ATLANTA -- When B.J. Upton returned from the disabled list earlier this month, he took advantage of what he thought was a fresh start by proving productive during his first five games back. But after struggling at the plate during the early portion of this homestand, he has found himself out of the starting lineup in four of the past six games.
"I'm just rolling with it," Upton said. "If I come in and I'm in the lineup, I'm in there. If I'm not, then I'm not. I really don't have an argument. What's my argument? He's going to play who he wants to play and that's fine with me, as long as we win. I'm going to support my teammates. We all have the same goal, and that is to win a championship, get a ring."
The Braves entered Saturday having gained a 15 1/2-game lead in the National League East with the help of 18 wins in their previous 20 games. This would seemingly be a good time for the club to allow Upton an extended opportunity to prove he is capable of being the productive player that was envisioned when he signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract in November.
But Upton's only two starts in his team's past six games have come when the opposing team has started a left-handed pitcher. The left-handed-hitting Jordan Schafer, who returned from the disabled list last week, has been penciled in to be Atlanta's starting center fielder in the other four games.
Upton will start Sunday, when the Nationals send southpaw Gio Gonzalez to the mound. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is not necessarily using a strict platoon.
"I'm just trying to get a matchup for both of them and see what Schafer can do a little bit," Gonzalez said. "I think B.J. is going to help us big come the next five to six weeks. We'll try to get him a good matchup and get him going. I think he's going to be a big part of this run we've got."
When Upton batted .476 (10-for-21) during his first five games back from the disabled list on Aug. 3, he distanced himself from the frustration he produced while hitting .177 with a .565 OPS in the 84 games he played before straining his right adductor muscle on July 12.
But Upton has gone hitless in the 16 at-bats that have followed, including a pinch-hit groundout Saturday. In the process, he created reason to question the hustle he showed pursuing Adeiny Hechavarria's pivotal triple in last Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Marlins. Two nights later, he whiffed while attempting to catch Cole Hamels' triple to left-center field.
Gonzalez did not mention these two defensive plays when asked about Upton's situation. But the timing certainly creates reason to believe the Braves have since decreased his playing time with the hope of motivating him for the season's stretch run.
"I really believe at the end of the day he's going to be in there for us," Gonzalez said. "We're just going to pick and choose a little bit."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.