Things may not have reached an all-time low between Justin Upton and Diamondbacks fans frustrated with his performance. But after Upton struck out twice in key situations Tuesday night in a 10-inning, 12-9 loss to the Seattle Mariners, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson expressed some concern about his two-time All-Star right fielder.
Upton heard boos from the normally laid-back fans at Chase Field after he fanned in the bottom of the fifth inning with the bases loaded. The score was tied at 8 and the Diamondbacks had rallied from an 8-5 deficit.
"He feels a lot of pressure. I know the fans were booing him yesterday, that was kind of a first," Gibson said before Wednesday's matinee against the Mariners. "That worries me a little bit."
Gibson recalled getting booed himself by the hometown fans as a Detroit Tiger in 1983. He, like Upton, was a younger player with high expectations placed on him. He had to get himself into a better frame of mind that offseason, admitting later that the boos and pressure to live up to expectations got to him.
"It's not going to help him, but it introduces a new dimension to his growth as a player," Gibson said of the boos. "He's got to power through and remain determined. It's something different. It hurts. And there's nobody trying harder than Justin Upton."
Gibson feels the boos will be a good test of Upton's character, but that he is capable of going on a tear at any time. Upton hit .289 with 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in in 2011, but stands at .253 with five homers and 24 RBI in 2012. He's also struck out a team-high 64 times in 225 at-bats, a sign that he's pressing.
Gibson said Upton shouldn't be motivated by boos, that he should already be motivated to play baseball every day.
"The kid cares so much," he said.
The Mariners opted to walk Aaron Hill, the hitter before Upton, to load the bases in the fifth and take their chances with Upton. Hill has been hitting very well of late; nevertheless, intentionally walking a hitter with less a reputation than Upton had to be discouraging the D-backs and their fans.
"You do get discouraged in that situation, and then the fact that they walked Hill to confront you, there's more of a level of 'I'm going to show you guys you're wrong.' And there's more disappointment."
The way Upton deals with disappointment is a work in progress, Gibson said.
"We'll watch him. Maybe it didn't bother him at all," Gibson said. "But when the boos came last night, I said that this is something different we've got to deal with now."