05/07/2013 8:30 PM ET
Braves try B.J. Upton in No. 2 spot in lineup
By Tony Meale / Special to MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- B.J. Upton hit second against Reds starter Homer Bailey on Tuesday, while 23-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons slid into the leadoff spot.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hopes that Upton will see more fastballs hitting in front of his brother, Justin.
Plus, Upton, because of his speed, is one of the only players in the Braves' lineup that can reasonably hit out of the two-hole.
"There's nobody else in that lineup, when you look at it, that's going to hit second, that is a baserunner," Gonzalez said. "It's not [Brian] McCann. It's not [Evan] Gattis. I like Danny [Uggla] where he's at swinging the bat right now. Maybe getting in front of Justin will do [B.J.] better."
Upton was hitting .148 with three home runs and five RBIs in 30 games this season with three stolen bases entering Tuesday.
"The player we're seeing right now is not even one-tenth of the player he is, or has been or is capable of being," Gonzalez said. "I really believe that."
Upton, 28, hit between .237 and .246 in every season from 2009-12, but did swat a combined 51 home runs in the last two seasons.
Gonzalez believes Upton has the talent to be a dangerous hitter.
"He's talented; he's better than that," Gonzalez said. "As a manger, my biggest thing is to make sure he's OK, confidence-wise, and pump him up. I'm not going to sit there and talk to him about hands, [footwork] or [how to see] the ball. I'll leave that to [hitting coach] Greg Walker and [assistant hitting coach] Scott Fletcher to do that stuff. My job is to make sure he's mentally OK."
Simmons credits rainout, talk with J-Up for homers
CINCINNATI -- Andrelton Simmons recorded the first multihomer game of his career Monday night, and Saturday's rainout against the Mets may have had something to do with it.
"That rainout really helped," Simmons said. "I spent some time in the cage, talked to the coaches. Justin really helped quite a bit, too."
That Justin, of course, is Justin Upton, who leads the Majors with 12 home runs. Upton told Simmons to stay back in his batting stance as long as possible so he has enough time to react to the ball and attack it.
Simmons listened. He was 5-for-9 in his last two games entering Tuesday, both wins, and went 3-for-4 with two home runs and a career-high four RBIs in Monday's 7-4 victory over the Reds. In two days, his batting average went from .224 to .252.
Simmons hit leadoff against Reds starter Homer Bailey on Tuesday.
"I'm feeling better [and] getting my timing back," Simmons said. "I'm right where I need to be right now."
Simmons also made a highlight-reel play in the field Monday, reaching between his legs to tag out Shin-Soo Choo, who was attempting to steal second base. Simmons said the tag was pure instinct.
"I couldn't see what happened back there," he said. "I just threw my glove back and hoped for the best."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was beyond impressed by the play.
"He's pretty acrobatic, he really is," Gonzalez said. "I remember somebody asked me in Spring Training what is the best defensive play he's made, and I said, 'The next one.' Because it's one after the other with him. So that's good. That's good for us."
Simmons is more than just the highlight reel, though. He has played 29 games this season and started 27 of them. He has yet to commit an error.
"I think when it's all said and done after this year, we're going to be talking about him as one of the top shortstops in baseball," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "We've had some unbelievable shortstops since I've been here with [Rafael] Furcal, [Edgar] Renteria and Alex Gonzalez -- and he's right there with all of them. His range is unmatched, he makes all the routine plays and he can also swing it. We're lucky to have his talent around here."
Maholm quietly doing his thing for Braves
CINCINNATI -- While Andrelton Simmons stole the show on Monday with the first multihomer game of his career, Braves starter Paul Maholm was quietly solid yet again. He allowed two runs on four hits and had six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings of work, as he notched his fourth win of the year.
Maholm's most impressive inning may have actually been his worst. He gave up hits to the first three batters he faced in the fourth, including Brandon Phillips, who doubled to left to score Zack Cozart. Suddenly a 3-0 game was 3-1, and the Reds had runners on second and third with no outs.
Maholm could have panicked.
Instead, he induced a groundout from Jay Bruce.
"I just wanted Bruce to roll over so I could give up a run and go from there -- and not constantly try and strike guys out," Maholm said. "You end up with four and five runs, rather than just getting out of there with limited damage."
Bruce's groundout scored Joey Votto, but Maholm struck out Todd Frazier and retired Devin Mesoraco to strand Phillips at third -- and retain a 3-2 lead.
Maholm has been one of the National League's most underrated pitchers since last July. His ERA by month has been 1.23 (July 2012), 2.45 (August), 5.40 (September), 3.30 (April 2013) and, through two starts in May, 2.63.
It appears things started to click for Maholm in 2011. After posting an ERA of 4.44 in 31 starts in 2009 and an ERA of 5.10 in 32 starts in 2010, Maholm posted a 3.66 ERA in '11 and a 3.67 ERA in '12.
In '13, he has a 3.09 ERA and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his seven starts.
"Obviously, I've had my bumps in the road," the 30-year-old Maholm said, reflecting on his career. "I think it's learning, it's maturing, it's understanding you don't have to throw so many fastballs. An out's an out. That's the biggest thing. If the team's weakness is offspeed, I'm going to throw offspeed. For me, I'm comfortable with doing that.
"I think it's just the learning curve of going through it for awhile and getting your teeth kicked in a few times and learning there's a different way to do it."
Uggla racking up rare triples
CINCINNATI -- It's only May, and Dan Uggla already has more triples (two) than he's had in any season since 2007, when he had three.
Uggla tripled in back-to-back games Sunday and Monday -- this after combining for one triple in 1,712 at-bats from 2010-12.
The first triple came off Mets starter Jon Niese, while the second came off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is obviously happy with the triples, but he's even happier with where Uggla hit each pitch -- to right-center field.
"When hitters are finding the other way, the opposite field, that means they're swinging it really good," Gonzalez said. "Lefties to left-center and righties to right-center -- that's when they're really, really locked in."
Uggla hit a career-high seven triples in 2006.
He was batting .196 with five home runs, nine RBIs and 17 walks in 29 games this season entering Tuesday.
Getting better every day, Heyward takes BP again
CINCINNATI -- Jason Heyward, who is still recovering from an emergency appendectomy, took batting practice on Tuesday.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said that Heyward spent about 30 minutes swinging with B.J. Upton and Ramiro Pena. Heyward also took BP on Monday.
"He was really good today," Gonzalez said. "I'm glad he's getting better every day."
Heyward underwent an emergency appendectomy on April 22 and hasn't played since. Some players receive an appendectomy and miss a week or two; others are out a month or longer.
Gonzalez is in no hurry to rush Heyward back.
"For him just to miss a couple of weeks or a month is probably right in the realm of the right time," Gonzalez said. "I know there's been a couple of guys who have [missed] eight, nine, 10 days, but for the most part, it takes a lot [of time]. You don't know how it affects everybody."
Gonzalez would know. He had to have an emergency appendectomy when he was 5. He was taken to the doctor for what was believed to be a stomach ache and wound up having the appendectomy that day at Miami Children's Hospital.
"I spent 15 days in intensive care with needles [everywhere]," Gonzalez recalled. "They had me tied down to the bed, because when you're 5, you start pulling at stuff."
Gonzalez still has a scar from the operation.
The 23-year-old Heyward hit .269 with 27 homers and 21 steals last season. This year, he is hitting .121 with two home runs, five RBIs and one steal in 17 games.
Tony Meale is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.