5/11/2014 7:28 P.M. ET
Braves join MLB in raising breast cancer awareness
By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Hot pink was the color of the day Sunday at Turner Field and throughout Major League Baseball.
For the ninth straight year, players on every Major League team were issued two pink bats by Louisville Slugger on Mother's Day as part of the MLB Going To Bat Against Breast Cancer Program.
"Our efforts have made a difference," said Louisville Slugger CEO John Hillerich said. "The MLB Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer program is making a significant impact in the fight against this awful disease that has impacted millions of people.
"They've become the symbol of baseball on Mother's Day," he added. "It's heartwarming to watch MLB players embrace the opportunity to raise awareness and funds for MLB breast-cancer charities."
Each bat features the official MLB breast cancer awareness logo and the bats that are used Sunday will be auctioned off exclusively on MLB.com, with the proceeds helping the fight against breast cancer.
The bats appeared to have plenty of hits in them. Of the five starters who used the bats, four of them had hits, including Braves right fielder Jason Heyward, who hit a mammoth two-run homer in the seventh, and Cubs right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who drove in both of his club's runs with a double off the wall in right in the fourth.
Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo also had a single with a pink bat to push his on-base percentage to .401, and Cubs center fielder Ryan Kalish had a single to lead off the game. Pitcher Aaron Harang was the other Brave to appear with the bat. He went 0-for-2 -- he is 0-fer on the year -- but made contact both trips to the plate.
Fans can visit mlb.com to buy a pink bat and have their personalized message inscribed on it. For every personalized bat purchased, Louisville Slugger will donate $10 to MLB breast cancer charities.
Together, MLB, Louisville Slugger and other Mother's Day partners have raised more than $1 million since the program began in 2006.
In addition to the bats being special today, the Braves had a special Bat Girl.
Lori Smith, a Dunwoody, Ga., native and breast cancer survivor, did the honors.
Smith was the winner of the Honorary Bat Girl Contest, having overcome bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction radiation and 20 rounds of chemotherapy after being diagnosed on March 2, 2011. She eloquently described her courageous battle and victory over cancer, done while working two jobs. She has been free and clear for some 2 1/2 years. Her entry and all of the courageous stories can be found here.
Her story moved Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who part of the guest judging panel put together by MLB, which included Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, country music singer (and Braves fan) Jason Aldean and MLB Network host and reporter Sam Ryan.
"[Her story] kind of connected," he said. "She did a lot of radiation chemo just like the others, but for some reason, when I was reading her story, it kind of hit home. I had that connection instantly with her, so that's why I picked her."
As part of winning the contest, Smith got to meet Freeman before Sunday's game.
He was as pleased to meet her.
"She's an inspiration for all women that are going through cancer," he said. "She's a fighter and she won. So it's just nice to be able to meet her and to experience a special moment for her."
The Honorary Bat Girl Program has been in existence since 2009, with the purpose of helping increase breast cancer awareness, and further supporting Going To Bat Against Breast Cancer, an MLB-sponsored initiative that is partnered with Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen.
Freeman was honored to take part in the judging and is proud to be part of MLB's initiative.
"I went through a personal experience that I wouldn't wish upon anybody," said Freeman, who lost his mother to cancer after a heroic battle. "But it's an experience that I take with me and hopefully I can make some other people happy."
J. Upton out of starting lineup with sore back
ATLANTA -- Justin Upton did not start in left field Sunday when the Braves looked to sweep the Cubs and take some momentum with them as they head to the West Coast.
As expected, the Braves' All-Star left fielder, who left Saturday night's 2-0 victory with a lower back muscle contusion after getting hit in the back by a Jeff Samardzija fastball in the sixth inning, got the homestand finale off. The combination of the tagging out of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who has an inch and 35 pounds on the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Upton, in the wild 9-6-3-4-6-3-6-7 fourth-inning rundown, then getting hit with the 94-mph fastball two innings later, plus the early start was too risky.
"With a short turnaround, we'll probably let him rest," manager Fredi Gonzalez said following Saturday's game. "Hopefully, it doesn't materialize into anything more than a sore back."
Not helping matters is the Braves' cross-country flight to the West Coast, where they'll begin a three-game series with San Francisco on Monday.
Ryan Doumit, who had his first game-winning hit as a Brave on Saturday night with a pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh, made his third start of the season in left field Sunday and batted sixth.
Entering Sunday, Upton led the Braves with nine homers and his 19 RBIs were one off the pace of team leader Freddie Freeman. Upton's been especially lethal at Turner Field, where he had blasted seven of his homers, the most home round-trippers of any player in the Majors, and was hitting .371, the sixth-best home average in the National League -- tied with Rizzo.
After quiet April, Johnson heating up in May
ATLANTA -- What's that they say about April showers?
The hard luck and empty at-bats that poured on Braves third baseman Chris Johnson in April have been replaced by solid, productive at-bats that are resulting in big days. They're the kind of days that are reminiscent of 2013, when he led the team in batting and, for a while, made him a challenger for the National League batting title (he finished second at .321 to Colorado's Michael Cuddyer and was fifth in the Majors).
Johnson came into Sunday's game with five multihit games in May, during which he hit .382 (13-for-34), and he had three multihit games in his last four, during which he hit .533 (8-for-15).
But he needed to buck a couple of trends, as he batted fifth, where he was hitting .229, his second-worst spot (his best place is seventh, where he boasts a .458 average) and faced right-hander Edwin Jackson , against whom he was 0-for-5 lifetime.
He took care of that, going 2-for-4 and scoring a run in a 5-2 victory.
So make that six multihit games in May, during which he's hitting .395 (15-for-38) and four multihit games in his last five, during which he's hitting .526 (10-for-19).
"That's the Chris Johnson we've seen," manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Sunday's game. "He has a great approach and keeps the line moving."
That's quite a rebound from April, when he had four multihit games and finished the month hitting .231. All of a sudden, balls are finding holes.
"That just means my bat path is right right now," he said. "It's finding the holes on both sides of the diamond. If the guy throws me away, I'm able to hit the ball to right field and get it by the second baseman. I'm showing that I can pull the ball, too, and kind of stay inside it that way. So it's good."
The best part is that all he had to do to change was not really change.
"For me, my approach kind of stays the same," he said. "When I'm struggling it's because I'm swinging at balls that are out of the strike zone, so I try to get the ball back in the strike zone and then just put my swing on any pitch."
Johnson has been especially proficient against lefties, against whom he is hitting an NL-leading .500 (9-for-18), and is a big reason why Atlanta ranks third in the NL in batting against southpaws with a .268 average. That .268 mark is 42 points higher than the team bats against righties.
While the difference between Johnson in April and Johnson in May is quite profound, he doesn't believe that a simple change of the calendar can make such a difference.
"I just stuck with my approach, continued to work and then a new month came up and I ended up getting hot and getting some hits," he said.
"I don't know that I give it all to the calendar year. Hopefully it's something that I'm doing," he added with a laugh. "But I'll take it."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.