Hot streak leads J. Upton to ditch flip drill
ATLANTA -- As Justin Upton progressed through the early stages of his most recent hot streak, he and Braves hitting coach Greg Walker determined his pregame ritual will no longer include the flip drill, during which a player swings at balls flipped to them by a coach who is positioned just a few feet away.
Instead, Upton will take regular batting practice on the field and then limit his tuneup work to the swings he takes off of a stationary batting tee. This is the ritual he has used dating back to Thursday, when he homered twice against the Mets and began his recent surge. He entered the series finale against the Nationals with nine hits -- including three home runs and two doubles -- in his previous 11 at-bats, and he homered in his first plate appearance on Sunday.
"I looked at him the other night after he hit two home runs and said, 'Hey, [assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher] is up in the cage if you want to take some flips,'" Walker said. "He said, 'I'm never flipping the rest of my life.'"
Though Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are among the players who believe in the benefits of "flips," Upton has learned that this ritual has often led him to overanalyze his swing.
"He's a bright, analytical guy and he loves the [batting] cage, and he's always in there," Walker said. "So I just think over the years, he has too much stuff [in his head]. He's not letting his God-given gifts take over. My whole goal since the start of Spring Training has been to make the game easier for him."
Upton's recent surge has brought back memories of last year, when he hit .298 with a 1.136 OPS through April and then batted .233 with a .654 OPS in the 72 games that followed. He produced another impressive surge during the early part of August, but he spent most of the season frustrated by his inability to produce on a consistent basis.
"I take part of the blame," Walker said. "Last year, after he got off to that start, we thought we had it figured out. I was thinking, 'God, this is the best player on earth. I've never seen a player like this.' Then all of the sudden, it started getting more difficult, and we started working harder and harder and grinding and grinding. He grinds and then mentally and physically he thinks, 'God, I can't keep doing this.'
"I watched him last year get so frustrated working so hard to figure it out. I told him, 'You'll never figure it out, but you can have a lot more fun than what you're having.' So that's our goal."