Uggla, Pastornicky arrive early with something to prove
Atlanta's second baseman and utility infielder are coming off frustrating years
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Dan Uggla opted to undergo LASIK surgery in August, Tyler Pastornicky was given another shot to prove he is capable of filling an everyday role.
One day later, a collision with Jason Heyward in shallow right field left Pastornicky with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Just like that, he bid adieu to the plan to spend approximately three weeks filling in for Uggla as the Braves' starting second baseman.
While the pain might have been more significant, the frustration was similar to what Pastornicky had felt a year earlier, when his two-month stint as Atlanta's starting shortstop ended with Andrelton Simmons' midseason promotion to the Majors.
Refreshed by the approaching dawn of a new season, Uggla and Pastornicky were both wearing smiles Wednesday, when they became the latest Braves to make an early arrival to Spring Training. The club's pitchers and catchers are required to report by Thursday to prepare for their first workout Friday.
Instead of waiting until the end of this week to travel to Florida well ahead of next week's first full-squad workout, Uggla got out of Atlanta before the latest winter storm crippled the city. His early arrival gives him a chance to begin regaining some of the comfort and confidence that was lost when the Braves left him off the roster for last year's National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
The Braves spent the early days of this offseason exploring the possibility of trading Uggla and a portion of the $26 million he is owed over the next two years. But once it was apparent a suitable deal would not be found, the club began looking to this upcoming season with the hope that the veteran second baseman will prove to be much more productive than he was last year, when he hit .179 with 22 homers and a .671 OPS.
"Last year, although his batting average was down, he still hit 20 homers and walked a bunch," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Just a couple years ago he became the first second baseman to hit at least 30 home runs in five consecutive seasons. It's still there."
Now that he has been given an entire offseason to get used to the improved vision he gained from the LASIK procedure, Uggla will have a chance to prove he is still worthy of keeping his role as Atlanta's starting second baseman. In order to do so, he will have to distance himself from the misery that has grown as he has hit .185 in the 236 games he has played dating back to June 5, 2012.
If Uggla's struggles continue, the Braves could give his starting role to either Ramiro Pena or Pastornicky. Intriguing prospect Tommy La Stella could also be considered a candidate at some point. But there are still some concerns about the defensive skills possessed by La Stella, who is expected to begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.
While Pena is returning from shoulder surgery without any limitations, Pastornicky could be restricted from some activities during the early portion of camp. He has been encouraged with the way his surgically repaired knee has responded as he has been running over the past month. But Pastornicky will be evaluated at least one more time before he is cleared to resume all baseball-related activities.