Braves Notebook: A Tale of Two Uptons

Though sometimes rainy and a touch chilly, the Atlanta Braves opened the season in the exact fashion one would have imagined after taking one look at the lineup – power with a side of strikeouts. The latter could not stop the former from helping to propel the club to three wins in its first four contests, however.

One Upton thriving, the other is scuffling…

Justin Upton finished Spring Training with a power surge which he carried right over to the regular season. He homered in each of the first two games of the Phillies series before Cliff Lee kept him in the yard on Thursday. Not to worry, Upton was right back at it against Scott Feldman of the Cubs, connecting for his third homer of the season in the  bottom of the first inning. He is 4-for-13 with three homers and five RBI’s in four games thus far.

“It’s even more fun seeing him hit in the cage,” said shortstop Andrelton Simmons. “You just watch and try to pick up stuff from him. He’s really talented and he has a nice swing, everything is nice and smooth. He’s going to do this all year.”

Brother B.J. is having a more difficult time in his first few games in Atlanta. Opening the season against the Philadelphia trio of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Lee is seldom a recipe for offensive success, and is a big reason why the Braves center fielder is still looking for his first hit. Upton is 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts. He was hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored a run on Friday against Chicago.

“He’s coming along,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “You see the at-bats and the swing is getting there. Everybody gets into one of those things, whether it’s in July or August. All those guys that win batting titles, they go in little slumps somewhere down the line. It just so happens that B.J.’s is the first four games of the season, but he’s fine.”

Gattis starts career with a bang…

The Evan Gattis story was one of the most talked about topics of the spring. His raw power and incredible journey back into baseball captured the attention of fans and teammates alike. It seemed only fitting that the slugging catcher would belt a home run in his Major League debut.

“Did you guys think anything else was going to happen? Didn’t surprise me one bit,” quipped Gonzalez.

Gattis, 26, connected against Halladay on Wednesday to become the seventh Atlanta player to homer in his first big league game.

“Couldn’t have planned it,” said Gattis. “Just excited and happy, a little emotional after the game when I got the lineup [card] and my home run [ball] back. It’s just too cool.”

His teammates were not only thrilled about the home run, but also shared some praise for his overall performance.

“Oh, that’s awesome for him,” said right fielder Jason Heyward on Wednesday. “Really happy for him. Roy Halladay is not a bad one to have your first homer off of… but, I feel like he did a good job behind the plate tonight too.”

Teheran primed for first start of the season…

Another man who enjoyed quite a run through the Grapefruit League was righty Julio Teheran. He will make his first start of 2013 on Saturday evening against the Cubs.

Teheran, 22, benefited from a trip to winter ball in the Dominican Republic after a disappointing season in Triple-A Gwinnett (7-9, 5.08 ERA in 26 starts). He began utilizing a two-seam fastball and pitching with more of a plan after meeting his pitching idol Pedro Martinez. Those two things transformed him back into one of the top prospects in baseball.

While it appears Gonzalez will divide time pretty equally between Gattis and Gerald Laird behind the plate, the manager did say he intends to pair the rookie Teheran with the veteran Laird.

“I think Laird and Teheran will be locked in,” said Gonzalez. “I like that. They’ve had some pretty good success in spring training… and you’ve got a guy that’s handled situations behind the plate.”

Teheran and Laird worked together throughout a spring which saw the 22-year-old righty turn in a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings. He struck out 35 batters while allowing just seven hits as well.

“He’s got that breaking stuff and a changeup that’s come a long way, but I think the pitch that’s really putting him over the edge is that two-seamer he’s learned to locate and throw in the zone,” said Laird. “When you can establish a pitch like that with his velocity, you’re going to get a lot of ground balls and that’s huge.”

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