8/18/2013 3:30 A.M. ET
Braves give back at Miracle League skills clinic
By Mark Bowman and Eric Single / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- An unseasonably cool and rainy August afternoon did not dampen the spirits of the 57 children from local Miracle League teams who participated in a skills clinic put on by the Braves and the Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids on Saturday at Hunter Memorial Park in Douglasville, Ga.
Pitchers Alex Wood and Anthony Varvaro, infielder Paul Janish and strength and conditioning coach Phil Falco were on hand to offer instruction and encouragement as the players moved from station to station honing their hitting, fielding and throwing skills.
"It's always fun to give back," Varvaro said. "It's a small group, the weather really wasn't that great, but we got a chance to get out there for about an hour and a half or so and just work with the kids, interact."
The Miracle League is a baseball league for youth players who are physically and mentally challenged and provides an opportunity to hit, run and catch on a baseball field. Each Miracle League player received a Braves jersey, a Braves cap and two tickets to Saturday night's game against the Nationals.
"The position that me and all these guys are in, it's nice to know you can make someone's day as easy as just showing up and hanging out a little bit," Wood said. "It's really good to give back, especially in the community of Atlanta. With all the Braves fans around here and how passionate they are about us, it's good to show that we're passionate about them, too."
Braves ready to move on after Strasburg's wildness
ATLANTA -- The most predictable moment of the Braves' wild 15-inning, 8-7 loss to the Nationals on Saturday night came nearly five hours before the game's conclusion, when Washington starter Stephen Strasburg fired a 97-mph fastball off the hip of Atlanta left fielder Justin Upton in the bottom of the first inning.
Upton flipped his bat end over end, caught it at the barrel and trotted to first with limited fanfare, and television cameras caught Braves right fielder Jason Heyward standing on the top step of the dugout and clapping his hands in Strasburg's direction.
In the teams' previous three meetings, outfielder Bryce Harper had been hit three times by three different Braves pitchers, including twice in Friday night's series opener. Alex Wood hit Harper with an errant curveball to begin Friday's fourth inning, an incident that was shrugged off as accidental by both teams. But in the eighth, reliever Luis Avilan hit Harper with a first-pitch fastball so far inside it hit Harper's left arm as he turned his back to the pitch in self-defense, a gesture that elicited a cynical interpretation from the Nationals' bench.
As both Friday night's walk-off hero and the object of some resentment for a particularly slow home run trot the week before in D.C., Upton was always the prime candidate for any retaliation on Harper's behalf. Strasburg wasted little time obliging him.
"It was whatever," Heyward said of Upton's plunking. "For us, it was like, 'If it happens, big deal. If not, big deal.' We're just playing baseball, competing and having fun. It's a part of the game. You just hope nobody gets hurt."
The events of the second inning appeared to take the Braves by considerably more surprise. After walking Jordan Schafer on four pitches, Strasburg lost control of a curveball in the dirt before throwing two fastballs well behind Andrelton Simmons. After his third consecutive wild pitch to the backstop, Strasburg and Nationals manager Davey Johnson were ejected, and Strasburg walked off the field with little response for home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson.
"None of us really know what was going on," Braves starter Mike Minor said. "It didn't look intentional. He was really erratic. I saw the ones that missed Simmons by like a foot. The reactionary thing was just a little off, he kind of just walked off and just didn't look like he was really there, like control was off or something happened."
"I don't know if there is something else going on there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The umpires have to do what they have to do."
Gonzalez spoke glowingly before the game of Harper, who was scratched from Saturday night's starting lineup due to a bruised left triceps stemming from the second of two pitches he was hit by on Friday night, but he entered as a defensive substitution in the bottom of the ninth and went on to make a pair of extra-inning plate appearances.
"I think the world of Bryce," Gonzalez said. "I hope he plays 20 years the way he played as an 18-year-old, with that kind of enthusiasm and energy. He plays the game the right way. My son's 22, he doesn't play anymore, but if I'm a parent with a young kid, there's not too many guys that I would say, 'Hey, watch this guy play the game.' Bryce Harper's one of them. You gotta emulate the way this guy plays the game."
