastornicky only recently started learning the position while playing with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Though Uggla had batted just .108 with a .180 slugging percentage in his previous 34 games, Gonzalez was not solely influenced by patience when he kept his veteran second baseman in the lineup to face Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg on Friday night. Uggla entered the game with seven hits, including two home runs and two doubles, in 13 at-bats against Strasburg.
"As long as his health is good and his spirit is good, keep running him out there," Gonzalez said. "I know his numbers are good against Strasburg. Hopefully, that will jump start him."
Through his first 89 games this year, Uggla batted .216 with a .348 on-base percentage and .381 slugging percentage. At this same point last year, he was hitting .183 with a .258 on-base percentage and .358 slugging percentage.
Before hitting .377 during his 33-game hitting streak last year, Uggla batted .173 through his first 86 games.
"What he did last year is off the charts," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. "He's got it in him, there's no doubt. He's fighting, and that's all that I can ask."
With new life in career, Sheets settles in with Braves
WASHINGTON -- After watching Braves closer Craig Kimbrel cleanly field two ground balls in a perfect ninth inning against the Giants on Thursday, Ben Sheets approached the strikeout artist and playfully said, "I really like what you did with your PFP [pitcher fielding practice]." One week into his career with the Braves, Sheets appears quite comfortable in the clubhouse and confident in his ability to once again frustrate Major League hitters.
"He's got that personality," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He seems like a great guy. He's in the dugout, watching the game and talking to the guys. I asked him during [Wednesday's] extra-inning game if he could pinch-run or pinch-hit. 'He said, I can throw an inning for you, but you don't want me to do the other stuff.'"
Two years after feeling his career was over when he had torn the flexor tendon in his right elbow, Sheets returned to the Majors last Sunday and limited the Mets to two hits over six scoreless innings. While he might not have the overpowering fastball that he possessed during his successful days with the Brewers, the former All-Star showed good command and the ability to keep hitters off-balance with his curveball.
Sheets will attempt to build on that performance when he faces the Nationals in the first game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader. The veteran indicated that he did not care which game he started during the twin bill.
"It really doesn't matter to me," Sheets said. "I could be good or I could be bad in either one."
Chipper Jones returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing two starts with a sore right knee. Jones will rest during the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, but he will be in the lineup for the nightcap against Nationals left-hander John Lannan. With right-hander Edwin Jackson starting the first game for Washington, Juan Francisco will start at third base in the first game.
Jonny Venters threw six pitches in a scoreless inning while making the first of two Minor League rehab appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday night. Venters, who has been on the disabled list since July 5 with a left elbow impingement, will likely rejoin Atlanta's bullpen on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.