With sharper vision, Uggla has case to make Nats

Veteran second baseman displaying power, patience in spring audition

With sharper vision, Uggla has case to make Nats

VIERA, Fla -- One of Dan Uggla's biggest issues while struggling during the past two seasons has been his inability to put the ball in play. The strikeout totals were astonishing -- his 217 strikeouts in 188 games since the start of the 2013 season were more than his total of hits (101) and walks (88) combined.

But after correcting an issue with his eyes in the offseason, Uggla is tracking the ball better this spring. Entering Friday's game against the Cardinals, Uggla had more hits (10) and walks (7) than strikeouts (5) and was batting .323/.462/.581 overall. Yes, it is Spring Training and the sample size is small, but the Nationals are impressed with what they have seen from Uggla this month.

"His track record speaks for itself," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He's got power. He's got the ability to be a dominant big league second baseman. So he's a good player, and he's worked hard."

Due to injuries this spring to several Nationals position players, including second baseman Yunel Escobar, Uggla has had the opportunity to play often. He started at second and batted sixth on Friday, drawing a walk in his first plate appearance and scoring a run.

Uggla signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals during the offseason in an effort to revive his career. Williams said he knew that Uggla could still hit for power, but the manager has been impressed by the way Uggla has been driving the ball to right field, an indication that Uggla has been seeing the ball deep into the strike zone.

"That's a great sign for him," Williams said. "We all know he can leave to left. We've seen that, it seems, a million times. But the fact that he can stay on the baseball -- he's got a plan, he's a veteran guy, he understands it."

The question for Uggla remains how well he might potentially play off the bench. He has been an everyday player throughout his career and received regular at-bats, but the Nationals have an everyday second baseman in Escobar. Uggla also plays only one position, and most of the other players competing for spots on the Nationals' roster have the versatility to play other positions. But Williams did not believe those things would hurt Uggla's chances to make the team.

"I think it's about the need of the club," Williams said. "[Uggla] is willing to do whatever is needed to help us win, whether that be a start on a particular day, like today, or coming off the bench, like he's done the last couple of days. He's willing to do it all, so as we get closer, we'll make those determinations, but I think he's played really really well."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.