But just over a week removed from a benches-clearing incident in Washington sparked by Harper's fiery reaction to being plunked by Julio Teheran after hitting a home run in his previous at-bat, Gonzalez and the Braves understood how it looked to have hit the 20-year-old phenom three times, on accident or otherwise. By the time Dan Haren retired Schafer in the bottom of the 15th inning to secure a Nationals victory, the Braves considered the matter yesterday's news, and it quite literally was.
"It was bound to happen almost," Minor said. "Not that we really tried to hit anybody the other day, but it was kind of just -- we thought maybe it was going to happen, and when it did, it was just over with. There was no thought of retaliation or anything like that."
B.J. out of lineup for fourth time in six games
ATLANTA -- When B.J. Upton returned from the disabled list earlier this month, he took advantage of what he thought was a fresh start by proving productive during his first five games back. But after struggling at the plate during the early portion of this homestand, he has found himself out of the starting lineup in four of the past six games.
"I'm just rolling with it," Upton said. "If I come in and I'm in the lineup, I'm in there. If I'm not, then I'm not. I really don't have an argument. What's my argument? He's going to play who he wants to play and that's fine with me, as long as we win. I'm going to support my teammates. We all have the same goal, and that is to win a championship, get a ring."
The Braves entered Saturday having gained a 15 1/2-game lead in the National League East with the help of 18 wins in their previous 20 games. This would seemingly be a good time for the club to allow Upton an extended opportunity to prove he is capable of being the productive player that was envisioned when he signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract in November.
But Upton's only two starts in his team's past six games have come when the opposing team has started a left-handed pitcher. The left-handed-hitting Jordan Schafer, who returned from the disabled list last week, has been penciled in to be Atlanta's starting center fielder in the other four games.
Upton will start Sunday, when the Nationals send southpaw Gio Gonzalez to the mound. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is not necessarily using a strict platoon.
"I'm just trying to get a matchup for both of them and see what Schafer can do a little bit," Gonzalez said. "I think B.J. is going to help us big come the next five to six weeks. We'll try to get him a good matchup and get him going. I think he's going to be a big part of this run we've got."
When Upton batted .476 (10-for-21) during his first five games back from the disabled list on Aug. 3, he distanced himself from the frustration he produced while hitting .177 with a .565 OPS in the 84 games he played before straining his right adductor muscle on July 12.
But Upton has gone hitless in the 16 at-bats that have followed, including a pinch-hit groundout Saturday. In the process, he created reason to question the hustle he showed pursuing Adeiny Hechavarria's pivotal triple in last Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Marlins. Two nights later, he whiffed while attempting to catch Cole Hamels' triple to left-center field.
Gonzalez did not mention these two defensive plays when asked about Upton's situation. But the timing certainly creates reason to believe the Braves have since decreased his playing time with the hope of motivating him for the season's stretch run.
"I really believe at the end of the day he's going to be in there for us," Gonzalez said. "We're just going to pick and choose a little bit."
Uggla seeing clearer after LASIK eye surgery
ATLANTA -- Dan Uggla dealt with the discomfort that resulted from the LASIK procedure he underwent on Friday afternoon. But by the time he returned to Turner Field on Saturday, the Braves' second baseman was feeling good, and more important, seeing clearer than he had over the past few months.
When Uggla returned to the doctor's office for a follow-up visit on Saturday, he learned that he had regained the 20/15 vision he possessed during much of his career. Before the surgery, he had 20/30 vision, a strength that would be deemed normal for anyone not attempting to hit big league pitching.
"It was not a huge problem in everyday life," Uggla said. "But when you are trying to make a living by hitting a baseball, it can create a problem."
Uggla will begin taking batting practice on the field with the Braves again on Tuesday. He could begin a Minor League rehab assignment within the next week, with the expectation to return to Atlanta's lineup when he is eligible to be activated from the disabled list on Aug. 28.
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.