Outlook: Upton looks to regain form as dual threat

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets third baseman David Wright was somewhat conflicted as he watched B.J. Upton struggle throughout last season. Along with having compassion, Wright also had to account for the fact that his childhood friend was now playing for the division-rival Braves.

"I think anybody who plays the game goes through one of those times where you don't feel like you're doing what you're capable of doing," Wright said. "You feel for him on one hand. But on the other hand, he's in our division. So you want to see him do well. But you don't want to see him do that well to where he is single-handedly beating you like he can."

Coming off a season in which he hit .184 with a .557 OPS, Upton is attempting to regenerate the promise that has surrounded him dating back to when he and Wright were growing up together in the southwest Virginia region known as Tidewater.

While the .227 (5-for-22) batting average Upton has generated through the Grapefruit League season's early portion might not generate optimism, the Braves center fielder impressed with the three plate appearances he compiled in Sunday's loss to the Mets.

Upton lined Zack Wheeler's first-pitch fastball to right-center field for a single in the first inning and then fouled off a couple of fastballs in the process of drawing a walk after falling behind with a 1-2 count against the Mets right-hander in the third inning. Further showing he is willing to hit the ball the other way more frequently than last year, he flew out to right field while facing Jose Valverde in the sixth.

"He is a guy who has the tools," Wright said. "I think coming into this year, he will be more comfortable with his surroundings and more comfortable with being one of the guys over there. I expect him to have a bounce-back year. He's got all the tools. It's just a matter of putting last year behind him and doing what he is capable of doing."

Reliever Vasquez rusty in debut with Braves

Luis Vasquez allowed four unearned runs on Sunday.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As he made his much-anticipated Grapefruit League season debut in Sunday afternoon's loss to the Mets, Braves right-handed reliever Luis Vasquez did not live up to the hype that was generated from the tales of what he did over the past few months in the Dominican Winter League.

Instead, Vasquez displayed some of the rust that should have been expected as he pitched in a game for the first time since suffering a right lat strain approximately two months ago. The 27-year-old sidearmer was not even cleared to begin throwing live batting practice until Wednesday.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would take all of this into account after Vasquez allowed four unearned runs, surrendered one hit and issued two walks while recording just two outs in Sunday's eighth inning.

"I'm not going to evaluate the young man on his first [appearance]," Gonzalez said. "He's coming back from some injuries. You can't evaluate him. It's not fair for him and it's not fair for us. If we make a couple plays, including himself, he might get out of there with just giving up one run."

Vasquez issued a leadoff walk and then made an errant throw to first base after fielding a bunt to account for the first of the two errors that led to the four unearned runs.

"It will take a little more time for me to get [my slider] back," Vasquez said. "But I didn't feel anything wrong. I could throw hard and soft. It felt normal. I just have to work on being more consistent."

Vasquez's ability to produce above-average fastballs with the sidearm delivery he developed less than two years ago has made him an intriguing candidate to begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. He will have plenty of time over the remainder of the Grapefruit League season to regain the form that led the Braves to sign him as a Minor League free agent on Nov. 3.

Worth noting

• The Braves will have their first opportunity to test the expanded replay system during Monday afternoon's game against the Phillies in Clearwater. This will be the first of five Grapefruit League games the Braves will play in which Gonzalez will have the option of challenging reviewable plays.

• After struggling with his command in his first few Grapefruit League appearances, Ryan Buchter caught Gonzalez's attention with the perfect inning he completed in Saturday's split-squad game against the Nationals. Buchter, who would likely be best-suited for a specialist role, retired the only two left-handed hitters -- Bryce Harper (strikeout) and Adam LaRoche (groundout) -- he faced.

Ramiro Pena recorded two hits in Sunday's loss to the Mets to improve his batting average to .364 (8-for-22). Coming off of right shoulder surgery, Pena has felt comfortable while swinging from both sides of the plate. But the utility infielder said he is still occasionally reluctant with some of the throws that he makes.