The Braves outfielder has been in slumps before, but never one that lasted this long.
“I’ve got to try to flush this as fast as possible,” said Upton, who struck out two more times in Atlanta’s 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night. “I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words.”
Upton went 0-for-3, dropping his average .146 — the lowest among all major leaguers with enough qualifying at-bats.
Not exactly what the Braves had in mind when they signed Upton to a five-year, $75.25-million contract before the season.
“I’m to the point where I really don’t know,” Upton said. “I can’t work any harder. That’s definitely not the problem. Maybe I shouldn’t pick up a bat for a while.”
Upton had plenty of company in one of the Braves’ most feeble offensive performances of the season.
With Toronto taking a pitcher-by-committee approach to deal with a rash of injuries, Atlanta managed only four hits against a reliever making his first start of the season, followed by two journeymen just called up from Triple-A Buffalo.
“They weren’t even through the lineup one time, and all of sudden they’re bringing in another guy,” said Freddie Freeman, who had two of Atlanta’s hits. “It’s tough when you don’t get to see guys a few times.”
Before the game, the Blue Jays made a flurry of moves to deal with their injury-plagued pitching. Thirty-four-year-old Juan Perez, who once pitched in the Braves’ organization, wound up getting the win, just his second in the big leagues. The first came on July 8, 2011, with Philadelphia.
Esmil Rogers lasted 3 1-3 innings in his first start since 2011. Perez (1-0) went 2 2/3 hitless innings with four strikeouts. Neil Wagner got through the seventh and eighth allowing just one hit.
“You tip your hat to those guys,” manager John Gibbons said. “They all stepped up, did a great job. Going in, you really don’t know what you’re going to get out of Rogers, how many innings. And then Perez comes in, shuts them down, then Wagner, against a really good-hitting team.”
Casey Janssen got the final three outs for his 11th save, completing Toronto’s second shutout of the season.
But the most important work was turned in by the three pitchers who came before the closer.
“It felt good,” Wagner said. “I was excited to get the opportunity and hoping to justify their confidence in throwing me out there in a pretty close game late.”
Melky Cabrera had three hits, scored Toronto’s first run and drove in the other two with a second-inning single.
Atlanta starter Kris Medlen (1-6) failed to last even as long as Rogers.
Medlen took a liner off the left leg in the second and didn’t return the next inning because of a contusion to his upper calf. He is expected to make his next start, though his leg was heavily wrapped after the game.
“I’ve been hit by a lot of balls in my life. That’s one of the harder ones I’ve felt,” Medlen said. “I knew right away (that he’d have to leave the game), but I at least wanted get through the inning.”
Cabrera led off the game with a single and wound up scoring Toronto’s first run on a fielder’s choice grounder by J.P. Arencibia. With one out in the second, Emilio Bonifacio lined one off the back of Medlen’s leg, reaching on the infield single. The Braves’ trainer came out, and Medlen walked gingerly around the mound before deciding to stay in the game.
That might’ve been a mistake. Munenori Kawasaki walked, Rogers bunted the runners over and Cabrera singled to left to drive in two more runs. Medlen finished the frame but was done for the night, having allowed four hits, a walk and all three Toronto runs in the shortest start of his career.
Rogers had pitched 22 games in relief for the Blue Jays this season. He gave them as much as they could’ve hoped for as a starter, surrendering three hits and two walks before Gibbons lifted the right-hander in the fourth with two runners aboard.
Perez escaped the jam by retiring Juan Francisco on a popup, then striking out Upton, who has grown so frustrated during a season-long slump that he slung his bat into the dirt and slammed down his helmet with both hands, bouncing it high in the air.
“It tests your mentally,” Upton said. “I’ve been in slumps, but never this long. Hopefully it changes.”
Younger brother Justin Upton fanned three times and the Braves finished with 11 strikeouts on the night, the 24th time in 52 games they’ve reached double figures in that category. Appropriately, Brian McCann whiffed to end the game.
After Medlen departed, four Atlanta relievers shut down Toronto the rest of the way. But it didn’t matter on an otherwise grim night for the home team, which made two errors and squandered a sure double play when Andrelton Simmons dropped a line drive, though he was able to throw out the hitter at first.
NOTES: The Braves activated RHP Jordan Walden off the disabled list before the game and optioned RHP Cory Rasmus to Triple-A Gwinnett. Walden pitched a scoreless eighth. ... The Braves are going with 11 pitchers but manager Fredi Gonzalez said they may have to consider going back to 12 after Medlen’s short outing. ... Rogers’ most recent start came with the Colorado Rockies in 2011. ... The Blue Jays left 10 runners on base. ... B.J. Upton is one of three Atlanta regulars hitting below .200, joined by OF Jason Heyward (.152) and 2B Dan Uggla (.186). ... Wagner made his first big league appearance since working six games for Oakland in 2011.