5/5/2014 7:57 P.M. ET
With Harang batting eighth, Pena delivers in last spot
By Mark Bowman and Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is not sold on the theory behind batting a pitcher eighth. But with his offense looking lifeless over the past week, he opted to utilize this practice and shake up a couple other parts of his lineup for Monday night's series opener against the Cardinals.
"We won some games with it and you don't feel like, 'Wow, that was the game-changer, that we hit the pitcher eighth.'" Gonzalez said. Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager that I admire very much, he's done it more than anybody else. But he's never done it in the postseason. But, why not?'"
In other words, Gonzalez had to do something to shake up an offense that had scored less than two runs four times during the six-game losing streak the Braves carried into this three-game set against the Cardinals. Thus he sat Dan Uggla for the third time in less than a week, moved Justin Upton to second spot and caught everybody's attention by batting Aaron Harang eighth and second baseman Ramiro Pena ninth.
Pena delivered from the No. 9 spot in Monday night's 4-3 loss to the Cardinals. The second baseman hit a solo homer and a double.
"We've lost six in a row, you've got to juggle things up a little bit," Upton said. "Wherever you've got to hit, you've got to hit."
The Braves won six of the previous eight games Gonzalez opted to bat his pitcher eighth during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Included among these victories was one recorded against the Cardinals on May 29, 2012 to snap an eight-game losing streak.
While Gonzalez is superstitious, he provided some reason behind his decision to go with this lineup arrangement that is most often linked to La Russa, who popularized this method as he served as St. Louis' manager during Mark McGwire's 1998 home run chase.
Gonzalez wanted to get Upton back in the two hole, a spot in which the outfielder thrived during last season's final two months. At the same time, he viewed this as an opportunity to give his first three hitters -- Jason Heyward, Upton and Freddie Freeman -- more run-producing opportunities.
"Last year we moved Justin to the two hole and we ran a couple of good long winning streaks," Right now, our best hitter arguably is Freddie Freeman. He gets a chance to bat third in the first inning and then he gets a chance, hopefully, to hit third or fourth the next time around with more people on base."
Gonzalez said he will likely put his starting pitcher in the eighth spot of the lineup for at least a week. He said the opposing starting pitcher's splits will determine which player he places in the ninth spot, to essentially serve as a second leadoff hitter. He opted to bat the switch-hitting Pena ninth on Monday because St. Louis' right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller has allowed a .286 batting average against left-handed hitters and limited right-handed hitters to a .200 batting average.
"I haven't come up with a number to tell you how long I will do this," Gonzalez said. " But you've got to let them do it a little bit."
Braves announce their Honorary Bat Girl
ATLANTA -- Lori Smith of Dunwoody, Ga., will represent the Braves as one of 31 winners of this year's Honorary Bat Girl Contest. She has been cancer-free for two years after undergoing a bilateral mastectomy reconstruction, radiation and 20 rounds of chemotherapy.
Smith will visit Turner Field on May 11 when the Braves play the Cubs at 1:35 p.m. She will take part in pregame activities, be honored during an on-field ceremony and will receive pink MLB merchandise as well as two tickets to the game.
Additionally, the Braves, the Cubs and all on-field personnel will join the rest of Major League Baseball in wearing pink ribbons on their uniforms as well as pink wristbands. Base jewels and lineup cards will also be pink.
Also, some players will choose to use the famous pink Louisville Slugger bats, a few of which will receive a mark of authenticity from MLB before they are auctioned off on MLB.com to benefit the fight against breast cancer.
Smith and the other winners were selected by a committee that includes Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman and Braves fan and country music star Jason Aldean. The Honorary Bat Girl Contest, introduced in 2009, recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease.
Situation at second base still unclear for Braves
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez did not want to use the term "benched" in reference to Dan Uggla, who was out of the starting lineup for the third time in less than a week on Monday. But at the same time, he was not willing to specify his plans for the second base position.
"I don't even want to address that situation there," Gonzalez said. "We'll just go with whatever we think gives us our best chance and go from there."
Gonzalez indicated Uggla might be back in the lineup on Tuesday. But there is growing reason to wonder how much longer he will regularly be placed in Atlanta's lineup. The Braves currently have the option to replace him with switch-hitter Ramiro Pena and right-handed hitter Tyler Pastornicky.
While some of Atlanta's players have privately suggested that they believe Pastornicky would be a productive replacement for Uggla, there is a chance the Braves could soon promote Tommy La Stella, who has continued to show his offensive talents while hitting .313 with a .372 on-base percentage through 27 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.
But before promoting La Stella to serve as their starting second baseman, the Braves might have to decide if they are willing to eat the approximate $24 million Uggla is owed through the end of the 2015 season.
While the Braves might be comfortable with the financial aspects of this potential decision, they they are less excited about the prospect of continuing to play Uggla on an everyday basis with the hope that he will escape the woes that have plagued him over the past 23 months.
Uggla has batted .186 with 35 home runs and a .657 OPS in 265 games dating back to June 1, 2012. He showed some promise as he hit .237 through his first 16 games. But he has recorded five hits (all singles) and struck out 13 times in the 41 at-bats that have followed.
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.