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Despite slow start, Braves’ Uggla showing encouraging signs

Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla (26) turns a double play after forcing out Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Mark Reynolds (7) in the second inning at Miller Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Benny Sieu)

Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla (26) turns a double play after forcing out Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Mark Reynolds (7) in the second inning at Miller Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Benny Sieu)

MILWAUKEE — Last season was a rough one for Atlanta Braves second-baseman Dan Uggla, who set a franchise record by striking out 171 times and was left off his team’s playoff roster after hitting a career-low .179.

But Uggla showed signs of a turnaround in spring training, batting .269 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 22 spring games, and despite a slow start this season manager Fredi Gonzalez is encouraged.

“He’s had some great at-bats,” Gonzalez said. “He’s only got (two) hits. But he’s hitting the ball about as well as anybody on this team.”

Uggla went hitless in three at-bats Wednesday, a day after collecting two doubles against the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s batting just .192 on the season but manager Fredi Gonzalez has seen improvement from Uggla, who struggled so much last season he was left off the Braves’ playoff roster. “He’s had some great at-bats,” Gonzalez said. “He’s only got (two) hits. But he’s hitting the ball about as well as anybody on this team.” Uggla hit .269 in 22 spring games with four home runs and 14 RBIs. He is signed through 2015, part of a five-year, $62 million contract signed prior to the 2011 season.

Since joining the Braves in a 2011 trade with the Marlins, Uggla has a .213 average and a .323 on-base percentage, dropping his career average nearly 20 points — from .263 in five years with Atlanta — to .246.

“When you have a bad year, people forget real fast what you’ve done in your career,” Uggla said. “In my career I’ve been pretty good. It’s not like I was never good before. So it’s one of those things that you work for, you remember the feeling, and it’s a good feeling.”

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PLAYER NOTES:

—RHP Craig Kimbrel worked a perfect ninth inning Wednesday, earning his second save in as many games. Kimbrel now has 141 for his career, trying Gene Garber for second-place in franchise history. Kimbrel needs 13 more to tie the Braves’ all-time leader. In four major league seasons, the 25-year-old struck out 384 of the 886 (43.1 percent) of the batters he faced.

—3B Chris Johnson broke up Brewers RHP Matt Garza’s no-hitter with a two-out, solo home run in the seventh inning Wednesday. Through the first three games this season, Johnson is batting .250 and is tied for the team lead with three hits and second in total bases, with seven.

—CF B.J. Upton is 1-for-12 through three games and has struck out six times in his first season batting second, ahead of Freddie Freeman, in the Braves’ lineup. After striking out 151 times last season, pitchers have been challenging Upton saw fastballs on 68 percent of his pitches through the first two games.

—RHP David Hale makes his first start of the season and just the third of his career when the Braves open a three-game series at Washington Friday. Hale appeared in just two games for Atlanta last season, both of them starts, and held opponents to just a run on 11 hits with 14 strikeouts in 11 innings of work. He never faced the Nationals.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I felt good in the pen and I was just able to come out and keep them off balance and keep their team guessing. Then you see their guy throwing up numbers like that and you’re trying to do the same thing and give your team a chance to win. I was able to do that.” — Braves RHP Aaron Harang, who threw a no-hitter through six innings as Atlanta beat the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 at Miller Park on Wednesday.