7/5/2014 12:41 A.M. ET
B.J. Upton finding steady success in leadoff role
By Mark Bowman and Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez did not have a sound reason when he moved B.J. Upton into the leadoff role on June 23. But nearly two weeks later, he has also not found a reason to remove Upton from this role.
Upton once again served as an effective catalyst as he recorded a pair of singles and his latest stolen base during Friday night's 5-2 win over the D-backs. His first-inning single allowed him to match a career-best 10-game hitting streak, the latest of which began the day he moved to the leadoff spot.
"Hopefully, I'll keep coming," Upton said. "Whether it's drawing a walk or getting a hit, my job is to get on base for the guys behind me. That's the way it's been working for the last week or so."
Upton has not exactly lit the world on fire as he has batted .268 with a .302 on-base percentage during the streak. Before Friday night, the streak didn't even include a multi-hit performance. But given the fact that the Braves have won 10 of their past 11 games, they're not looking to mess with what they've been doing.
Moving to the top of the lineup has allowed Upton more opportunity to use his legs like he did during Friday's first inning, when he singled, stole second, advanced to third base on a sac bunt and scored on a Freddie Freeman single.
During this streak, Upton has notched three of his 14 stolen bases and raised his batting average from .203 to .211. His OBP has only marginally improved from .272 to .276.
But while the numbers might not overwhelmingly support keeping Upton in the leadoff sport, Gonzalez is among the many members of the baseball world who will tell you superstition trumps numbers.
"Earlier in the year, [Upton] was hitting the ball as hard as I've ever seen him hit a ball and not getting anything for it," Gonzalez said. "Now, he's getting some of those balls to fall in, which is a nice thing to see."
Bethancourt learning the ropes from selfless Laird
ATLANTA -- Gerald Laird will be prepared to play whenever necessary as Evan Gattis spends at least the next couple of weeks on the disabled list. But the Braves backup catcher understands he also needs to serve as an unselfish mentor to Christian Bethancourt, who will likely see a majority of the time behind the plate in Gattis' absence.
"I want him to feel comfortable and know that I'm in his corner," Laird said. "I want him to do well because if he does well, we win. The more games we win, the better chance we have to go to the postseason and that's what it's all about."
The Braves are still waiting to learn how much time Gattis might miss because of a bulging thoracic disc. In the meantime, they are going to give Bethancourt an opportunity to prove whether he is ready to handle the everyday catching duties.
Bethancourt, who is the Braves' No. 2 prospect and is considered one of the game's top catching prospects, was behind the plate for four of the first games that were played after he received his first call to the Majors last weekend. But Laird, who had some oblique discomfort earlier this week, was back behind the plate to catch Ervin Santana on Friday night against the D-backs.
"He has only been up here for four or five games and Gerald has done a nice job helping him prepare to be a starter," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Not too many people have the luxury to have your backup catcher have that kind of experience and [willingness] to communicate it with no ego involved to a younger guy.
"Gerald is the perfect guy. The guys that hang around, the Henry Blancos, the David Rosses and the Gerald Lairds, they have that trait. They don't have an ego. They don't want to play every day. But they have that trait to help your team win and maybe bring a younger catcher along with them, in this case Bethancourt or Gattis."
Gonzalez has been pleased with the first impressions provided by Bethancourt, who has always been lauded for his defensive skills.
"Defensively, we've always known he can do that," Gonzalez said. "I think I've seen him better than I saw him in Spring Training. He's blocked a lot of baseballs, tough pitches too that he's made look easy. I've really been impressed with the bat too. He's really made strides offensively."
Braves could alter rotation for Teheran to pitch in ASG
ATLANTA -- The Braves are thinking about altering their rotation to give Julio Teheran a chance to pitch in this year's All-Star Game.
Teheran is currently lined up to start against the Mets on Tuesday and against the Cubs on July 13, two days before the Midsummer Classic will be played. In order to give the young hurler a chance to pitch in the All-Star Game, the Braves are discussing the possibility of moving his next start up one day.
If Teheran starts on regular rest against the Mets on Monday, Mike Minor would likely be pushed back one day. This would mean Minor would be pitching with two extra days of rest if he were to start Tuesday's game against the Mets.
Given that he ranks third in the NL with a 2.29 ERA, Teheran seems to be almost certain to gain his first All-Star selection. The Braves will likely announce their rotation plans by Saturday.
Old friends Ahmed, La Stella meet on big league field
ATLANTA -- When the D-backs selected shortstop Nick Ahmed from Triple-A Reno on June 29, he texted Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella to share the news. Once La Stella heard, he reacted enthusiastically.
Ahmed had played the role of cheerleader when Atlanta recalled La Stella from Triple-A Gwinnett a month earlier. Three years after the Braves took both players in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Ahmed and La Stella are Major Leaguers.
"We're good buddies. We stay in touch. We talk hitting a lot," Ahmed said. "He was all excited for me, the same way I was for him when he got his callup."
They first made contact when the duo played together for the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod League in 2010 and crossed paths again during the 2011 NCAA tournament when La Stella's Coastal Carolina played Ahmed's UConn at the Clemson Regional.
They went their separate ways in 2011 when Ahmed went to Danville and La Stella played in Rome before suiting up again as teammates for Class A Advanced Lynchburg in 2012 before the Braves sent Ahmed to Arizona as part of the seven-player blockbuster trade that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta in January 2013.
Only six days removed from his Major League debut, Ahmed will finally share the diamond with La Stella again this weekend at Turner Field.
"Living together and obviously staying in touch over the years, we've talked about this moment for a long time, playing against each other at the highest level," La Stella said. "It's pretty cool it's finally happening."
One dream will be realized when La Stella and Ahmed go toe to toe this weekend, but another will be achieved for Ahmed when he steps out of the dugout for the first time on Friday night at Turner Field.
"It's going to be fun," Ahmed said. "When you get drafted, you always dream of playing for that organization in the big leagues. I always dreamed of playing here."
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.