B.J. Upton starting to reap rewards from offseason work
ATLANTA -- When the Braves concluded a road trip in St. Louis last weekend, there was certainly reason to be concerned about B.J. Upton. The veteran outfielder had struck out in 18 of his past 26 plate appearances and positioned himself to lose some of the comfort and confidence he had displayed while spending the early portion of the season attempting to rebound from last year's miserable season.
But those concerns have evaporated over the past week. Upton entered Sunday having struck out just once in a span of 24 plate appearances that included six hits and five walks. The resulting .458 on-base percentage he compiled during this six-game span has provided some hope that he is finally benefiting from all of the offseason mechanical adjustments he made with his father's assistance.
"He and his dad worked all winter long and did some smart things," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. "We've felt all year long that he's been more comfortable and that he's just felt better about himself."
To his credit, Upton didn't allow the recent strikeout binge to damage his psyche. Before this homestand began with Monday night's game against the Brewers, he told Walker that he felt he had finally fixed the flaw that wrecked his timing last year and affected him again through the early portion of this season.
As Upton has consistently gotten on base this week, he has minimized the wiggle of his bat before he swings and consequently gained a more consistent swing plane that has allowed him to get to tough pitches, like the 3-2 slider he fouled off before lacing Juan Nicasio's 94-mph fastball to left-center field for a single in Saturday's third inning.
"I've just cleaned some things up," Upton said. "That's all. I've never really felt bad all year."
One solid week has not necessarily erased all of the frustration Upton has encountered while hitting .216 with and a .649 OPS through his first 45 games of this season. His 57 strikeouts (one less than his younger brother Justin Upton's Major League-leading total) have come at a rate of one per every 3.21 plate appearances.
But there is no doubt he has provided more encouragement than he did last year, while batting .184 with a .557 OPS and one strikeout every 2.95 plate appearances.
"He's got a better mindset this year," Walker said. "He's more relaxed. He's gotten frustrated a little bit, but not bad. I'm happy for him. The guy has absolutely worked his [butt] off."