7/3/2013 12:02 A.M. ET
Braves have options in leadoff spot
By Mark Bowman and Eric Single / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Andrelton Simmons was once again at the top of the lineup for Tuesday night's 11-3 win against the Marlins. But with half of the season complete, the Braves have been given reason to explore the option of utilizing somebody else in the leadoff role.
B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward stand as the most likely options to replace Simmons as the club's leadoff hitter. Upton was forced to exit Tuesday's game because of left forearm spasms, but he said he would most likely be ready to play on Wednesday.
After seeing Upton cut down on his strikeouts and get on base much more frequently in June, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is not opposed to using Upton in the leadoff role.
"I'm not going to say no," Gonzalez said. "If he keeps heading in that direction, sure why not?"
Backup outfielder Jordan Schafer is the only legitimate leadoff hitter on Atlanta's roster. But his path to an everyday role is blocked by the presence of Heyward and the Upton brothers.
Simmons entered Tuesday having hit .218 with a .254 on-base percentage in the 45 games that he had manned the top spot of Atlanta's lineup. His on-base percentage ranked 40th among the 41 Major League players who had compiled at least 100 plate appearances in the leadoff spot.
When Schafer has been in the lineup, he has manned the leadoff spot with Simmons near the bottom of the order. But with Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers filling the outfield spots, there is not an everyday role for Schafer, who has hit .307 with a .409 on-base percentage in the 20 games he has served as the leadoff hitter.
Atlanta's leadoff hitters have combined to hit .243 with a .303 on-base percentage -- both figures rank 26th among all Major League clubs entering Tuesday's game. Without Schafer's contributions, those two averages fall to .225 and .271 -- both of which would rank last in the National League.
B. J. Upton has batted .212 with a .293 on-base percentage in the 13 games he has occupied the leadoff spot. But these opportunities were primarily restricted to the season's first three weeks, long before the veteran outfielder's upswing at the plate in June.
Through the season's first two months, Upton batted .145, compiled a .230 on-base percentage and walked once every 8.58 plate appearances. In June, he hit .238, compiled a .359 on-base percentage and walked once every 6.06 plate appearances. Upton's candidacy for the leadoff role is enhanced by the fact that he minimized his strikeout percentage. After striking out once every 2.86 plate appearances through the end of May, he struck out once every 4.12 plate appearances in June.
B.J. exits with spasm, expects to play Wednesday
ATLANTA -- An unorthodox muscle spasm knocked center fielder B.J. Upton out of the Braves' 11-3 victory over the Marlins after only two innings on Tuesday.
Upton exited with left forearm muscle spasms that were causing the middle and ring fingers of his hand to lock up during his first at-bat. The Braves listed their 28-year-old center fielder as day to day, but Upton said after the game that he expects to be able to play on Wednesday.
"He kept saying he couldn't open his hand," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The muscle of the forearm, he just kept putting the two middle fingers and clamping them and he couldn't open them, and it did that a couple of times in the dugout when he came in when [assistant athletic trainer Jim Lovell] was checking him, so we said forget it."
Upton appeared to be favoring his left arm during his first at-bat against Marlins starter Tom Koehler, stepping out of the batter's box on a 2-2 count to manually unclench the two middle fingers of his left hand with his right. He struck out to end the inning with a big swing on a 95-mph fastball, and he clenched his teeth in pain as he shook out his hand. He did not return to the field for the third inning, replaced by Reed Johnson in center field.
"I think it's just from the amount of hitting I did today and some of the drills that I do in the cage," Upton said. "Maybe overuse, so to speak. It didn't bother me all day."
"It just kind of cramped up and spasmed," Gonzalez said. "I've never seen anything like that with a hand. You see guys spasm with calves and legs and that kind of stuff. Our trainers brought him up here, and he didn't do it again. We'll keep an eye on it and see how he is tomorrow."
While Upton said he had experienced spasms of that nature before, the inability to open his fingers was a new sensation.
"It was like I could get it to calm down, but as soon as I went to grip the bat again, it's almost like my hand would lock up around the handle of the bat," Upton said. "It was different. I tried to grind it out, and once I got into the dugout, I kind of knew what it was, but at that point, you have make a decision whether to stay in or take me out of the game. Obviously, it's not something you want to risk, but having it happen to me in the past, I knew I'd be OK."
Should Upton be unable to start Wednesday's game, Johnson may be the Braves' only viable option to cover an open position in the outfield. Jordan Schafer saw action for the first time since fouling a ball of his ankle last Wednesday in Kansas City when he entered as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, but he still appeared hobbled by his injury as he ran out an infield single.
"I feel fine. I'm looking to play tomorrow, and if I can't, then that's just what it is," Upton said. "I'm almost 100 percent I'll be able to play tomorrow."
Gattis out for Marlins series, no return timetable
ATLANTA -- The longer Braves catcher Evan Gattis avoids any baseball activities in his ongoing recovery from a right oblique strain, the less likely it becomes that the 26-year-old rookie will see the field again before the All-Star break, which is July 15-18.
Gattis has been dealing with lingering soreness from the injury he sustained while taking a swing in the Braves' June 17 game against the Mets, and on Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez ruled him out for the entire series against the Marlins this week.
"We haven't even talked timetable or anything," Gonzalez said. "We just have to go day by day and see where he's at. I haven't put a timetable on it."
Gattis and Braves trainer Jeff Porter have both expressed optimism, because the soreness has lessened over the current homestand, but until it completely subsides, Gattis will not be cleared to resume swinging and throwing, which in itself is just another step in returning to the lineup.
"I will know he's not going to be ready tomorrow or the next day, because he hasn't even swung the bat yet," Gonzalez said. "When he starts doing that, it's [hitting] off the tee first and then playing catch. It's really small increments before you let him go out and take BP, especially with an oblique. You don't want a twist and then go back to day one."
During Atlanta's sweep of Miami in early April, Gattis went 5-for-12 with two home runs and five RBIs on his way to taking the league by storm and winning back-to-back NL Rookie of the Month honors for April and May.
"You can't afford a setback, for me, with the obliques," Gonzalez said. "So you might as well take your time with it."
• Schafer didn't make it very far on Sunday when he took his first jog four days after fouling a ball off his right ankle in Kansas City.
"I went out there for like one jog and turned right back around and came back in," Schafer said.
With the help of Monday's off-day, the Braves' utility outfielder is now walking normally and could see the field during this week's series with Miami.
"He's probably going to come out here and maybe do a little running and test it, but he is progressing in that direction," Gonzalez said before Tuesday night's series opener. "Friday was definitely nothing, Saturday nothing, Sunday maybe a little bit better, and I think today we should be able to use him if we need to."
• Reliever Cristhian Martinez returned to Atlanta from his rehab stint for Double-A Mississippi to be examined by team doctors on Tuesday. Martinez continued to feel shoulder discomfort during his appearances on June 25 and June 28 for Mississippi.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.