ATLANTA -- While tearing through opposing pitchers in August, Justin Upton established himself as a player who could receive attention from a number of Most Valuable Player Award voters this year. But as the Braves found themselves on the wrong end of a combined no-hitter in Monday's 7-0 loss to the Phillies, manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to pinch-hit for Upton in the ninth inning.
"They're up seven runs in the ninth and we're playing in the heat," Upton said. "Skip thought it was a good time to take me off the field. So be it."
Under normal circumstances, nobody would have thought anything about the fact that Gonzalez opted to remove his valuable left fielder from a game his club had little chance of winning. But given the fact that Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon were bidding to complete just the 11th combined no-hitter in Major League history, these were not normal circumstances.
Still, Gonzalez essentially admitted that he was more concerned about getting his players ready for what lies ahead than he was battling against being on the wrong side of history.
So instead of sticking with Upton, who had hit eight homers and compiled a .961 OPS in his previous 31 games, Gonzalez went with Jose Constanza, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday by getting his first taste of the big leagues this year.
"With the score what it was, I wanted to get Constanza in there," Gonzalez said. "Down the road, he might be a guy who can pinch-hit for us and maybe get him an at-bat. If we would have extended that inning there, Ramiro Pena was on-deck for Andrelton Simmons. So as far as health-wise, [Upton] was fine."
Upton, who has struck out in five of his past 11 at-bats, said he did not argue with Gonzalez's decision.
"I wasn't expecting it, but he came to me and said, 'We've got some guys up here who haven't had at-bats up here,'" Upton said. "He said he really wanted to get Constanza an at-bat, because it could be huge for us in the next couple of days if he needs to come in and get an at-bat."