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Getting Uggl-y
Braves' slugger Uggla stuck in season-long slump
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Forsyth County News

When will it end?

That’s what we’d all like to know.

Or are we at the point where we stop thinking slump and start asking if Dan Uggla will ever hit again?

We watched Uggla, the Braves’ cornerstone offseason acquisition, the lineup addition that would vault the Braves past the Phillies, get off to a painfully slow start.

Nothing unusual there, the pundits assured us. He’s a notoriously slow starter. He rolled out of the blocks in 2008 struggling to reach the Mendoza Line. Through mid-April, he had garnered a single hit with runners in scoring position. He still finished with solid numbers: .260 average, 32 home runs, and 92 runs batted in.

In 2009, he struggled through April and May. By May 28, Palm Beach Post writer Tom D’Angelo was encouraged that Uggla’s batting average "has not dipped below .200 for eight straight games."

D’Angelo quoted Uggla’s manager, Fredi Gonzalez: "Danny’s bat has been coming along. He’s been getting his knocks here and there throughout the last 10 games.

"Every season, you’re going to have a time where you’re under the ball," Uggla told D’Angelo. "It’s part of baseball. It’s just a matter of a little hitch in your swing, whether your hands are starting off too low, or your back shoulder is dropping.

"Then, once you pop up two, three, or four times in a row, you realize, ‘Wow, something is wrong.’"

Didn’t Uggla pop up to end Sunday’s game?

D’Angelo also quoted "an anonymous scout" in his article: "He’s never been a good hitter. He’s a dangerous hitter. Good hitters make adjustments."

Last year’s slow start wasn’t as pronounced. On June 26, 2010, Uggla was hitting .264 with 12 homers and 41 RBI. He finished with .287, 33 and 105.

This year’s numbers through June 26: .177, 11 and 27.

Oddly, Uggla was a model of consistency during his first five seasons. He hit between 27 and 33 homers, knocked in 88 to 105 runs, and hit between .243 and .287.

So, what in the name of Andruw Jones happened?

Maybe everything. Maybe nothing. I keep coming back to Ralph Houk’s explanation of slumps. The Major expounded on the subject to Joe Fitzgerald of The Boston Herald in July 1983.

"Guys have been having ‘em for 100 years," Houk began. "You’d think we’d have figured them out by now, but that’s the way the game goes.

"Funny thing, guys usually go into slumps right when they’re hitting good. For three days in a row, they’ll hit line drives right at somebody. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong. It just happens, that’s all.

"You’re hitting hard with nothing to show for it. Then you bang into a double play, and now it’s starting to bother you. You’re in a slump. So you begin swinging at bad balls, which only makes it worse. You’re 0-for-14. Then, one day, you hit one off the handle, and it falls in. You follow that with one bloop, two bloops and, suddenly, you’re hitting again.

"See, a lot of this stuff is in the mind. You’ll start a slump with solid hits, and then break it with bloops. It’s a crazy game."

A wise man, the Major. How many line drives did Uggla hit right at someone in April? Suddenly, it’s April 30, and he’s hitting .194 with 5 homers, but only 11 RBI. Suddenly, he’s trying to justify a huge new contract to a new team, new city, new fans. Suddenly, he’s swinging at bad pitches.

We thought Uggla had turned things around on May 15, when he homered to beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies. At the time, he was hitting .196 (2 for his last 34.)

He went 4 for his next 54.

Saturday night provided another tease: a 2-for-3 performance, with a homer, 4 RBI, and 2 walks. That upped his totals for the last fortnight to .222 with 4 homers and 11 RBI.

Sigh. Sunday brought another 0-for-4, with a strikeout. And a .177 average. He hasn’t been above .183 since May 24. He hasn’t seen .200 since May 16.

For the past month or so, we’ve heard Uggla talk about his timing mechanism being off. You’d think that a foot tap would be a simple correction. Good thing he isn’t a musician.

"I’ve just been trying to start earlier, mostly," Uggla told Mark Bowman of mlb.com. "If I tap earlier, then it’s going to give me more chances to be on time with the fastball, and I’ll be able to recognize the offspeed.

"A lot of times, I’ve gone up there and thought more about when I should be tapping, instead of just focusing on picking up the ball. That’s what happens when you’re struggling and your timing is off."

See, a lot of this stuff is in the mind.

Which leaves us back at square one.

When will it end?

No one knows. Least of all Daniel Cooley Uggla.