Braves show new lineup's power potential in opener
(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves didn't wait long to show off their new power game.
Home runs by Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and newcomer Justin Upton led the Braves to a season-opening 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. The teams, off on Tuesday, will resume the series Wednesday night.
The impressive debut generated postgame enthusiasm in Atlanta's clubhouse, with players talking about the depth of the team's new lineup. The Braves, who added brothers Justin and B.J. Upton in the offseason, showed great promise by leading all National League teams with 49 homers in spring training.
The Braves hit each home run off Phillies ace left-hander Cole Hamels.
"Everything kind of fell into place (Monday night)," said Justin Upton, who was acquired with third baseman Chris Johnson in a seven-player trade in January which sent Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and three prospects to Arizona.
Johnson, who reached base three times with two hits and a walk Monday night, will platoon with Juan Francisco at third base. Johnson opened the game with a strong defensive play, charging to scoop a slow grounder hit by Ben Revere before throwing out the speedy leadoff hitter.
Johnson and Francisco face the unenviable task of replacing Hall of Fame-bound Chipper Jones, who threw out the first pitch in the opener. The Braves also must replace former leadoff hitter and center fielder Michael Bourn, who was not re-signed.
B.J. Upton has taken over in center field, with his brother in left and Jason Heyward in right. Each of the three has the potential to hit 20 to 30 homers with 20 or more stolen bases.
Freeman led the team with seven homers in spring training, and his two-run shot in the first inning set the pace Monday night. Uggla added a second-inning homer into the left-field seats.
A strong start for Uggla is especially important. He hit only .220 with 19 homers in 2012, ending a streak of five straight seasons with more than 30 homers. Uggla, who hit only .200 in spring training, knows a slow start this season will raise more concerns. He walked and scored two runs while hitting sixth.
"You always want to get off to a good start," he said. "I'm sure everybody wanted to see me hit .350 in spring training. This is only one game, though. I feel great."
Uggla and the two Uptons each struck out more than 150 times last season, so the new third-base platoon has the potential to add not only homers but strikeouts.
"I think these guys, including myself, we're still learning, we're still competing to get better and cut down on strikeouts but we've got a lot of power," Uggla said.
Freeman hit fourth, the spot manager Fredi Gonzalez could eventually give to catcher Brian McCann, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. McCann could come off the disabled list by the end of April, but by then Gonzalez might have difficulty removing Freeman from the cleanup spot.
Gonzalez said Braves hitting coach Greg Walker believes the 23-year-old Freeman "is the best young hitter he has ever worked with."
Freeman hit 23 homers with 94 RBIs last season.
"The sky is the limit for him," Gonzalez said.
Uggla believes the full lineup has a lot of upside, as well.
"We're not trying to hold back," he said. "If it costs some strikeouts in situations, then that's what it's going to take, because we have the power to go blow for blow with anybody."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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