ATLANTA -- Following his second straight big night at the plate, D-backs outfielder Justin Upton was asked what's different for him after scuffling for a prolonged stretch.
"Nothing's different," Upton said.
Well, maybe there is something.
"I'm seeing the ball pretty well right now, I'm getting some pitches to hit," he said. "I've been getting pitches to hit, I just haven't been barreling them up, and I'm getting the barrel on those pitches now and they're finding holes."
Upton was 3-for-5 in the opening game of the series with the Braves, and Saturday, he went 3-for-5 again, adding a triple, a homer and a pair of RBIs.
"He's a dangerous hitter," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. "His takes are getting better, he's fouled some balls off and he's getting some hits. He's very close to breaking through, and he's a guy that in the middle of our order can carry us at any time."
Upton's triple in the fifth inning Saturday was certainly interesting.
Off the bat, the ball appeared well hit, but certainly catchable. Atlanta center fielder Nate McLouth, though, started coming in on the play, and it took a few seconds to realize that the Gold Glover had no idea where the ball was.
"There's about a 15-20 minute window here where it's extremely difficult to see the ball when it's hit up in the air," McLouth said. "I saw it off the bat well. Then, when it got higher than the stadium, I just didn't see it."
Once Upton realized that McLouth didn't have a bead on it, he turned on the burners and wound up at third with an RBI triple.
"I knew I hit the ball better," Upton said. "At that point when he kept coming, I realized that he had lost it and I was going to have a chance to get to third base."
Bullpen's woes could be bad starting point
ATLANTA -- The bullpen has unquestionably been the Achilles' heel for the D-backs thus far in 2010, but manager A.J. Hinch will have to monitor closely the effect those struggles could have on the starting rotation later this season.
With the worst bullpen ERA in the game, Hinch is understandably sticking with his starters longer.
Entering Saturday night's game, the D-backs led the National League with 21 games in which their starting pitcher had thrown more than 100 pitches.
"In an ideal world, you don't have to extend and tax your starters that way, and we've been riding these guys pretty hard," Hinch said. "In these particular ruts when we're going through what we're going through, we're trying like anything to win a game. On a start-to-start basis, it's not wearing them out, but over a six-month extended view, it can weigh on guys."
Ace Dan Haren has been ridden hard and has a track record of struggling during the second halves of seasons.
And there's also Ian Kennedy, who missed most of last season due to aneurism surgery. The team will likely have to monitor how many innings he is allowed to throw.
More than looking at 100 pitches as a benchmark in a given game, Hinch looks at how many pitches a starter will throw over a three-start period and likes to keep it below 320 pitches.
"I don't always adhere to that," Hinch said. "It's something to pay attention to. You do have to protect these guys a little bit, but depending on how long [their starts] are, I'm more interested in pitches per inning than I am overall 100 pitches."
Bullpen needs many hats
ATLANTA -- It is really pointless, right now, to ask A.J. Hinch about bullpen roles.
What is the D-backs' manager going to say? He's watched his relievers, almost the entirely same cast of characters since Opening Day, compile a Major League-worst 7.49 ERA in the first 36 games of the season headed into Saturday's contest with the Braves.
"I think all bets are off as far as the bullpen goes," Hinch said. "I've tried to remain as patient as I can, and it just hasn't really worked."
So forget, for now, who is going to close games, who is going to pitch in setup roles.
"I want everybody to be ready all the time," Hinch said. "I don't think there should be any expectation down there at this point. I think they should be ready to go after the starter and we'll do our best to patch it together."
Like a virulent flu, the struggles have spread throughout the bullpen, leaving no reliever -- save Carlos Rosa, who has yet to pitch since being called up last week -- untouched.
"It reaches a point where you've got to go with the hot hand," Hinch said. "Now trying to figure who the hot hand is at this point."
Johnson makes his return
ATLANTA -- Kelly Johnson was a little surprised at his reaction to returning to Turner Field.
The D-backs second baseman, who began his professional career with the Braves before being non-tendered last winter, played his first game in Atlanta on Friday since signing with Arizona.
Johnson went 2-for-5 with a double and two runs scored.
"I was definitely more [fired] up once the game started than I thought I was going to be," Johnson said. "I was a little surprised."
Johnson was asked if the extra adrenaline might have been because he wanted to show the Braves they made a mistake by letting him go.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't have an effect on anything. I just want to go out and do well for this team and help us win. I'm not trying to play for any ulterior motives, other than I just want to win."
Johnson still has a home in the area and relished the opportunity to see stadium workers and Braves personnel that he had not seen in a while.
Getting around Turner Field's service tunnels, though, proved to be a little problematic for him early on, as he was used to spending his time on the home side of the field.
"I didn't know where I was going at first," he said. "I had never been past a certain point, and I had never seen the visiting cage before or what it was like in [the visiting clubhouse]."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.