4/13/2014 2:05 P.M. ET
Hot streak leads J. Upton to ditch flip drill
By Mark Bowman and Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- As Justin Upton progressed through the early stages of his most recent hot streak, he and Braves hitting coach Greg Walker determined his pregame ritual will no longer include the flip drill, during which a player swings at balls flipped to them by a coach who is positioned just a few feet away.
Instead, Upton will take regular batting practice on the field and then limit his tuneup work to the swings he takes off of a stationary batting tee. This is the ritual he has used dating back to Thursday, when he homered twice against the Mets and began his recent surge. He entered the series finale against the Nationals with nine hits -- including three home runs and two doubles -- in his previous 11 at-bats, and he homered in his first plate appearance on Sunday.
"I looked at him the other night after he hit two home runs and said, 'Hey, [assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher] is up in the cage if you want to take some flips,'" Walker said. "He said, 'I'm never flipping the rest of my life.'"
Though Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are among the players who believe in the benefits of "flips," Upton has learned that this ritual has often led him to overanalyze his swing.
"He's a bright, analytical guy and he loves the [batting] cage, and he's always in there," Walker said. "So I just think over the years, he has too much stuff [in his head]. He's not letting his God-given gifts take over. My whole goal since the start of Spring Training has been to make the game easier for him."
Upton's recent surge has brought back memories of last year, when he hit .298 with a 1.136 OPS through April and then batted .233 with a .654 OPS in the 72 games that followed. He produced another impressive surge during the early part of August, but he spent most of the season frustrated by his inability to produce on a consistent basis.
"I take part of the blame," Walker said. "Last year, after he got off to that start, we thought we had it figured out. I was thinking, 'God, this is the best player on earth. I've never seen a player like this.' Then all of the sudden, it started getting more difficult, and we started working harder and harder and grinding and grinding. He grinds and then mentally and physically he thinks, 'God, I can't keep doing this.'
"I watched him last year get so frustrated working so hard to figure it out. I told him, 'You'll never figure it out, but you can have a lot more fun than what you're having.' So that's our goal."
Simmons makes first career start in No. 5 spot
ATLANTA -- When Andrelton Simmons glanced at the starting lineup upon arriving at Turner Field for Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Nationals, he initially thought he was not playing. But upon further examination, the Braves shortstop learned he was nestled in the unfamiliar fifth spot of the lineup.
"It took me a good 15 minutes to realize I was playing," an exaggerating Simmons said. "I was thinking, 'I'm not at the bottom of the lineup and I'm not at the top, but [Ramiro] Pena is playing third and [Tyler] Pastornicky is playing second.' I kept looking, but it took me a while to find my name."
With third baseman Chris Johnson and second baseman Dan Uggla given a chance to rest, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez adjusted his regular lineup. This marked the first time Simmons had ever started a game in the lineup's fifth spot.
Through the first 216 games of his career, Simmons has started a game at every spot in the lineup other than cleanup. His lone start in the lineup's third spot occurred against the Pirates during the second-to-last game of the 2012 season.
Simmons jammed his right wrist during Wednesday night's game against the Mets and missed two games, but he got through Saturday's game in pain-free fashion.
Gearrin will be third Braves pitcher to have Tommy John
ATLANTA -- Braves reliever Cory Gearrin will undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. He will fly on Tuesday to New York, where Dr. David Altchek will perform the procedure.
"I feel good about it," Gearrin said. "I'm not anxious."
The right-hander received three opinions before announcing on Tuesday that he would need surgery. Gearrin sustained the injury while pitching against the Tigers in a Spring Training game on March 25 in Lakeland, Fla.
Gearrin, who turns 28 on Monday, will join starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy as the third Braves pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery this year.
Pastornicky makes first start of season
ATLANTA -- Two years ago, Tyler Pastornicky was the Braves' Opening Day shortstop. Two weeks into the 2014 season, Pastornicky earned his first start off the bench in Sunday's series finale against the Nationals. He was in at second base and was slotted at eighth in the order.
"I've always got to be ready," Pastornicky said.
Pastronicky, 24, entered Sunday's game with just one plate appearance -- a pinch-hit groundout in Friday night's 7-6 win against Washington -- and one other outing as a pinch-runner against the Nationals in a 2-1 loss on April 6.
Like Ramiro Pena, who filled in for Andrelton Simmons (jammed right wrist) for two games at shortstop during the current homestand, Pastornicky hopes to make the most of his increased action. Specifically, he wants to work on his timing at the plate. But most of all, Pastornicky wants to strengthen his left knee after tearing his ACL in an outfield collision with Braves right fielder Jason Heyward on Aug. 14, 2013.
Pastornicky sustained the injury while filling in at second base for Dan Uggla, who was scheduled to miss two weeks last August after undergoing LASIK surgery to fix his blurred vision. However, Pastornicky was injured two days into the stretch.
"Trying to keep the swelling down after activity," said Pastornicky of the biggest challenge with his knee. "But it's been really good. Ever since Spring Training, I've been able to do pretty much everything on it and not have to worry about how it feels the next day, so that's been awesome."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.