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Justin Upton finds a home in Braves’ lineup
ATLANTA — Fredi Gonzalez sat down and started writing out projected lineups last week as soon as he heard the Braves had traded for Justin Upton.
It didn’t take long. The manager says making out lineups just got easier.
Gonzalez used 107 lineups last year, sometimes adjusting due to the opposing pitcher.
He said his juggling days are over. He says Justin Upton will be the No. 3 hitter. Older brother B.J. Upton, who signed with Atlanta in November, and catcher Brian McCann, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, will follow in the middle of the lineup.
“When you have B.J. and Justin and a healthy McCann, that’s the middle of your lineup,” Gonzalez said. “It doesn’t matter who is pitching against you that night. Those are your three. Having those three there, it’s going to be a little easier.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is the new leadoff hitter. Jason Heyward is expected to hit second. First baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Dan Uggla and one of two third basemen, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco, complete the lineup.
Justin Upton, acquired with Johnson from Arizona in a seven-player trade on Thursday, had his first news conference on Tuesday. B.J. was in the audience with the brothers’ beaming parents, Manny and Yvonne.
The Upton brothers dreamed of playing together in the same outfield but assumed their best chance would come later in their careers.
“No, I didn’t think it would happen this year,” said Justin Upton. “You don’t get that lucky.”
As he tried on his new No. 8 Braves jersey, Justin said it was “a special day for my family.”
The Uptons’ parents already have their season tickets — close enough to the field for the brothers to know they are there.
“B.J. got seats. He was nice to us,” said Manny Upton. “So we’re right where Mom can holler at him when he’s on deck. And she will holler at him.”
Said Yvonne: “Now I get to see two for one.”
B.J., 28, signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract to be the Braves centerfielder.
Manny Upton said the talk of the brothers playing together took a more serious tone in recent years.
“For it to happen right now is just unbelievable,” said Manny Upton. “To play on a team that has a legitimate chance to go to the World Series and at a young age, that’s marvelous.”
The brothers said they will have to establish boundaries with the Braves.
Justin smiled when asked if he expected to have a locker next to his brother in the Braves’ clubhouse.
“It might start out with us near each other but by the end of it maybe switching,” Justin said with a laugh. “You never know.”
“No!” he said before the question could be completed.
“We’ll see each other plenty at the field. Obviously we’ll ride to the field together some. We both live on our own. We both need our space.”
Added B.J.: “We still butt heads. We do all the things that brothers do.”
Manny Upton said he expected his sons to get along just like when they were kids.
“I think it will be like the backyard,” said the elder Upton. “They are competitive but not to the point where it’s bad. They’ll get after it. Like Justin said, they may sit together at the beginning but by the end they might be separated.”
The Uptons will join Heyward, who won his first Gold Glove in right field last season, to form one of baseball’s best outfields. Justin, who played right field in Arizona, said he agreed to move to left field because Heyward “has the hardware.”
“I haven’t played left at all,” Justin said.
“The more reps I can get from the left side of the field is going to be key in spring training. It should be a pretty smooth transition. Obviously it’s a change so it’s going to take some time but I think I can get used to it.”
Justin, an All-Star in 2009 and 2011, has averaged 23 homers, 78 RBIs and 19 stolen bases the last four seasons. He finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2011 when he hit .289 with 31 homers, 88 RBIs and 21 steals. He hit a career-high .300 in 2009.
“We think he gives us one of the most dynamic outfields in all of baseball,” Wren said. “We think it really improves what we’ve been looking to do over last few years, to get younger and more athletic and have that kind of offense that can be explosive.”
The Braves gave up former All-Star infielder Martin Prado, one of their top pitching prospects, Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers in the deal with Arizona.
Atlanta also will have to adjust to the retirement of third baseman Chipper Jones and the exit of centerfielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who was not re-signed.
Wren said the 2013 Braves’ lineup will be “much improved from a year ago.”
Added Justin Upton: “We want to win a World Series and on paper I think we’re good enough to do it. We have the players to do it.”
By F.H. Buckley
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